The first teaching machine was invented (1934) by Sydney L. Pressey, but it was not until the 1950s that practical methods of programming were developed. Programmed instruction was reintroduced (1954) by B. F. Skinner of Harvard, and much of the system is based on his theory of the nature of learning. As programming technology developed, so did the range of teaching machines and other programmed instruction materials. Programs have been devised for the teaching of spelling, reading, arithmetic, foreign languages, physics, psychology, and a number of other subjects. Some programs are linear in concept, allowing advancement only in a particular order as the correct answer is given. Others are branching, giving additional information at the appropriate level whether a correct or incorrect answer is given.
Although there has been considerable controversy regarding the merits of programmed instruction as the sole method of teaching, many educators agree that it can contribute to more efficient classroom procedure and supplement conventional teaching methods. Teaching machines enable students to work individually, calling for active participation of the learner. In industry and the armed services, programmed instruction is often used to train personnel.
See P. Callender, Programmed Learning (1969); L. Thomas, Self-Organized Learning (1985).
It consists of self-teaching with the aid of a textbook or teaching machine that presents material structured in a logical sequence. Programmed instruction allows students to answer questions about a unit of study at their own rate, checking their own answers and advancing only after answering correctly. After each step, they are presented with a question to test their comprehension, then are immediately shown the correct answer or given additional information.
This idea was later adapted by Robert M. Gagné, who invented programmed learning for use in teaching in schools. The difference between programmed instruction (PI) and programmed learning (PL) is that PI is intended to modify behavior, whereas PL is used for teaching facts and skills.
Programmed instruction is through early efforts to implement Skinner's basic research findings on learning at Harvard that caused errorless discrimination techniques to be developed. Programmed instruction had some early success in aphasia rehabilation .
While not as popular, programmed instruction continues to be used today. Recently, the application of programmed instruction principles was applied to training in computer programs and combined with Benjamin Bloom's taxonomy to teach college students . Some have argued that there is a resurgence of research on programmed instruction due to use of computers and the internet,