Programmed Instruction

Heim Upp


Instructional Design System Approach Robert M Gagné


Developments into programmed instruction. 


In the 1950s many of the ideas that had surfaced earlier were clarified and popularised.  Programmed instruction was among the first, in historical significance for instructional developments and analytical processes, important to instructional design.  This form of instruction is based on the behavioural learning theories.

 The early programmed instruction was often delivered by some form of  ‘teaching machine’  but later it brought the concept of interactive text.  The programmed instruction movement extended the use of printed self - instruction to all school subject areas to adult and vocational education as well (Romiszowski,1997).  Later as the technology developed other media, such as radio, television video and computer, came of use.

The researches and findings of Skinner were of great importance for the developments in program instruction and before going any further I would like to inform about his findings.


3.1   Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904-1990). 

Skinner continued with the developments of the earlier behaviourists and carried out many  experiments on animals (based on laboratory rats and pigeons, Skinners box).  He came to that conclusions,  that the best way to guarantee that an animal learns how to make a particular response to a stimulus, is not to give it reinforcement every time it performs the response, but with what Skinner termed as an ´intermitted schedule´ of reinforcement.  Skinner has shown in his researches that shaping an animal’s behaviour to secure that it keeps the response (that is, to make the response whenever it meets the appropriate stimulus), involves a specific and rather complex association between response and reinforcement. It is not necessary to reward behaviour every time it occurs.

He distinguished carefully between those responses which are triggered by known stimulus and those responses which occur without any apparent stimulus.  He called this type of behaviour operant, and he was most interested in using reinforcements to condition this operant behaviour because ´it is the most common type of human behaviour’.  Skinner relates more to Thorndike´s trial and error system rather than Pavlov’s procedure.  Skinner waited for a change behaviour to occur and then systematically set out to reinforce the desired behaviour. This procedure, in reaching the desired goal, is termed as ‘shaping’.  An extinction process can also be required if one wants to eliminate a response completely, punishment is not the most effective technique even though it will distinguish or surpress the rates of response.  More effective is, not to reinforce the undesired behaviour and corresponding, to reinforce the desire behaviour (Richey.R., 1986)

  Skinner applied his findings on animal learning to the teaching of children and it lead him to blame teachers for not employing effective ‘schedules of reinforcement’ in the classroom. In a chapter of his book 1968 ‘Why teachers fail’ he argued that formal education is usually based on ‘aversive control’.  Teaching rests on punishment and ridicule for unsuitable behaviour rather than showing a consideration for the shaping and reinforcement of responses to be learned.  He also said that lessons and examinations are designed to show what pupils do not know and cannot do, rather than to expose and build upon what they do know and are able to learn.  Therefore, he argued, teachers fail to ‘shape’ their children’s behaviour sufficiently, leading to inappropriate learning or to learned responses that are quickly forgotten (Skinner, 1968).   Skinner questioned the way reinforcements were  conducted in schools and found out that many minutes and in many cases many hours or even days may intervene between  children’s  responses and teacher’s answers.  He calculated that during the first four years of education 50,000 reinforcements were essential to get efficient mathematical behaviour, but  in a traditional class situation it would just be possible for the teacher to give only a few thousand. To provide the learners with enough reinforcement would be by an instrumental aid  (Spencer. K., 1991)                                                                                        

Skinner went on to design the first learning programs for use on teaching machines in an attempt to apply his theory to education.


3.2 Behavioural concepts and the implication for Instructional Design.

Skinner’s shaping technique have been used as overall guide to constructing instructional materials, as well as to deliver  instruction and evaluating performances.

His model  Stimulus - Response is described by Romiszowski (1997) as:


“that learning has occurred when a specific response is elicited by specific situation or stimulus with a high degree of probability. The more likely and predictable the response, the more efficient the learning has been…. These attempt to shape human behaviour by presenting a gradual progression of small units of information and related tasks to the learner.  At each stage the learner must actively participate by performing the set task.  He is then immediately supplied  with feedback in the form of correct answer” (p.16)


The reliance upon specific goal statements is a device that also allows the learners to know specifically when they have achieved their goal.  By using such a statement, students can monitor their own progress.

Formulated by this linear approach Skinner introduced in the early 1950s the “teaching machine” which imparted subject matter in easy to learn, step-by-step sequences (Hackbarth, S. 1966).

  The linear approach to learning lead to many attempts in developing a scientific approach to learning.

Robert Gagné (1965) published a hierarchical list of  eight categories of learning.  This list is proceeding from very simple conditioning-type learning, up to complex learning, such as involved in problem solving.


            1. Signal learning

            2. Stimulus - response learning

            3. Chaining

            4. Verbal chaining

            5. Discrimination learning

            6. Concept learning

            7. Rule learning

       8. Problem-solving

                           (Romiszowski.A.J. 1997, p18)


Gagné´s classification relates to other learning and teaching models such as; 1. Signal learning relates to the classical (Pavlovian) conditioning; 2. Stimulus-response learning, 3. Chaining, 4.Verbal chaining and 5.Discrimination learning relate to the operant conditioning model (Skinner); 6. Concept learning and 7. Rule learning relates to the “ruleg” techniques; and 8. Problem-solving relates to learning by discovery.


In the beginning of the 60s Bob Mager wrote a book in the praise of behavioural objectives.  It is build on the simple conclusion that if one defines learning as a change in behaviour, then the teacher may be wise to define the aims or objectives of his lessons in terms of the behaviour patterns he wishes to establish.

According to Mager, the essential ingredients in behavioural objective are:


1. A statement of what the student should be able to do at the end of the learning session (the terminal behaviour)

2. The conditions under which he should be able to exhibit the terminal behaviour.

3. The standard to which he should be able to perform (the criteria).

    (Romiszowski.A.J., 1997, p.20).


Mager popularised the precise statement of objectives for programmed instruction and his approach became more widely applied to the designing of instructional material.

Bloom and his colleagues met over five years' periods and the result of their work was The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. There, instructional outcomes were divided into three domains-cognitive, affective and  psychomotor - with the cognitive domain dealing with thinking, the affective domain with feelings, and the psychomotor domain with physical movement (Spencer, K., 1991).

This taxonomy became a standard to many concerned with curriculum planning and instructional design. Bloom, Krathwohl and Harrow developed sub-divisions for the three categories and following are the Major Classes of Taxonomies of Educational Objectives (based on Bloom et al.,1956; Krathwohl et al., 1964 Harrow,1972)


                        Bloom et al., : cognitive Domain








Krathwohl et al., : Affective Domain


1.00   RECEIVING (attending)


3.00   VALUING




Harrow: Psychomotor Domain







6.00   NON-DISCURSIVE COMMUNICATIO                          

                                                           (Spencer, K., 1991p.54).     


This hierarchical sub-division in the Cognitive Domain and in the Affective Domain is arranged so that the lower levels are prerequisites to the higher levels.  This taxonomy was to provide a ´ theoretical framework which could be used to facilitate communication among examiners ´ (Spencer, K., 1991p.54). 

Deriving from the behavioural school of thought  of specifying objectives the systematic approach,  or system engineering, rose in instructional designing.



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Sólrún B. Kristinsdóttir © 2001 Síðast uppfært 21.10.2008