Courtesy article from famous behavioral scientist "B.F.Skinner".
Teaching Machines and Programmed Instruction
Skinner's children were growing up. When the younger was in fourth grade, on November 11, 1953, Skinner attended her math class for Father's Day. The visit altered his life. As he sat at the back of that typical fourth grade math class, what he saw suddenly hit him with the force of an inspiration. As he put it, "through no fault of her own the teacher was violating almost everything we knew about the learning process." In shaping, you adapt what you ask of an animal to the animal's current performance level. But in the math class, clearly some of the students had no idea of how to solve the problems, while others whipped through the exercise sheet, learning nothing new. In shaping, each best response is immediately reinforced. Skinner had researched delay of reinforcement and knew how it hampered performance. But in the math class, the children did not find out if one problem was correct before doing the next. They had to answer a whole page before getting any feedback, and then probably not until the next day. But how could one teacher with 20 or 30 children possibly shape mathematical behavior in each one? Clearly teachers needed help. That afternoon, Skinner constructed his first teaching machine.
Skinner's first teaching machine simply presented problems in random order for students to do, with feedback after each one. But this machine did not teach new behavior. All it did was give more practice on skills already learned. Within three years, however, Skinner developed programmed instruction, where through careful sequencing, students responded to material broken into small steps. The steps were similar to what a skilled tutor would ask of a student working with one student at a time. The first responses of each sequence were prompted, but as performance improved, less and less help was given. By the end, a student was doing something he or she could not have done at the beginning. For about ten years, Skinner was caught up in the teaching machine movement, answering every one of thousands of letters from parents, schools, and business and industry. With a grant, Skinner hired James G. Holland who with Skinner's supervision, created The Analysis of Behavior for Skinner's class of Harvard students to take on a mechanical machine. (There were no microcomputers yet.) The field of education embraced this newest teaching method, but many of the materials were poorly written and no company wanted to design materials for a teaching machine that might go out of production. So most programmed instruction was put into book form. But the a book does not maintain the contingencies: Students can look at the answer before writing their own. By around 1968 education publishers stopped printing programmed instruction. That same year Skinner published The Technology of Teaching, a collection of his writings on education. Some of the better programs from the 60's are still used and with the coming of the computer and internet, the perfect machine that Skinner lacked is now available. Increasingly, instructional designers are realizing that, as Skinner insisted, tutorials must do more than present blocks of content with quizzes at the end. Effective instruction requires learners to respond to what each screen of information presents and to get feedback on their performance before advancing to the next. In addition, the sequencing of steps is critical.