Programmed Teaching

Programmed Teaching . This technique consists in applying the theory of operant conditioning to the educational field of learning , due to the North American researcher BF Skinner . The student acquires (autonomously and individually) knowledge and skills (previously established) with the help of texts programmed in small steps (stages) of learning.

According to Skinner, the art of teaching must become a systematic technique, so programmed teaching is a method with an experimental approach for the development of instruction systems focused on the responses of students to a specific program.

The programmed education wishes, above all, to transmit orientation knowledge (factors, concepts or relationships) although basic and action competences are also developed, especially in the field of technical or vocational education . However, programmed learning serves a variety of other action skills that are linked to body movements, manual skills, and object making, or to all cases where learning can be broken down into small steps that are performed individually and can be evaluate directly. Successful learning with programmed teaching supposes, to a large extent, self-competence, in particular, skills of self-limitation, self-organization and self-control.

Students participate in the programmed teaching model as subject-actors, however, the program restricts them to certain very well-defined actions. They are also assessors of their own learning progress. For this reason, they must interact with the program (material) for the time necessary to learn each stage and, if necessary, they must (can) carry out other activities such as manipulation or communication .

The author of the program is the most important facilitator of learning in the programmed (individual) teaching model. Occasionally there are tutors or counselors who have administrative functions, advise or propose complementary activities.



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  • 1 Origin
    • 1 Teaching principles
    • 2 Psychological principles
    • 3 Phases of application of the model
    • 4 Budgets
    • 5 Features
  • 2 Sources


Programmed teaching was developed at Harvard in the mid- 20th century, and then expanded into research and development programs in the US and Europe.

Skinner ran his first machine in 1953 , after attending a student learning event. Its basis was in the idea of ​​gratification, which is a condition of improved learning and greater speed in the effort to achieve it. His idea of ​​“programmed teaching” emerged, which implies that a simple and clear unit is understandable. And creating smart chains of units achieves admirable and highly beneficial results.

He configured a machine with two windows: a unit of written information passes through it, ending with two three questions about what is reported. In the other window, three answers are suggested that must be discerned. If answered well, you can advance to the next unit. If it is done wrong, we must insist on understanding the unity that refuses to leave the window open. It feels good if you go out of the window early and for this you increase your attention, interest and joy when you pass.

Once the system was perfected, machines, books, index cards, exercises began to appear, in the form of simple units and configured so as not to miss a page or window if the questions were not answered well and the above was demonstrated with an understanding. Skinner’s teaching system was linear; one unit after another. But one of his followers, Eduardo Crowder , continued to do more in a branched way. Each unit opens in several options and, depending on the chosen answer, one advances to a different one, to rectify if the answer was not good or to gratify if it was truly correct.

Thousands of teaching machines were manufactured and marketed in developed countries, until the invasion of computing since the 1970s perfected the Skinner system and adapted it to the computer languages ​​that dominate the world today, especially in the workplace, to build simulators from aeronautical flight , to medical software, to driver programs, to mechanisms for patients, to muscular rehabilitation systems and to everything that constitutes the techniques derived from computer science ( office automation , robotics , home automation and others).

In 1970 there were already programmed learning texts for most areas of knowledge . In the 80s the learning texts were complemented by graphic and audiovisual components and there are numerous developments of Computer-Based Training (CBT). In some cases, equipment manipulation and various experiments are added. The continuous increase in storage capacity (for example, on CD ROM) and the possibility of offering various types of training (for example, higher education) through the Internet have stimulated the preparation of teaching-learning programs offered ” live ”(on-line) thanks to telecommunication.

Didactic principles

  • Individualized learning, in which the learning process corresponds to the individual’s learning conditions, that is, the individual has the time necessary to learn and (if necessary) there are also defined performance standards for each individual.
  • Programmed learning, this means, learning in small stages (steps) of learning, which complement a defined (diagnosed) input state (prior knowledge) to achieve the learning objectives well.
  • Learning directed to objectives (mastery learning), very specific (small) at the end of each of which the mastery achieved by the student can be evaluated (observation of behaviors) since he must master it before moving on to the next stage of learning.

Psychological principles

The principles underlying programmed teaching derive from the psychology of learning, from experimental analysis of behavior, cognitive and personality theories.

  • Immediate reinforcement of correct answers. The behavior is learned when it is reinforced immediately and ensures the repetition and the increase of the work rate of the student, making it motivating. From cognitive psychology, the student’s response is maintained or eliminated depending on its consequences and it is the feedback that confirms the correct one and corrects the incorrect one.
  • Gradual progression. The materials are presented in sequence ranging from simple to complex, in such a way that the student issues a number of correct answers to acquire a behavioral pattern. At the same time, the supports are gradually removed.
  • Control of behavior. The teacher takes it through the continuous observation of the student’s performance, in which a new material is presented if and only if the student has concluded with the previous one or by the machine that only works when the student works. The student also takes his own control when identifying the successes and errors immediately that a response emits.
  • Establish generalization and discrimination. An answer requires a variety of contexts for learning to be appropriate for multiple stimuli for the student to achieve concept formation.
  • The planning and organization of knowledge. The teacher is responsible for these so that the process of advancing from the simple to the complex is carried out from simple significant sets to those of greater complexity. The understanding of learning ensures a high possibility of permanence and transfer.

Phases of application of the model

  • Organizational phase, in which the authors develop the learning program and test it in an appropriate pilot (test) group.
  • Preparation phase, in which the conditions of entry to the program are examined (accurately diagnosed) and, if the appropriate ones do not exist, inexperienced students must be prepared through work with remedial programs.
  • Interaction phase, students read relatively short learning texts or somehow receive an indication of action, react according to the instructions and finally receive information.
  • Assessment phase, which can be an intermediate or final test, through which the extent to which the learning objectives were achieved is established.


The budgets on which it applies are:

  • Students differ in the amount of timeand practice they require to master certain educational objectives, so it is necessary to organize the conditions to attend to individual differences: each student works through didactic units at their own pace and with the amount of practice that requires.

The above supposes that the student does not start a new unit as long as he has not acquired the minimum and specific degree of mastery in the previous units.

  • The school must have adequate and sufficient materials to work in an environment led by tutors, which fosters self-learning in conditions in which the direct teaching of the teacher is minimal. Programs must offer frequent evaluations of the student’s progress that generates sufficient motivation to complete satisfactorily.
  • Professionals or professional teachers should be trained to work both individually and in small groups, to carry out diagnostic evaluations of individual needs and to plan educational programs.


Considered as an instructional technique, the distinctive features are:

  • Define the program’s operational objectives, observable and measurable responses for content determination and evaluation.
  • Fragmented presentation of the information in a logical and ordered sequence, according to an increasing and established difficulty.
  • Active student responses on the subject of study that can be open or objective, according to the specific program.
  • Immediate feedback since the student learns as he elaborates the answers and the result of the same.
  • Student learning rhythm, learning is individual because it adapts to their rhythm.


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