Programmed instruction is a method of presenting new subject matter to students in a graded sequence of controlled steps. Students work through the programmed material by themselves at their own speed and after each step test their comprehension by answering an examination question or filling in a diagram. They are then immediately shown the correct answer or given additional information. Computers and other types of teaching tools are often used to present the material, although books may also be used. Computer-assisted instruction, which both tests students' abilities and marks their progress, may supplement classroom activity or help students to develop ideas and skills independently.
Programmed instruction can be very individualized and allows students to progress at their own comfortable pace. It was first invented by Sydney L. Pressey in 1934, 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 today is based on his theory of the nature of learning.
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