Programmed Instruction: A Comprehensive Overview

Programmed instruction is a teaching strategy that offers an interactive, systematic way of learning. It utilizes a series of computer-based or printed instructional materials, which leads learners through a sequence of steps designed to help them learn a new concept or skill. This instructional strategy has been used in educational settings since the 1950s, and it continues to be used today in a variety of contexts. This article provides an overview of programmed instruction, including its history, advantages, disadvantages, and contemporary applications.


Programmed instruction was first developed in the 1950s by B.F. Skinner, an American psychologist. Skinner developed the instructional strategy through a series of experiments on the use of positive reinforcement in teaching. He found that presenting learners with small amounts of information at a time, followed by immediate feedback, allowed them to progress more quickly and effectively. From these experiments, he developed the concept of programmed instruction, which was first published in his book, The Teaching Machine (1954).


Programmed instruction has several advantages over traditional teaching methods. It is well-suited for self-paced learning, allowing learners to move at their own speed and focus on difficult concepts more than they would in a classroom setting. Additionally, the materials are designed to be highly interactive, so learners can receive immediate feedback on their responses. Finally, programmed instruction can be used to teach a wide variety of topics, from basic skills to more advanced concepts.


Programmed instruction also has several disadvantages. Firstly, it is limited in its ability to address complex or abstract concepts, as it is designed to provide step-by-step instruction on a specific topic. It can also be difficult to implement in an educational setting, as it requires the availability of the necessary materials. Finally, programmed instruction can be difficult to adapt to individual learners’ needs, since it is designed to be used in a standard way.

Contemporary Applications

Programmed instruction is still widely used in the education system today, in both physical and virtual classrooms. It is commonly used in pre-K classrooms to teach basic skills such as reading and math. Additionally, it is used in higher education settings, such as medical and law schools, to teach more advanced topics. Programmed instruction is also used in corporate settings; for example, companies often use programmed instruction materials to train employees on a variety of topics.


Programmed instruction is a teaching strategy that has been used since the 1950s and is still widely used today. It has several advantages, including its ability to facilitate self-paced learning, its interactive materials, and its ability to teach a variety of topics. However, it also has several disadvantages, including its limited ability to address complex or abstract concepts and its difficulty in adapting to individual learners’ needs. Programmed instruction is used in educational and corporate settings to teach a variety of topics, ranging from basic skills to more advanced concepts.


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Skinner, B. F. (1954). The teaching machine. New York, NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

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