A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Using Technology to Support Education Reform -- September 1993

Technologies for Tutorial Learning

Historically, the dominant teaching-learning model has been one of transmission: teachers transmitting information to students. Not surprisingly, the first uses of educational technology supported this mode. Although other ways of using technology to support learning are now available, tutorial uses continue to be the most widespread, especially with disadvantaged students (Becker 1990).

Computer-Based Technologies

Computer-Assisted Instruction--Some of the first computer-assisted instruction (CAI), developed by Patrick Suppes at Stanford University during the 1960s, set standards for subsequent instructional software. After systematically analyzing courses in arithmetic and other subjects, Suppes designed highly structured computer systems featuring learner feedback, lesson branching, and student record keeping (Coburn et al. 1982).

During the 1970s, a particularly widespread and influential source of computer-assisted instruction was the University of Illinois PLATO system. This system included hundreds of tutorial and drill-and-practice programs. Like other systems of the time, PLATO's resources were available through timesharing on a mainframe computer (Coburn et al. 1982).

Today, microcomputers are powerful enough to act as file servers, and CAI can be delivered either through an integrated learning system or as stand-alone software. Typical CAI software provides text and multiple-choice questions or problems to students, offers immediate feedback, notes incorrect responses, summarizes students' performance, and generates exercises for worksheets and tests. CAI typically presents tasks for which there is one (and only one) correct answer; it can evaluate simple numeric or very simple alphabetic responses, but it cannot evaluate complex student responses.

Integrated learning systems (ILSs) are networked CAI systems that manage individualized instruction in core curriculum areas (mathematics, science, language arts, reading, writing). ILSs differ from most stand-alone CAI in their use of a network (i.e., computer terminals are connected to a central computer) and in their more extensive student record-keeping capabilities. The systems are sold as packages, incorporating both the hardware and software for setting up a computer lab.

ILSs are typically sold in sets of 30 workstations, with an average cost of about $125,000. Major producers include Josten's Learning Corporation, WICAT Systems, and CCC (founded by Patrick Suppes). About 10,000 ILSs are in use in U.S. schools, most of them purchased with funds from the ESEA Chapter 1 program for at-risk students (Mageau 1990).

The instructional software within ILSs is typically conventional CAI: instruction is organized into discrete content areas (mathematics, reading, etc.) and requires simple responses from students. ILS developers have also made a point of developing systems that tie into the major basal textbooks. Mageau (1990) notes that the systems "can correlate almost objective by objective to a district's K-8.... language arts, reading, math, and even science curricula". Users of ILSs enjoy the advantage of having one coordinated system, making it easy for students to use a large selection of software.

A new trend in integrated learning systems is represented by ClassWorks, developed by Computer Networking Specialists. ClassWorks offers the school access to whatever variety of third-party software the teachers select, along with all the instructional management features associated with an ILS (Mageau 1990).

CAI in general, and integrated learning systems in particular, have found a niche in America's schools by fitting into existing school structures (Newman 1990a). Cohen (1988) describes these structures as follows:

Many features of tutorial CAI are consistent with the traditional classroom described by Cohen. Tutorial CAI provides a one-way (computer to student) transmission of knowledge; it presents information and the student is expected to learn the information presented. Much CAI software presents information in a single curriculum area (e.g., arithmetic or vocabulary) and uses brief exercises that can easily be accommodated within the typical 50-minute academic period. CAI is designed for use by a single student and can be accommodated into a regular class schedule if computers are placed in a laboratory into which various whole classes are scheduled.

Basic skills (such as the ability to add or spell) lend themselves to drill- and-practice activities, and CAI, with its ability to generate exercises (e.g., mathematics problems or vocabulary words) is well suited to providing extensive drill and practice in basic skills. Students at risk of academic failure often seen as lacking in basic skills and therefore unable to acquire advanced thinking skills become logical candidates for CAI drill-and-practice instruction. Recent research and thinking on the needs of disadvantaged students stress a different need, however (see Knapp & Turnbull 1990; Means, Knapp & Chelemer 1991). Disadvantaged students need the opportunity to acquire advanced thinking skills and can acquire basic skills within the context of complex, meaningful problems. This latter approach to instruction, which is stressed in education reform, has not been well served by traditional CAI.

Intelligent Computer-Assisted Instruction-- Intelligent computer-assisted instruction (ICAI, also known as intelligent tutoring systems or ITSs) grew out of generative computer-assisted instruction. Programs that generated problems and tasks in arithmetic and vocabulary learning eventually were designed to select problems at a difficulty level appropriate for individual students (Suppes 1980). These adaptive systems (i.e., adapting problems to the student's learning level) were based on summaries of a student's performance on earlier tasks, however, rather than on representations of the student's knowledge of the subject matter (Sleeman & Brown 1982). The truly intelligent systems that followed were able to present problems based on models of the student's knowledge, to solve problems themselves, and to diagnose and explain student capabilities.

Historically, ICAI systems have been developed in more mathematically oriented domains--arithmetic, algebra, programming--and have been more experimental in nature than has conventional CAI. Although ICAI is an area of active research projects, ICAI programs in the schools are not widespread. ICAI tends to call for more meaningful interactions than traditional CAI and tends to deal with more complex subject matter. ICAI's focus on modeling student knowledge lends itself to applications in teaching advanced thinking skills. ICAI has not been used extensively with disadvantaged students (traditional targets for basic skills instruction).

One intelligent tutoring system, Geometry Tutor, provides students with instruction in planning and problem solving to prove theorems in geometry (Office of Technology Assessment 1988). Geometry Tutor comprises an expert system containing knowledge of how to construct geometry proofs, a tutor to teach students strategies and to identify their errors, and an interface to let students communicate with the computer. Geometry Tutor monitors students as they try to prove theorems, instructing and guiding them throughout the problem-solving process (Anderson et al. 1985). Schofield, Evans-Rhodes, and Huber (1989) studied the implementation of Geometry Tutor in a public high school and found changes in the behavior of teachers and students using this system: teachers spent more time with students having problems, collaborated more with students, and based more of a student's grade on effort; students increased their level of effort and were more involved in the academic tasks. Thus, ICAI can be implemented in ways that support the kind of learning that education reformers advocate. Although most of these applications control instructional content, they can be used within a broader instructional framework that stresses joint work with the automated tutor.

Distance-Learning with One-Way Transmission

As with computer-based instruction, the first applications of distance- learning were tutorial in nature. The term distance-learning is used to describe the delivery of instruction from a single site to multiple remote sites. In the early part of this century, film and radio were the distance-learning methods used to instruct students (Cuban 1986). As technologies have become more sophisticated and diffuse, many other methods and delivery systems have been incorporated. One- way video technology (broadcast, cable, and videotape) has been widely used as an instructional medium and as a vehicle for distance-learning in both homes and schools. (Newer, interactive forms of distance-learning are discussed later in this chapter as examples of educational uses of communication technology.)

Technology was used in the 1950s in part to help alleviate a lack of qualified teachers. In one well-known example, the school district in Hagerstown, Maryland, provided closed-circuit television programming in nearly all core curriculum areas to all of its schools. The courses were taught live from six studios and represented an attempt to change the way schooling took place in the district (Rockman 1991). Although the actual instruction tended to be traditional, a strength of those programs was that they brought qualified instructors to an audience of students who would not otherwise have had access to them.

In addition to bringing students instructional content they could not receive otherwise, distance-learning can provide teachers with models of new ways to teach. During the "new math" era of the 1960s, educators at the University of Wisconsin developed Patterns in Arithmetic, a program that included, in addition to workbooks, television lessons broadcast to elementary school classes. Use of the program was high initially but subsided as teachers learned the content and began to provide instruction in new math themselves (Rockman 1991). This unintended outcome suggests that teachers can internalize content and teaching techniques displayed through distance-learning technology.

Most early uses of instructional television featured conventional, lecture- based approaches to instruction, recreating the basic elements of the traditional classroom. In the 1970s, a new breed of instructional programming appeared. Following the widespread popularity and success of Children's Television Workshop's Sesame Street, a host of similar programs were produced for home and school viewing (Johnston 1987). These programs made rich use of the visual and auditory capabilities of video, combining teaching with entertainment as a way to gain and maintain the attention of the learner, while getting the information across in interesting and innovative ways. Currently, educators and parents have a broad diversity of programs from which to choose. Instructional television programming is limited in being one-way communication, but the production values and creativity of these presentations can be very high, reflecting a level of resources that no single teacher could command.

In the past, incompatibility between broadcast schedules and school timetables was a major impediment to the use of instructional television, but current technology has overcome this difficulty: programming can be received and videotaped for use at any convenient time. Instructional programming can be communicated over cable television, broadcast television, or satellite.

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) offers educational video programming in mathematics, reading, social science, and other content areas. Series such as Square One TV, Reading Rainbow, and Voyage of the Mimi have proved to be immensely popular with children.

Cable television is another source of instructional programming, which is typically noninteractive and designed to fit specific academic content areas. Millions of homes receive educational broadcasts from The Learning Channel, The Discovery Channel, and other instructional sources (Douglas & Bransford 1991).

A more recent trend in educational television is the transmission of educational news broadcasts. CNN Newsroom and Channel One offer news and current events information. CNN Newsroom is broadcast week nights without commercials on Cable News Network for use with students in grades 6-12; it contains news and current events and is meant to be videotaped during the night and used in the following day's classes. In contrast, Whittle Communications controversial Channel One, with an audience of over 6 million students, broadcasts not only news but also commercial advertising (Sheekey & Douglas 1991).

Educational video, used thoughtfully, can contribute to education reform goals, insofar as it integrates various subject matter areas e.g., history, archaeology, research methods, art, reading, literature, and mathematics and challenges students to understand the complex relationships that exist among various domains. Moreover, research on instructional television has demonstrated positive effects of viewing upon learning in a variety of domains, such as children's math problem solving (research on Square One TV, Hall, Esty & Fisch 1990) and social attitudes (research on Freestyle, Johnston & Ettma 1986). A consistent finding within the research is that the potential benefits associated with instructional programming are most likely to be realized within settings where teachers (or parents) assist young viewers in making sense of what they see. Students get more out of watching instructional television when teachers set the stage for what they will watch and follow up with discussion, probing questions, and/or relevant activities (Bryant, Alexander & Brown 1983; Johnston & Ettma 1986).


Videodisc technology combines the features of video with the flexibility of a computer. Videodisc technology can be used in either a tutorial or an exploratory fashion (the latter type of video applications is discussed later). Used alone, a videodisc player enables the user to access and sequence visual images (still and motion) and accompanying audio tracks in a nonlinear and selective manner. Used in combination with appropriate hardware and software, videodisc technology may be used as an individualized, interactive learning tool, integrating visual and auditory information with electronic text. Like many other instructional technologies reviewed in this chapter, a videodisc system lends itself to an array of instructional activities and approaches, from teachers creating their own customized presentations to students exploring a topic by accessing the information on a videodisc.

In some states, notably Texas, videodiscs are being used for tutorial instruction by either supplementing or, in some cases, supplanting textbooks. Optical Data Corporation's Windows on Sciencevideodisc and associated print materials have been adopted by at least 65 percent of the schools in Texas (Soloway 1991). Using videodisc images, teachers can demonstrate science information to their students. Additionally, individual students or groups of students can review material on the machine. Teachers can present lessons by picking video clips and still photographs from a set of videodiscs approved by the state as a textbook.

The merging of video and computer technology, and the flexibility this affords, make videodisc technology a potentially powerful vehicle for instruction, especially in areas where visual and auditory information are essential to understanding.

Disadvantages cited for videodisc technology include the need for fairly expensive equipment, lack of teacher facility with the technology, and nonstandardized videodisc equipment (Yoder 1991). Because of the high cost and the high level of technical facility previously associated with the production and utilization of videodisc programs, most videodisc applications have been targeted for use within business and industry. However, recent technological developments are making videodisc technology more cost effective, more compatible with standard computer systems, and much easier to use (e.g., barcode readers and symbols within a text can simplify access to relevant video). In addition, other technological innovations, such as CD-ROM, offer advantages similar to videodisc (e.g., random access to graphics, sounds, text) in a relatively inexpensive and easy-to-use format. These advances are likely to increase the use of videodisc and related technologies within the educational arena.


Technologies for tutorial learning typically use a transmission rather than constructivist model of instruction. For this reason, although they have found their place in education and have the greatest rate of adoption within schools thus far, they are unlikely to serve as a catalyst for restructuring education. The focus of drill-and-practice CAI on basic skills allows little room for the presentation of complex tasks, multistep problems, or collaborative learning. ICAI, on the other hand, has the potential to deal with complex domains, to provide models of higher- order thinking, and to probe students understanding, but has seldom been well integrated into a school's mainstream curriculum. One-way video technologies can be very motivating but are nearly always viewed as enrichment and have not instigated fundamental changes within schools.
[Chapter II: Educational Technologies] [Table of Contents] [Technologies for Exploratory Learning]

This page was last updated December 18, 2001 (jca)