Skinner's Programmed Instruction (Skinner, 1958)

The components of Skinner's programmed Instruction include:

The underlying instructional principles operating Skinner's programmed instruction include:

  1. Shaping refers "the reinforcement of successive approximations to a goal behavior" (Driscoll, 2000). This process requires the learner to perform successive approximations of the target behavior by changing the criterion behavior for reinforcement to become more and more like the final performance. In sum, learner's behaviors are shaped by the reinforcement of desired learning behaviors
  2. Chaining: Skinner proposed that the acquisition of complex behaviors is the result of the process referred to as chaining. Chaining establishes "complex behaviors made up of discrete, simpler behaviors already known to the learner" (Driscoll, 2000). Thus, in the programmed instruction, content is arranged in small steps, which progress from simple to complex and require a response from the learner to go on.

There are three steps in design of the programmed instruction:

  1. To specify the goal of instruction: what is to be learned
  2. To identify the 'entry skills of the learners', i.e. what is the current level of skills of the learners
  3. To develop a series of steps that will get the students form where they are to where they should be: instruction is programmed in small steps, i.e. successive approximations to the desired behavior
  4. To provide appropriate reinforcement


Driscoll, M. P. (2000). Psychology of learning for instruction. 2nd Ed. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Skinner, B. F. (1958). Teaching machines. Science 128 (967-77), 137-58.