By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
Founding Editor, bSci21.org
Phil DeMuth wrote an article for Forbes called “How B.F. Skinner Will Save Online Education.” Online education, according to Phil, was supposed to be the answer to what he sees as a bloated and inefficient education system. In a way, transitioning classes to the virtual environment can have a democratizing effect for students, opening up accessibility while reducing cost and infrastructure.
However, Phil noted “online education got started on the wrong foot.” By this he means that most online courses simply repackage the old brick-and-mortar way of teaching into a web-based format. He compares the trend to the dawn of film, which consisted primarily of filming plays, or the first television shows as televised radio broadcasts. Online education is doing the same thing.
Instead of simply putting lectures online, which he regards as “a form of punishment” for students, he suggests adopting the programmed instruction of B.F. Skinner. Programmed instruction has a few key ingredients, outlined by Phil: (a) information is provided in small chunks, (b) feedback is given immediately after the student’s response, and (c) activities are individualized to proceed at the student’s pace.
Phil goes on to discuss how “prompts are given initially and then gradually faded out as the student displays competence.” He actually structured the latter part of his article in a programmed instruction format, by gradually fading letters and words as the article progresses. In Skinner’s system, successfully “filling in the gaps” or failure to do so would result in immediate feedback regarding the appropriate response. Moreover, the interactive nature of the learning tends to keep students engaged more than a passive lecture.
You can read the full article, and experience a bit of programmed instruction for yourself, here.
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Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns bSci21.org and BAQuarterly.com. Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues. He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas. Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at email@example.com.