Educational Technology's Effect on Models of Instruction

by Judith Conway

Written and Posted May, 1997


  1. Introduction
  2. Definitions
    1. Behavioral approach
    2. Cognitive approach
  3. Models of Instruction
    1. Direct instruction/Explicit Teaching
    2. Cooperative/Collaborative Learning
    3. Cognitive Apprenticeship
    4. Discovery Learning
  4. Conclusion
  5. Matrix of Models of Instruction and Technology Support
  6. References


In 1983, A Nation at Risk was published. It called attention to the serious problems of schooling in America. The major problem was that schools had not kept pace with society's expectations and needs for the rapidly changing world of the twenty first century. (Cognition and Technology Group, 1994, p.23) In order to succeed in the twenty first century schools must graduate students who are prepared to be lifelong learners. This challenge necessitates a pedagogical shift from transmitting a body of expected knowledge that is largely memorized to one that is largely process oriented. For example, instead of having students memorize the names of the battles of the Civil War, a teacher might have teams of students each focus on one battle and prepare a presentation on it using first-hand letters, testimonies, and photos.

The concept of multiple intelligence comes into play here as well. Our traditional concept of intelligence include an overemphasis on verbally-loaded skills. Expanded views of intelligence are especially important because people's beliefs about the nature of intelligence can affect their assessment of their own capabilities and their actual performance. (Cognition and Technology Group, 1994, p.25) Howard Gardner lists the following seven areas of intelligence: linguistic, logical/mathematical, musical, artistic, spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal. Giving students a chance to share a wide variety of kinds of intelligence adds to their confidence and belief in themselves as intelligent and competent learners, that no matter what the task they will be able to learn to do it.

Prior to 1970 Behavioral Psychology formed the basis of how many teachers behaved in the classroom. Coupled with the traditional body of knowledge that made up a 'good' education this approach made sense. Now a basis in Cognitive Psychology seems to be a better method for preparing students to become lifelong learners. Advances in educational technology have contributed and supported this swing toward the Cognitive approach.

A brief background on each approach might be helpful.

Return to top

Behavioral Approach

B.F. Skinner is considered the "grandfather of behaviorism". He generated much of the experimental data that is the basis of behavioral learning theory. He and other behavioral theorists were concerned mainly with observable indications of learning and what those observations could imply for teaching. They concentrated on observable 'cause and effect' relationships. Skinner and others viewed the teacher's job as modifying the behavior of students by setting up situations to reinforce students when they exhibit desired responses. Behaviorists viewed learning as a sequence of stimulus and response actions in the learner. They reasoned that teachers could link together responses involving lower-level skills and create a learning "chain" to teach higher-level skills. The teacher would determine all of the skills needed to lead up to the desired behavior and make sure students learned them all in a step-by-step manner.(Roblyer, Edwards, and Havriluk, 1997, p.59)

Return to top

Cognitive Approach

Many educational psychologists found the behavioral approach unsatisfying. In the areas of problem solving and learning strategies they became more concerned with what was unobservable - what was going on inside the brain. These theories are based on the work of educational philosopher John Dewey, and educational psychologists Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner among others. They propose that children actively construct knowledge and this construction of knowledge happens in a social context. Vygotsky proposed that all learning takes place in the 'zone of proximal development'. This 'zone' is the difference between what a child can do alone and what he/she can do with assistance. By building on the child's experiences and providing moderately challenging tasks teachers can provide the 'intellectual scaffolding' to help children learn and progress through the different stages of development.

The methods of constructivism emphasize students' ability to solve real-life, practical problems. Students typically work in cooperative groups rather than individually; they tend to focus on projects that require solutions to problems rather than on instructional sequences that require learning of certain content skills. The job of the teacher in constructivist models is to arrange for required resources and act as a guide to students while they set their own goals and 'teach themselves'. (Roblyer, Edwards, and Havriluk, 1997, p. 70)

Return to top

Models of Instruction

In the following sections I will detail some of the ways that educational technology is supporting specific techniques of teaching and learning. Because of this support, educators are able to accomplish behavioral and cognitive goals in ways they never could before.

Return to top

Direct Instruction/Explicit Teaching

Direct Instruction, also known as Explicit Teaching "is a systematic method for presenting material in small steps, pausing to check for student understanding and eliciting active and successful participation from all students."(Rosenshine, 1986, p. 60) This model of instruction is well grounded in Behaviorist Theory. It has also been classified as a 'transmission' model (as opposed to an 'information-processing' model). Rosenshine details six teaching functions as an important sequence in the method of Explicit teaching. They are: daily review, presenting new material, guided practice, corrections and feedback, independent practice and weekly and monthly reviews. This method has been shown to be particularly effective in the "teaching of mathematical procedures and computations, reading decoding, explicit reading procedures such as distinguishing fact from opinion, science facts and concepts, social science facts and concepts, map skills, foreign language vocabulary. They are less relevant for teaching in areas that are less well-structured, for example, teaching composition, reading comprehension, analyzing literature or historical trends." (Rosenshine, 1986, p.60)

There are two major categories of educational technology that support this method of teaching. One of the first applications of computer software in the classroom was in the form of drill and practice programs. There are many that take the task of providing guided and independent practice to students. Some are very straightforward, for example, Jurassic Spelling by DareWare and Motes Educational. This is a spelling practice program that provides verbal rewards every time a student spells a word correctly, after a student has accumulated a certain number of points he/she is rewarded with a picture and information on a dinosaur. Another example, Animated Multiplication and Division by Guthery and Meza. Here the scenario is similar when a student gets a certain number of math problems correct they are rewarded by being allowed to create a picture that the program will then animate. The program Super Solvers: Outnumbered! by The Learning Company is a very creative program for math concepts. Here word problems are given and students need to figure out how to solve the problem, they travel to different rooms solving problems in order to capture the villain. Feedback is given along the way. Rewards come in the form of points scored at the end of the game. These practice programs can free the teacher to help other students. If used in a group setting they can provide the opportunity for students to collaborate, a more constructivist approach.

Another type of software that supports this model is the tutorial type of program. In a tutorial program instruction is usually expected to stand alone; the student should be able to learn the topic without any help or other materials from outside the courseware. Tutorials should address all instructional events i.e. all six teaching functions that Rosenshine defines. Tutorials can be categorized as linear or branching tutorials. A linear tutorial gives the same instructional sequence and feedback to all learners. A branching tutorial directs learners along alternate paths depending on how they respond to questions and whether or not they show mastery of certain parts of the material (Roblyer, Edwards, and Havriluk, 1997, p 89). Emulating a good teacher is difficult for a person, let alone a computer, but there are some very good tutorials available. A good example is the tutorials that come with new computers or software, i.e. the Introduction to Microsoft Works, or the Tour of Windows 3.1. Some other examples of tutorial software are DaisyQuest and Daisy's Castle by Great Wave software. They are "magical" auditory programs created especially for young children and for older children who may experience difficulty learning to read due to deficits in the ability to isolate and compare sounds in words. (Roblyer, Edwards, and Havriluk, 1997, p. 92). A good example of a tutorial for older students is Broderbund's Welcome to Physics. It can be used as a stand-alone tutorial, or by the teacher to introduce an idea, provide a demonstration, as a device to initiate discussion or as a review.

Return to top

Cooperative/Collaborative Learning

Cooperative (sometime known as Collaborative) Learning is a model of teaching with a set of common attributes and features. It is cognitive in nature. It also has several variations. The following are its essential features: students work in teams to master academic materials, teams are made up of high, average, and low achievers, and are racially and sexually mixed, reward systems are group-oriented rather than individually oriented. (Arends, 1994, p. 344) Some of the variations are:

  1. Student Teams Achievement Divisions (STAD) where team members use work sheets or other study devices to master the academic materials and then help each other learn the material. Individually students take weekly quizzes and are given an "improvement score". This score is based on the degree to which the score exceeds a student's past average. Teams strive to get a good team improvement score.
  2. Jigsaw where each student on the team would be responsible to become 'an expert' in one aspect of the academic task and are responsible for teaching that aspect to the others. Members from different teams who are to be experts on the same topic meet to help each other learn their aspect of the task. They then return to their group to share what they learned and plan their presentation to the class.
  3. Group Investigation where students are involved in planning both the topics for study and the ways to proceed with their investigation. Students will choose a topic for study, proceed with an in-depth investigation of that topic and prepare and present a report to the whole class.

There are two types of technology that support Cooperative Learning. The first category includes those types of programs that will provide the environment for collaboration. Included here are the types of software that we usually think of as tools: word processors (Word, WordPerfect), spreadsheets(Excel, Lotus 1-2-3), data bases(Access, FoxPro), drawing programs(Corel Draw, Paintbrush), desk top publishing programs (Microsoft Publisher, Print Shop) script writing tools (Hollywood High, 3D Movie Maker) Multimedia Presentations(Power Point, Hyperstudio, Poduim). Each of these tools provide the environment for students to produce a product that they can share with the class or publish in a newsletter to parents or publish on the World Wide Web to the world. No matter which program students use they must make important decisions together on what information to convey and how to convey it. Learning content material, learning to work together, and valuing each other for their multiple intelligence are all goals of cooperative learning that teachers can focus on in this environment.

There are many programs that will provide the resources that students need to complete the research that is needed for class presentations. There are several very good multimedia encyclopedias ( World Book, Grolier's Interactive, Compton's Interactive, Encarta 97, and Britannica CD 97). There are many informative CD's on a wide variety of subject areas, Medio's JFK Investigation, DK Multimedia's The Way Things Work, Mindscapes's How Your Body Works, Research Publications' American Journey to name just a few. These programs can collect an enormous amount of information that is easily searched and copied into word processors for use as notes to share with fellow teammates.

The Internet is a resource of hundreds of thousands of documents on any subject imaginable. By using the search engines, Alta Vista or Yahoo, for example, a student can find much information on virtually any topic. Some instruction and class discussion on techniques for searching and evaluation of sources is needed to get the most of working in this environment. When we view our task of encouraging students to be lifelong learners, these become indispensable tools. The WWW is also a great resource for the pictures and sounds that go into making a great classroom presentation. The Lycos search engine has the capability to search the web for these resources.

Click here to see "Networked Multimedia for Communication and Collaboration", a further discussion of multimedia environments for collaborative learning.

Return to top

Cognitive Apprenticeship

Cognitive Apprenticeship is a method of teaching aimed primarily at teaching the processes that experts use to handle complex tasks. The focus of this learning-through-guided-experience is on cognitive and metacognitive skills, rather than on the physical skills and processes of traditional apprenticeships. Applying apprenticeship methods to largely cognitive skills requires the externalization of processes that are usually carried out internally. Observing the processes by which an expert listener or reader thinks and practices these skills can teach students to learn on their own more skillfully (Collins, Brown, Newman, 1989, p. 457-548). This method includes:

  1. Modeling -- involves an expert's carrying out a task so that student can observe and build a conceptual model of the processes that are required to accomplish the task. For example, a teacher might model the reading process by reading aloud in one voice, while verbalizing her thought processes (summarize what she just read, what she thinks might happen next) in another voice.
  2. Coaching - consists of observing students while they carry out a task and offering hints, feedback, modeling, reminders, etc.
  3. Articulation - includes any method of getting students to articulate their knowledge, reasoning, or problem-solving processes.
  4. Reflection - enables students to compare their own problem-solving processes with those of an expert or another student.
  5. Exploration - involves pushing students into a mode of problem solving on their own. Forcing them to do exploration is critical, if they are to learn how to frame questions or problems that are interesting and that they can solve (Collins, Brown, Newman, 1989, 481-482).

Support from technology in this area has blossomed from the Internet. Through special programs or Cybrid CDs students are able to connect to real experts in a discipline as mentors. One such special program is the Electronic Emissary Project at the University of Texas at Austin. It is a match-maker that brings together teachers, students, and subject-matter authorities in a digital exchange of ideas (Milone,Jr, 1997, p. 50). Some examples of the pairs that have been matched are these:

  1. Fourth and fifth graders in Kansas City, Missouri, learned about writing and broadcasting news from Vance Elderkin, a lecturer in the Department of Communications at North Caroling State University
  2. High school seniors in Windsor, Connecticut, discuss and research current events with the help of B. Welling Hall, a political science professor at Earlham college in Columbus, Ohio.
  3. For a more complete list of the areas in which school/expert collaborations have been established go to

The Cybrid CD combines all the bells and whistles users have come to expect from CD-ROM technology with a direct and ideally, seamless, connection to the internet. Although this new product is still fairly open, some of the cybrid CDs allow users to connect with experts to get help. For example in MathSoft's StudyWorks! educators and secondary-level students can find a comprehensive set of services, including homework mentors, a forum for original papers and links to thousands of organizations and experts. The Ultimate Medical Guide (IV Publishing) adds immediacy and interaction to its CD by taking users to the Mayo Health O@sis site for a chance to talk directly to doctors, dietitians, and other Mayo Clinic staff (McLester, 1997, p. 52).

Return to top

Discovery Learning

Jerome Bruner was influential in defining Discovery Learning. It uses Cognitive psychology as a base. Discovery learning is "an approach to instruction through which students interact with their environment-by exploring and manipulating objects, wrestling with questions and controversies, or performing experiments" (Ormrod, 1995, p. 442) The idea is that students are more likely to remember concepts they discover on their own. Teachers have found that discovery learning is most successful when students have prerequisite knowledge and undergo some structured experiences. (Roblyer, Edwards, and Havriluk, 1997, p 68).

Modern technology can now provide a virtual environment for students to explore. Medio's Exploring Ancient Architecture provides students with different ancient sites to explore for example, Stonehenge and an Egyptian pyramid. Students can 'walk' around the sites and explore places as they were when they were built. In IVI Publishing's Louis Cat Orze students are immersed in a richly rendered, historically accurate model of Louis XIV's decadent court at Versailles during the year 1697. Students are challenged to solve the mystery of the queen's missing necklace. The whimsical feline Louis Cat Orze guides users as they explore the ins and outs of the palace (Parham, 1996, p. 9). The WWW can now link students to virtual worlds created using the vrml markup language. Although the 'worlds' are fairly simplistic at this point the potential is there for virtual field trips to many educational places where students will be able to control the tour. Click here to see some examples of vrml.

Simulations are another area where computer technology can support children's learning. Scholastic Software's Operation Frog aquaints students with the structure and components of a body system. It can take the place of dissection work with a real frog. For many schools it is less expensive (since it can be done over and over), less offensive to students and more flexible. Many teachers find simulations offer effective supplements to real labs, either to prepare students for making good use of the actual labs, or a follow-ups with variations on the original experiments. (Roblyer, Edwards, and Havriluk, 1997, p 96). Maxis Software produces SimCity , it allows students to manipulate several factors while developing a community. This helps them focus on factors they must consider when developing a local project to benefit their community (Roblyer, Edwards, and Havriluk, 1997, p 98). As a final example, simulations can provide students with experiences that they could not do in real life. Science Toolkit: Earthquake Module by Broderbund allows students to cause an earthquake and observe its activities.

For more reading on these ideas see "What should collaborative technology Be?"

Return to top


The Cognitive approach to teaching is gaining momentum. Educators have realized that for students to be successful in the twenty first century they need to be lifelong learners. Helping them to develop the skills necessary to become lifelong learners requires a different approach to teaching and learning. The direct instruction method that was used almost exclusively in the earlier part of this century, though still effective for some skills, is giving way to a more cooperative approach. One that involves students working together toward common goals, teachers serving as 'experts', and coaches, and facilitators, and sometimes just plain getting out of the way and letting students discover things for themselves. What is technology's role in this movement? It is supporting the choices that teachers make every step of the way by providing the environment, the content, the experiment, and the place for students to 'put it all together' to share with other students, parents, and the world.

Return to top

Matrix of Models of Instruction and Technology Support

Psychologist   Contribution  Software Example 
B.F. Skinner  Stimulus/Response Theory  Outnumbered! 
R. Gagne  Events of Instruction  Welcome to Physics 
Lev Vygotsky  Zone of Proximal Development  StudyWorks 
John Dewey  Democratic Principles in Education  Decisions! Decisions!  
Jerome Bruner  Discovery Learning  Operation Frog 
Seymour Papert  Microworlds  Logo programming lang. 
Jean Piaget  Constructivist Theory   Science Toolkit: Earthquake Module 
Cognition & Technology Group at Vanderbuilt  Anchored Instructon  Jasper Woodbury Problem Solving Series 
Alan Collins, John Seely Brown, and Susan E. Newman  Cognitive Apprenticeship  Electronic Emissary Project at the University of Texas at Austin. 

Return to top 


Arends. R.I. (1994) Learning to teach. (3rd ed.) New York, NY:McGraw Hill, Inc (ch.11)

Cognition and Technology Group (1995). Looking at technology in context: A framework for understanding technology and educational research. In D. Berliner & R. Calfee (Eds), The Handbook of Educational Psychology, MacMillian Publishing NY.

Collins, A., Brown, J.S. & Newman, S.E. (1989). Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the craft of reading, writing and matematics. In L.B. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, learning and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser (pp. 453-494). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

McLester, Susan (1997). The Cybrid Experiment, Technology & Learning, March issue, pp 48-56.

Milone, Michael N., Jr.,(1997). From Kindergarten to College-Partnerships That Span the Years, Technology & Learning, April issue, pp. 44-51.

Ormrod, J. (1995). Educational psychology: Principles and applications. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:Prentice-Hall.

Parham, Charles, (1996). Interacting with the Past, Technology & Learning, February issue, pp. 8-11.

Roblyer, Edwards, and Havriluk, M.D., Edwards, Jack, & Havriluk, Mary Anne (1997) Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching, Merrill, Upper Saddle river, NJ.

Rosenshine, B. (1986). Synthesis of research on explicit teaching, Educational Leadership, April issue, pp. 60-69.

Return to top

Return to Judith Conway's Home Page