Instructional Design: CAI as an instructional tool

From ETEC 510
Jump to: navigation, search

This page was originally authored by Michele McFarlane(Spring 2009).

This page was edited by Carmen Cheung(Spring 2011).

Instructional Design: Computer Assisted Instruction as an instructional tool

What is Computer Assisted Instruction?

Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI) refers to computer programs which present instructional material, some of which also assess and keep record of students' understanding. (Britannica, 2011)

The use of CAI stemmed from the advent of microcomputers in the 1970s. Today, most CAI programs present materials through tutorials, drill and practice, simulation, and problem solving approaches . Some CAI program also assess and keep record of the students' understanding.

Using computer allows instructions to include multimedia such as text, graphics, sound and video to suit the needs of learners with different learning styles. By providing one-on-one interaction and producing immediate responses to input answers, computers allow students to demonstrate mastery and learn new material at their own pace.

Looking at CAI's affordances and its role in the learning process, this term might need to be redefined in the near future to include drill and practice, tutorial, and educational games on hand-held electronic devices.

Similar or related terms

Computer-based education (CBE) and computer-based instruction (CBI) are the broadest terms and can refer to virtually any kind of computer use in educational settings, including drill and practice, tutorials, simulations, instructional management, supplementary exercises, programming, database development, writing using word processors, and other applications.

Computer-managed instruction (CMI) can refer either to the use of computers by school staff to organize student data and make instructional decisions or to activities in which the computer evaluates students' test performance, guides them to appropriate instructional resources, and keeps records of their progress.


Computer-enriched instruction (CEI) is defined as learning activities in which computers

  1. generate data at the students' request to illustrate relationships in models of social or physical reality
  2. execute programs developed by the students, or
  3. provide general enrichment in relatively unstructured exercises designed to stimulate and motivate students.


CAI systems fall into two basic types: tutor or tool (Levy, 1997), although the term CAI often refers to computer tutors. In the tutor classification, the computer has the information to be learned and controls the learning environment. A CAI tool enhances the teaching, usually focusing on one particular task and aiming to improve it.

Within the tutor classification, there are four modes: drill and practice, tutorials, simulations and instructional games(Gloor, 1990).

Drill and practice (also known as “Drill and Kill”) is suited to the behaviourist model, with repeated practice on lower-level cognitive skills. Although often frowned upon, it can be useful in certain contexts. The tutorial mode is probably one of the most common ones within CAI.

CAI and learning perspectives

  • Behavioural psychology (Skinner, 1968) focuses only on objectively observable behaviours and discounts mental activities.
  • The cognitive model (Merrill, 1991)holds the view that knowledge is constructed and is not simply a learned response. This model considers the active mental processing that occurs and the setting (individual, group and environment) when acquiring knowledge.
  • The constructivist approach (Jonassen, 1991) considers the nature of knowledge,the mental activities of learners and how knowledge develops in learning. In this model, learners use their intuitions to link prior understanding and new knowledge, which can be acquired by new experiences and interaction with the physical world.

What is constructivism?

Learning Cycle

Constructivism is a theory about how people learn, which encompasses both behaviorism and cognitive theory. Constructivist propose that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. When we encounter something new, we might reconcile it with our previous ideas and experience through the process of assimilation, or maybe change what we believe in the process of accommodation. In any case, we are active creators of our own knowledge. To do this, we must ask questions, explore, and assess what we know.

In the classroom, the constructivist view of learning can point towards a number of different teaching practices. In the most general sense, it usually means encouraging students to use active techniques (experiments, real-world problem solving) to create more knowledge and then to reflect on and talk about what they are doing and how their understanding is changing. The teacher makes sure she understands the students' preexisting conceptions, and guides the activity to address them and then build on them.

Affordances and sample use

The following table elicits the relationship between the affordances of CAI programs and our understanding of how people learn.

Affordances of CAI programs

Five elements of Engaging activities



Presents content through rich multimedia, such as text, videos, demonstrations and interactive animations

Orientation, Elicitation

· Increases student motivation

· Presents information in more than one way to suit different learning styles

· Tutorial software programs

· Educational computer games

· When used in class, a CAI program frees teacher time from some classroom tasks so that a teacher can devote more time to individual students

Embedding hypertext links

Elicitation, Restructuring of Ideas

Provide supplementary resources learners with relevant information to enhance the content of the CAI

· Online tutorial software programs

· Online educational games

Ability to generate questions depending on learner’s performance on previous questions

Restructuring of Ideas, Application

· Students applied what they learned from tutorial notes to questions

· Questions asked have a greater chance of meeting each learner’s zone of proximal development

“Drill-and-practice” tutorial programs or games, assessment programs (ex. Rosetta Stone)

Provide immediate response to students’ answers

Restructuring of Ideas, Review

Immediate feedback

Programs that provide chances to review (link to previous notes/ information on the web)

Presenting thinking problems in the form of games


· Improves learners’ higher order thinking and problem solving skills

· Increases student motivation as games provide context for fantasy

Educational computer games

Advantages and shortcomings of CAI


According to Traynor (2003),previous researches demonstrated that CAI programs have a positive effect on learners' cognitive processes and increasing motivation in the following mechanisms:

  1. Personalizing information
  2. Animating objects on the screen to increase motivation
  3. Providing practice activities that incorporate challenges and curiosity
  4. Providing a fantasy context
  5. Providing a learner with choice over his/her own learning

In addition, with the privacy and individual attention afforded by computers, some students are relieved of the embarrassment of progressing more slowly through lessons or giving an incorrect answer. (Britannica, 2011)


  1. CAI's are generally costly systems to purchase, maintain, and update.
  2. The use of computers in education might decrease the amount of human interaction.
  3. Ready-to-use coursewares produced by software companies might not suit the particular needs of the individual class or curriculum.
  4. Courseware template on the market allows educators to insert particular elements into a general format for tests and drill instruction. However, this system tends to be boring and repetitive.
  5. Software can be developed in-house, that is, a school, course, or teacher could provide the courseware exactly tailored to its own needs, but this is expensive, time-consuming, and may require more programming expertise than is available.
  6. Until recently, most CAI programs are off-line, pre-programmed instructional tools which do not include features for collaboration or discussion between users. This limits the interaction between task, instructor and learner(s).

See Also

Computer Assisted Instruction and writing

Games games as a technology design

Instructional design models

Math arcade on FunBrain

Constructivism as a paradigm for teaching and learning

Instructional design and learning theory


"Computer-assisted Instruction (CAI) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia." Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Web. 08 Mar. 2011. <>.

Soe, Kyaw, Stan Koki, and Juvenna M. Chang. "Effect of Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI) on Reading Achievement: A Meta-Analysis." Pacific Resources for Education and Learning. Web. 8 Mar. 2011. <>.

Suppes, Patrick, and Ronald F. Fortune. "Computer-assisted Instruction: Possibilities and Problems." Collected Works of Patrick Suppes. Web. 08 Mar. 2011. <>.

Tabassum, Rabia. "Effect of Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI) on the Secondary School Students' Achievement in Science." Pakistan Research Repository. Web. 08 Mar. 2011. <>.

Traynor, Patrick L. "Effects of Computer-assisted-instruction on Different Learners." Journal of Instructional Psychology (2003). Http:// Web. 8 Mar. 2011.

Van Eck, Richard. "Digital Game-Based Learning: It's Not Just the Digital Natives Who Are Restless." Educause 41.2 (2006): 16-30. EDUCAUSE. Web. 08 Mar. 2011. < Review/EDUCAUSEReviewMagazineVolume41/DigitalGameBasedLearningItsNot/158041>.