Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI) refers to an educational system of instruction performed almost entirely by computer. The term, Computer Based Learning (CBL) refers to the use of computers as a key component of the educational environment. While CAI and CBL can refer to the use of computers in a classroom, they more broadly refer to a structured environment in which computers are used for teaching purposes. Computer programs allow students to work at their own pace along with direct and individualized feedback. Misconceptions can be corrected as they appear and the students' records and scores are made available to the instructor. The use of computers in the teaching and learning process is an important advance in making the highest quality of education universally available, and thus allowing each person to most fully develop their potential.
Computer assisted instruction (CAI) includes a variety of computer-based packages that provide interactive instruction. Some are sophisticated and expensive commercial packages while other applications are simple solutions developed by individuals for a local situation. Since work done in one subject area is difficult to transfer to other subject areas, much time and money needs to be invested toward its development. However, once an application has been set up, the cost per additional student is relatively small. Since fewer face to face lectures and seminars are required, this also places fewer geographical and temporal constraints on staff and students.
Computer assisted instruction can be Internet-based or run on a personal computer from a CD or DVD. Presentations on computers are particularly suited to subjects that are visually intensive, detail oriented, and difficult to conceptualize. Upper level science courses can benefit the most using the "virtual" cases to illustrate the complex biochemical processes or microscopic images as well as reducing the need to use animal or human tissue. Since the 1970s, CAI packages have become more advanced, interactive, and attractive multimedia learning experiences.
Computer educational systems typically incorporate functions such as:
With some systems, feedback can be geared towards a student's specific mistakes, or the computer can navigate the student through a series of questions adapting to what the student appears to have learned or not learned. This kind of feedback is especially useful when learning a language, and numerous computer-assisted language learning (CALL) programs have been developed. A typical CALL program presents a stimulus to which the learner must respond. The stimulus may be presented in any combination of text, still images, sound, and motion video. The learner responds by typing at the keyboard, pointing and clicking with the mouse, or speaking into a microphone. The computer offers feedback, indicating whether the learner’s response is right or wrong and, in the more sophisticated programs, attempting to analyze the learner’s response and to pinpoint errors.
The term, "Learning Design", refers to the type of activity enabled by software such as the open-source system LAMS (Learning Activity Management System) which supports sequences of activities that can be both adaptive and collaborative. Computer-aided assessment (also but less commonly referred to as e-Assessment), ranges from automated multiple-choice tests to more sophisticated systems.
Communication technologies are generally categorized according to whether the activity is done at the same time as others online or not. Asynchronous activities use technologies such as blogs, wikis, and discussion boards. Synchronous activities occur with all participants joining in at once, as with a chat session or a virtual classroom or meeting.
Gradually, since the early 1970s, lecturers and teachers adopted computer assisted instruction for a range of teaching purposes. The challenge of CAI is to understand the strength of the media and how to utilize its advantages fully.
The first general-purpose system for computer-assisted instruction was the PLATO System developed at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The PLATO system evolved with the involvement of Control Data who created the first authoring software used to create learning content. The Science Research Council wrote the first CAI system of Math for K-6. Wicat Systems then created WISE as their authoring tool using Pascal, and developed English and Math curricula for K-6. The very first complete CAI classroom for K-6 students was set up at the Waterford Elementary School in Utah using the Wicat system. The first public CAI classroom with its own layout and design was implemented with the Wicat System by Baal Systems (later known as Virtual Systems) in Singapore as a joint operation between Wicat and Baal. It is from this design that all the computer learning centers have evolved.
E-learning is an all-encompassing term generally used to refer to computer-enhanced learning, although it is often extended to include the use of mobile technologies such as PDAs (personal data assistant) and MP3 (digital audio) players. It may include the use of web-based teaching materials and hypermedia in general, multimedia CD-ROMs or web sites, discussion boards, collaborative software, e-mail, blogs, wikis, computer aided assessment, educational animation, simulations, games, learning management software, electronic voting systems and more, with possibly a combination of different methods being used.
Along with the terms "learning technology" and "educational technology," the term is generally used to refer to the use of technology for learning in a much broader sense than the computer-based training or computer aided instruction of the 1980s. It is also broader than the terms "online learning" or "online education," which generally refer to purely web-based learning. In cases where mobile technologies are used, the term "M-learning" has become more common. E-learning may also refer to educational web sites such as those offering worksheets and interactive exercises for children. The term is also used extensively in the business sector where it generally refers to cost-effective online training.
E-learning is naturally suited to distance learning and flexible learning, but can also be used in conjunction with face-to-face teaching, in which case the term "blended learning" is commonly used.
In higher education especially, a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) (which is sometimes combined with a Managed Information System (MIS) to create a "Managed Learning Environment") may be established in which all aspects of a course are handled through a consistent user interface standard throughout the institution. Established universities, as well as newer online-only colleges, may offer a select set of academic degree and certificate programs via the Internet at a wide range of levels and in a wide range of disciplines. While some programs require students to attend some campus classes or orientations, many are delivered completely online. In addition, universities may offer online student support services, such as online advising and registration, e-counseling, online textbook purchase, student government, and student newspapers.
Since its inception, Computer Based Learning has been a subject of close scrutiny and debate, with myriad arguments being advanced both in support of and against it.
Those skeptical of the value of CBL have often argued that it can only teach to its programmatic limitations; that it is not as good as having a human teacher because it can only answer questions which have been programmed into it. In addition, critics such as Neil Postman have argued that a curriculum with a computer at its core teaches a "technocratic" belief system, making all education into an uncritical type of vocational training. Rather than developing the more generalizable skills of reading, writing, and critical inquiry, the prominent use of computers in the classroom teaches how to manipulate the technology to elicit the desired response in a non-collaborative, non-rational manner.
In contrast, CBL advocates such as Jonathan Bishop believe that the use of computers in education can lead to social justice and can be successful when weblogs are used as reflective learning logs.. Also among the arguments advanced by the proponents of CBL is its ability to provide quantifiable and instantaneous feedback for its users. In particular, Computer Based Learning is often seen as the most efficient and effective manner in which to conduct distance education, as a lesson plan can be created that allows people to study at their own pace, either via the Internet or software installed on individual computers at various sites.
Some advocates of Computer Based Learning suggest that the best use of CBL is alongside a more traditional curriculum, playing a supplementary role, facilitating interest in a topic while developing the technical and informational skills CBL promotes. Companies and schools now providing CBL products have often taken this approach in creating and promoting their educational services:
Creating exceptional learning opportunities as well as a change in delivery of instruction requires following a path that involves various stages of disequilibrium, reflection, and continuous improvement.
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