The teaching machine was the invention of Harvard Psychologist, B.F. Skinner who wrote his stimulus-response theory of human learning in the 1950s. Based on the early research of Pavolv, Skinner’s notion of the human brain was that it was composed of neural bonds he called S-R bonds. A stimulus causes a behavioral response and that pairing is permanently locked in or becomes a permanent neural structure when it is followed by a reward.
In 1954, Skinner was designing mechanical teaching machines that presented information then posed multiple choice questions. The student responded by choosing an answer. If correct, the student was rewarded with a “correct” or some such “positive reinforcement” and was allowed to proceed.
Present day e-Learning uses much more sophisticated presentation tools than those available in Skinner’s time. Principles of learning used in course design now incorporate much more sophisticated new concepts of how learning works. Many new teaching methodologies are based on neurophysiology studies and concepts that have evolved out of information processing technology. However, the technical advances apply more to the presentation of course materials than to the assessment of student learning and progress.
The e-Learning software still calls for use of the multiple choice format for assessing learning acquisition. If the course designer wants to incorporate long answer responses such as essays into the assessment of student knowledge acquisition, intervention of a human scorer is still necessary.
In spite of those limitations, e-Learning is ideal for training mature learners, especially in the fact-based healthcare fields and the exact sciences. Detailed information can be presented in vivid graphic and animated form to students. The software can be expertly programmed to account for rates of acquisition of information. Lessons can be presented in a range of visual, auditory and mixed formats that can incorporate a world of available materials.
Knowledge acquisition and progress can be adequately assessed and feedback to the student can be presented to sizable numbers of learners in many locations. Studies have shown coursework delivered with minimal face-to-face contact with teachers is not less effective than face-to-face courses.
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