Computer-Assisted Instruction


Computer Science; Information Systems


Computer-assisted instruction is the use of computer technology as a means of instruction or an aid to classroom teaching. The instructional content may or may not pertain to technology. Computerassisted instruction often bridges distances between instructor and student and allows for the instruction of large numbers of students by a few educators.



Computer-assisted instruction uses programming to determine whether a student understands the lesson (correctly answers sample problems) or needs more help or remediation (incorrectly answers sample problems).

Computer-assisted instruction uses programming to determine whether a student understands the lesson (correctly answers sample problems) or needs more help or remediation (incorrectly answers sample problems). This flowchart indicates a general path of computer-assisted instruction.
Adapted from S. Egarievwe, A. O. Ajiboye, and G. Biswas, “Internet Application of LabVIEW in Computer Based Learning,” 2000.

Computer-assisted instruction (CAI) supplements this model with technology, namely a computing device that students work on for some or all of a lesson. Some CAI programs offer limited options for how the material is presented and what learning strategies are supported. Others, known as learner-controlled programs, are more flexible.

A typical CAI lesson focuses on one specific concept, such as long division or the history of Asia. The program may present information through audio, video, text, images, or a combination of these. It then quizzes the student to make sure that they have paid attention and understood the material. Such instruction has several benefits. First, students often receive information through several mediums, so they do not have to adapt to the teacher's preferred style. Second, teachers can better support students as they move through the lessons without having to focus on presenting information to a group.


Learning is rarely a “one size fits all” affair. Different topics pose greater or lesser challenges to different students, depending on their natural abilities and study habits. In regular classrooms, teachers can often sense when some students are not benefiting from a lesson and adapt it accordingly. With some CAI, this is not an option because the lesson is only presented in one way.


Fortunately, some forms of CAI address different learning rates by using adaptive methods to present material. These programs test students' knowledge and then adapt to those parts of the lesson with which they have more difficulty. For instance, if a math program notices that a student often makes mistakes when multiplying fractions, it might give the student extra practice in that topic. Adaptive programs give teachers the means to better assess students' individual needs and track their progress. As the technology improves, more detailed and specific results may bolster teachers' efforts to tailor instruction further.


CAI is especially important to the growing field of online education. Online instructors often use elements of CAI to supplement their curricula. For example, an online course might require students to watch a streaming video about doing library research so that they will know how to complete their own research paper for the course. Online education also enables just a few instructors to teach large numbers of students across vast distances. Tens of thousands of students may enroll in a single massive open online course (MOOC).

—Scott Zimmer, JD

Abramovich, Sergei, ed. Computers in Education. 2 vols. New York: Nova, 2012. Print.

Erben, Tony, Ruth Ban, and Martha E. Castañeda. Teaching English Language Learners through Technology. New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Miller, Michelle D. Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2014. Print.

Roblyer, M. D., and Aaron H. Doering. Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching. 6th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2013. Print.

Tatnall, Arthur, and Bill Davey, eds. Reflections on the History of Computers in Education: Early Use of Computers and Teaching about Computing in Schools. Heidelberg: Springer, 2014. Print.