Computer-based training

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  • Although there isn't any generally accepted definition of Computer-Based Training one can say that it is a kind of educational technologies inspired by various behaviorist theories.
  • More or less synonymous terms: Computer-Aided Instruction (CAI), Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI), Computer-Based Instruction (CBI).
  • In a most narrow sense, CBT is an interactive instructional approach in which the computer, taking the place of an instructor, provides a series of stimuli to the student ranging from questions to be answered to choices or decisions to be made. The CBT then provides feedback based on the student's response.
  • Using the computer for training and instruction, CBT programs are called "courseware" and provide interactive training sessions for all disciplines. Using graphics extensively, CBT was originally introduced on Main Frames, then LaserDiscs, then CD-ROMs and, later, online. CBT courseware is typically developed with authoring languages that are designed to create interactive question/answer sessions. (Definition inspired from
  • Courses using the computer as the primary delivery method of instruction. No textbook is required. It may be self-paced, a self-contained interactive instruction on a CD, or instruction through e-mail and small group computer conferences with other students. The term CBT is often used interchangeably with Computer- Assisted Instruction (CAI). Oregon Network for Education
  • In most definitions, CBT focuses on courseware. E.g. the Webopedia defines CBT as "a type of education in which the student learns by executing special training programs on a computer". So, for some people CBT is equivalent to programs that provide self-paced student instruction, tests and learning feedback with very little or no involvement by a teacher.

Beyond simple courseware and quizzing

Frequently, CBT or CAI refers to a wider range of Pedagogic strategy, e.g.

  • drill-and-practice
  • tutorial
  • simulation
  • educational games
  • problem solving
  • applications.

Often, CBT is put in contrast to computer-based learning (CBL) - also technology-based learning (TBL), computer-based education (CBE) - and we'd rather put more exploratory environments such as simulations and such in the CBL category.

CBT can be used in combination with various Computer Supported Learning Resources (CSLR) and computer managed instruction systems (CMI).

Despite the fact that educational technologies now cover a variety of approaches such as microworlds or virtual communities, they still convey among many the caricature of these early days: a sequence of question-answer-feedback frames or a drill-and-practice environment. Most forms of modern e-learning are inspired by this paradigm in the form of web-based training (WBT). The difference between CBT and WEB are that:

Behaviorist approaches may by useful for the acquisition of facts or procedural skills, but the high granularity of instruction is inappropriate for higher level objectives. However, the original theories has been progressively influenced other theories: constructivist ideas led to reduce granularity and include open problem solving situations; Cognitive sciences influence led to provide metacognitive tools instead of giving an immediate feedback.


Learning technologies have their roots in the behaviorist theories. As early as 1912, Thorndike wrote "If, by a miracle of mechanical ingenuity, a book could be so arranged that only to him who had done what was directed on page one would page two become visible, and so on, much that now requires personal instruction could be managed by print."(P. 165). The first mechanical teaching machine was developed by S. Pressey in 1927.

The success of behaviorist theories in psychology (Skinner) has their impact on pedagogical approaches, leading to Programmed instruction (Crowder, 1964). The key principles were to make the learner active, to give immediate feedback, to decompose the learning process into a sequence of small steps (which augments the probability of positive reinforcement, and to individualize the learning activities (amount if time, number of difficulty of exercises). These principles were transferred from paper-based programme instruction to the first computer-based teaching programs in the sixties.

Progressively, computer-based learning tools provided learners with more control of their activities. The mastery learning approach (Bloom, 1971) borrows the idea of a continuous control of effectiveness, but the notion of modules refers to a coarser grain in instructional sequence than the behaviorist notion of frames. In summary, nowadays, e-learning is much broader than its behaviorist origins but still relies on the concept of individualized instruction, It aims to construct a sequence of learning activities that builds upon the contributions of instructional science such as the effectiveness of pre-structuring and post-structuring activities, the salience of naive pre-representations, the benefits of multiple representations and even the enrichment of peer interactions.


See authoring environments.


  • Block, J. (1971). Mastery learning: Theory and practice. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
  • Bloom, B. (1968). Learning for mastery. Evaluation Comment,1(2), 1-5.
  • Bloom, B. (1971). Mastery learning. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
  • Bloom B.S. (1979). Caractéristiques individuelles et apprentissages scolaires. Bruxelles: Labor.
  • Davis, Denese and Jackie Sorrell, (1995, December). Mastery learning in public schools. Paper prepared for PSY 702: Conditions of Learning. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Available online: [1]