Five Types of Instructional Software

Five types of instructional software include drill and practice, tutorials, simulations, instructional games, and problem-solving software. It is extremely important to note that instructional software is not meant to replace teachers, but to support good teaching. Several quotes regarding the implementation of technology regarding good teaching may be found here. “Instructional software is a general term for computer programs used specifically to deliver instruction, or assist with the delivery of instruction on a topic” (Robyler, p. 75). It is worth mentioning that when analyzing implementation of instructional technology there are several types of thinking. These include systems thinking, interdisciplinary thinking, user-centered design, specialist language, and meta-level reflection. Teachers must analyze all of the educational technologies available and make decisions in regards to what fits best in specific learning cases. What is decided relies upon individual teacher beliefs and thinking as well as the learning goals that are trying to be accomplished.

Drill and practice software is used by students for skill practice and often gives instant feedback. There are several types of drill and practice activities. These activities include flash cards, chart fill ins, branching drills, and extensive feedback. It is important to note that “the function of a drill is not instruction, but rather practice after instruction” (Robyler, p. 80). Reasons supporting drill and practice use include immediate feedback for both the student and teacher, increased student motivation, and saving teacher time. When selecting drill and practice activities, teachers should look for programs that include presentation rate controls that give students the time each individual student needs, answer judging that allows the program to “discriminate between correct and incorrect  answers” (Robyler, p. 80), feedback for right and wrong answers, characteristics that keep “instructions and procedures simple” (Robyler, p. 80), and learners motivated. Drill and practice should be used to reinforce and practice skills and concepts that have already been learned, and include time constraints of approximately 10 to 15 minutes according to Robyler. While many contemporary educators seem to be against drill and practice , these “software functions have been established by researchers” (Robyler, p. 80). In fact, “even in some research circles, some authors have claimed that directed teaching strategies are more effective than minimally guided teaching techniques” (Robyler, p. 81). “Rather than ignoring drill and practice software or criticizing it as outmoded, teachers should seek to identify needs that drills can meet and use the software in ways that take advantage of its capabilities” (Robyler, p. 81). Like drill and practice software, tutorials have been around for a long time and are considered to be direct instruction. They are also normally used with learners independently. I have used several drill and practice websites. These include and The relative advantage of these sites include increased motivation and engagement in class. I have also found that some students really engage in these assignments outside of class. The other advantage to both of these programs is that lessons are included for each module. Students can view a written lesson with graphics in Straightace and a web video lesson in Tenmarks. While students do not have to use the lessons, they are there and I try and encourage students to use them. There is also ability to change the number of problems assigned on Tenmarks. Both programs have extensive feedback capabilities including time spent on task, statistics on number of problems correct on first try and sets can be reassigned. Hints are also offered, which can be motivational as well.

Tutorials have been delivered through many modes including recordings, and computer technologies. Tutorials are considered to be true teaching materials and are usually used as an instructional unit as opposed to a support. Tutorials are similar to a teachers classroom instruction, but are just recordings of it. They “require practice and feedback capabilities” (Robyler, p. 83). Linear tutorials give the same instruction to all users regardless of individual differences. They do not have the ability to adapt to learner needs or performance. Branching tutorials have the ability to send learners on different paths dependent upon their performance. These tutorials range in sophistication  dependent upon the individual software. Intelligent tutoring systems have the ability to adapt to individual learner areas of weakness and “report encouraging results using such systems designed to teach mathematics” (Robyler, p. 85). When selecting tutorials instructors should consider interactivity, user control, pedagogical applications, answer-judging and feedback capabilities, multimedia abilities, and record keeping capabilities. Some problems persist regarding intelligent tutoring systems as not all instructors or designers agree upon a best possible sequence to teach specific information. This becomes a problem for investors as it is very expensive to design and develop tutorial functions that can adapt to all learner needs regardless of their differences. The only tutorial that I have used would be Khan Academy. I have used this with my Algebra 2 students. The relative advantage to Khan Academy is that students can go at their own pace. Students are also able to watch the videos as many times as they like. This has proven useful in instances when students have been absent, as well as to break up the monotony of lecture based lessons.

“A simulation is a computerized model of a real or imagined system that is designed to teach how the system works” (Robyler, p. 87). There are two types of simulations that teach about something. Physical simulations allow students to see how things work together through manipulation of what is being represented. Iterative simulations give students the ability to run processes over and over again so that can see how things relate or effect each other. There are two types of simulations that teach how to do something. Procedural simulations focus on steps, while situational simulations present students with hypothetical problems. “Simulations do not work on their own; there needs to be some structuring of the students’ interactions with the simulation to increase effectiveness” (Robyler, p. 88). Simulations slow down processes, increase student involvement, may be used to address fiscal and resource needs, allow repetition with variations, and allow complex process observation (Robyler, p. 89). Software issues can occur and accuracy is sometimes questionable. I have used simulations with my 8th grade students when teaching linear equations. The ability to change the slope and y intercept is given and students can see what happens as each variable changes making the connection to starting value and steepness. Simulations are valuable in enabling students to make connections between the structure of functions and how its graph behaves. This can also be useful for many other mathematical applications. I have also used Geometers Sketchpad to have students investigate rigid transformations. Once again, motivation and engagement increases. Students can work at their own pace. Students can also go further in investigations by following their own intuition and curiosity.

Instructional games are software products that add game-like rules and/or competition to learning activities” (Robyler, p. 92). According to Robyler a checklist has been developed that educators can use to determine the educational value of a game. The checklist includes seven criteria. These are “mentality challenge, emotional fulfillment,  knowledge enhancement, thinking skill development, interpersonal skills, spatial ability development, and bodily coordination” (Robyler, p. 93). While games motivate many students to spend more time on curriculum, there are several problems that arise when instituted. These include learning versus having fun, confusion of game rules and real life rules, inefficient learning, and classroom barriers. I have not done much with instructional games in my classroom. On occasion, I have used a geometry game where students used transformations to move an object into a specific position. The relative advantage to this is increased motivation. Students enjoy playing a game and having fun. The challenge is in getting them to make the connection from the game to the content.

Problem solving software include content area and content free problem solving skills. This type of  software promotes visualization in many academic areas including mathematics and science problem solving. Student interest and motivation are also improved according to Robyler. This software also ‘can make knowledge and skills more meaningful to students because they illustrate how and where information applies to actual problems” (Robyler, p. 98). I have not had any experience with problem solving software. I believe the relative advantage will be bringing problems to real life. I am sure that this will also result in increased engagement and motivation.

Personalized learning systems are computer based management systems that (1)assess individual student learning needs using complex algorithms and collections of data across students, and (2) provide a customized instructional experience matched to each student” (Robyler, p. 101). These systems include adaptive assessment, curriculum that is matched to the Common Core State Standards, accessible reports on individual and group progress, and multiple learning media (Robyler, p. 101). Teachers and administrators should be included when selecting PLS’s. I have not had any experience with personal learning systems. I can see how this would be a positive experience for a student who is intrinsically motivated. The adjustments that the system makes may help to motivate students who normally struggle in school as it adjusts to the things the actual person is interested in. I think that more study needs to be done in this area.

There a many benefits and limitations to using any type of software. It is important for teachers to understand the similarities and differences regarding these software in order to make responsible and educated decisions regarding their use. Teacher knowledge of pedagogy is key to implementation. While understanding of the software is important it is the way in which teachers use it that can really make a difference in student engagement, learning, and academic success.

Roblyer, M.D. (2013) Integrating educational technology into teaching (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

2 thoughts on “Five Types of Instructional Software

  1. Jason Lewis July 13, 2015 / 5:42 pm

    Hi Kevin. I think the most important point is in your first paragraph, that instructional software is meant to supplement, not replace. I have seen online programs that use the supplemental material as a replacement for a course. Students typically pass the courses, but rarely have they acquired the same knowledge as someone that took it in a regular school, or even a better designed online course. My favorite tutorial/simulation/practice site is CK-12. I like that the teacher can edit the material on the site or just use what’s available there. It goes far beyond just being an e-text or tutorial site.
    Problem solving software can be a hard one to identify. The text showed some simple ones that likely don’t relate to your course, but there are probably others used in math that are problem solving software, we just don’t think of them in that way.


  2. Robert Breit July 13, 2015 / 9:18 pm

    Hi Kevin, I have to agree with you and Jason, that software is meant as a supplement, not a replacement for good teaching. When I was reading this week’s chapters about software, specifically drill and practice, I thought about how drill and practice is typically being used in classrooms. As Roblyer points out, there needs to be a limit to how much our students use this type of software, as well as never use it to introduce a topic or lesson. I think for the most part teachers are following this best practice guideline, but this is not always the case, especially if it is a good program. It is only natural that when we find something that works well, we start to rely on it too much. I use Tenmarks in my classroom as well, to reinforce the skills we are working on. I also use it as a way to keep my students motivated. They get really excited when they get 10 out of 10 on an assignment. I usually have the class work on Tenmarks assignments on Fridays, as I use Fridays as a day for reteaching and enrichment activities. I was interested in the program StraightAce, that you talked about . When I looked it up, I found that as of July 1, it is no longer available. What made StraightAce unique? Is there something other than Tenmarks, that would be comparable to it? I enjoyed reading your post and look forward to hearing back about StraightAce and possible alternatives.



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