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Isn't this just programmed instruction?

Short answer:

Only if the worksheets are simplified and used in isolation: no group discussion, no Socratic dialogue with a knowledgeable instructor, and no emphasis on pre-class research.

Long answer:

Programmed instruction is when students work through long sets of questions or problems to which the answers immediately appear for rapid feedback. The concept is based on B.F. Skinner's research into operant conditioning, where behavior modification occurs as a result of reinforcments or punishments immediately following subject actions. In programmed instruction, the subject is the student, the desired behavior modification is student comprehension of the material, and the reinforcement/punishment feedback comes in the form of satisfaction or disappointment following comparison of the student's personal answers with the correct answers given immediately after each question. On the surface, it may appear that these worksheets are nothing more than that.

Indeed, if students learn in isolation from one another, doing nothing but completing such worksheets, it would be little more than programmed instruction. This is why I caution against using these worksheets as ends rather than means. The questions contained in these worksheets, and their respective answers, are merely catalysts for learning. They do not constitute a complete learning program in and of themselves.

Answers are given to the worksheet questions only as indicators of success: so that students may be able to determine on their own whether or not their research and problem-solving efforts have been fruitful. They are purposefully minimal, giving only enough information to confirm or deny correctness, and should never be considered the "final word" on any problem. This constitutes my primary argument against programmed instruction: that it defines learning as a programmed response, the ability to provide concise verbal responses to carefully structured questions.

The real answers to these worksheet questions are the information sources, methods of problem-solving, and other cognitive strategies used by students to solve the problems contained therein. The actual questions and answers themselves are almost incidental. What will most benefit the student in their years to come is the ability to think and to learn on their own, as they encounter the challenges of their careers and of life in general. It is in the dynamic classroom environment, in discussion with the instructor and with student peers, that these abilities develop. And it is in preparation for such rich learning experiences that worksheets like these find their greatest value.

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