What Is Computer Based Instruction in Education?

By Edward Mercer

Computer-based instruction has students interact directly with computers.
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Computer-based instruction is any curricula in which students interact with a computer as a key element of the learning process. Although the term is used to describe a number of different teaching methodologies and curricula, an instructor is almost always present to organize and monitor student activities. Students complete exercises and view materials on a computer screen rather than receiving the information from written material or an instructor's presentation. This dramatic change from traditional teaching has far-reaching implications for the future of education.


The multimedia capabilities of computer applications -- including images, video, text, and audio -- provide a rich and engrossing experience for students. The formats are easier to customize to each student's learning style and pace. A student who is a visual learner, for example, can focus on the video content in a lesson or activity, even pausing the video occasionally to digest the content fully. In addition, when students are asked to enter content or test answers in instructional applications, the computer checks responses, which makes evaluation and grading easier for teachers.


Computer-based instruction is often used in classes where the high number of students makes personal attention from the instructor nearly impossible. In such an environment, critics argue that it's difficult for educators to survey the entire class -- and thus easy for students to be distracted by the computer's other uses. Computer-based instruction requires a substantial initial investment -- even if it can ultimately lower costs by preventing having to hire new educators. This could increase educational inequality between rich and poor school districts.

Special Needs and Special Uses

The high level of customization possible in computer-based instruction makes it an attractive choice for special needs programs that often group together students with very different physical, mental, and behavioral characteristics. For certain disabilities, manipulating data on the screen via the PC interface helps students concentrate. This can enhance development of conceptual and fine motor skills. In cases of extreme physical or mental disability, a computer application can enable a student to communicate through images and text to select various options.

Computer Literacy as an Educational Goal

A primary advantage of computer-based instruction is the training it provides for computer-based everything else. In a highly technological world, the relevance of computer-based instruction in education may not be only in how it helps students process traditional lesson topics like history and English, but in how it trains students to use computers in their work and personal lives. As students go through the lesson plan on a computer, they learn how to operate menus and run applications -- valuable skills in any technological workplace. It is especially helpful for students who do not use a computer at home.