Computer-Aided Personalized System of Instruction

Online University Courses


Teaching Large Classes in a Virtual Environment While Still
Actively Engaging Students in the Learning Process

Joseph J. Pear

University of Manitoba


An online, automated method that approximates private tutors through the use of peer reviewers enables large classes to be taught in a virtual environment while still actively engaging students in the learning process. The method is highly flexible and easy to implement for practically any course.



In the ideal educational system, each student would have a private tutor who initiates student inquiry, probes the student’s knowledge, provides constructive feedback, and thus actively engages the student in the learning process. Clearly, except for the very rich, this type of academic education has never been practical. In 1968, however, the psychologist Fred S. Keller described a close approximation to having private tutors for students in a large class. In this method, which is called personalized system of instruction (PSI), students proceed through course material at their own pace by writing unit assignments on study questions or problems designed to initiate student inquiry (Keller, 1968). Other students, who generally are in a more advanced course, act as reviewers or tutors by evaluating and giving feedback on the unit assignments. PSI is a mastery system since students demonstrate mastery on a given unit before they can proceed to the next unit.

Automating PSI

By automating repetitive tasks, computer technology increases the efficiency of PSI. In addition, with computer technology, obtaining reviewers from a more advanced course is unnecessary because each student's current level of mastery is available instantaneously to the computer. An added benefit of computer technology is that students do not all have to be at one specific location at one specific time – they can do their assignments and their peer reviewing in a virtual environment.

A method called computer-aided personalized system of instruction (CAPSI) used at the University of Manitoba incorporates the above ideas to actively engage students in the learning process in a virtual environment (Pear & Crone-Todd, 1999; Pear & Novack, 1996). To ensure high-quality student involvement, CAPSI has built-in quality control procedures. The program requires that a student’s unit assignment be evaluated by the instructor or teaching assistant or by two more advanced peer reviewers. If two peer reviewers evaluate it, the program will not record a pass unless both independently agree that the student has demonstrated mastery. In addition, all assignments are automatically recorded for the instructor to sample and evaluate. There is also a built-in appeal process for arguing the validity of a given answer or solution.


Applicability of the Program

The program is applicable to any course topic and any set of questions or problems. The instructor selects the study material and inputs questions or problems and certain parameters; e.g., number of units in the course, the course credit for each unit assignment, the course credit for peer reviewing, and whether there are to be examinations or projects in the course and their respective course credits. The program then automates all the administrative functions of the course.

Thus, the study material and the questions, exercises, and problems form the core of the system. The type of learning that students can acquire from the course depends on this core. For this reason CAPSI is designed for constructed or composed solutions or answers rather than option-based (e.g., true-false, multiple choice) responses. In addition, procedures for initiating higher-order thinking have been integrated into the system to help ensure that students actively engage the course material to the fullest extent (Crone-Todd, 2001; Crone-Todd, Pear & Read, 1999; Pear, Crone-Todd, Wirth & Simister, in press).



Crone-Todd, D. E. (2001). Increasing the levels at which undergraduate students answer questions in computer-aided personalized system of instruction courses. PhD thesis submitted to the University of Manitoba.

Crone-Todd, D. E., Pear, J. J., & Read, C. N. (2000). Operational definitions of higher-order thinking objectives at the post-secondary level. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 4, 99-106.

Keller, F. S. (1968). "Good-bye Teacher...". Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, 5, 79-89.

Pear, J. J., & Crone-Todd, D. E. (1999). Personalized system of instruction is cyberspace. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 32, 205-209.

Pear, J. J., Crone-Todd, D. E., Wirth, K., & Simister, H. (in press). Assessment of thinking level in students' answers. Academic Exchange Quarterly.

Pear, J. J., & Novak, M. (1996). Computer-aided personalized system of instruction: A program evaluation. Teaching of Psychology, 23, 119-123.

Teaching APA Style
using WebCAPSI

APA Style Course WebCAPSI provides the structure and reason for students to read and to learn the content of the Publication Manual by requiring them to answer more than 250 short-essay questions in 10 units covering APA Style. more about Teaching APA Style Online

WebCAPSI Slideshow

Learn how WebCAPSI is used to design courseware for your course.


CAPSI Flowchart Capsi Flowchart

The CAPSI System can be used to develop: University Courseware, Community College Courseware, Courseware for Training, Online Business Training, Distance Education courses, Military Training Courses and more


© CAPSI and WebCAPSI 2002-2010

Teaching APA Style using WebCAPSI | WebCAPSI slideshow | CAPSI Flowchart | WebCAPSI | CAPSI Courseware | Using CAPSI
| Publications | Development Team | What is PSI? | CAPSI Glossary