The Keller/PSI approach to academic and professional training has been documented to improve student performance as measured by course completion rates and subject matter retention among students. On the other hand, there are considerable practical and technical problems implementing the Keller/PSI approach within traditional educational institutions. Meanwhile, there is little if any empirical evidence suggesting precisely how the Keller/PSI model benefits learning outside of the focus on the reduced deadline orientation that is the hallmark of that teaching methodology.
Substantial evidence exists to suggest that the success of the Keller/PSI approach is actually attributable to other changes typically attributable to Keller/PSI, such as the broadening of the range of media of instruction, despite the fact that those changes are natural consequences of the Keller/PSI design rather than deliberately conceived components of the approach. The empirical evidence of the increased success of CAPSI programs further bolsters that argument.
A wealth of empirical studies have documented the benefits of other educational approaches that emphasize different learning styles and intellectual strengths outside of those typically rewarded by traditional approaches to academic education. In particular, Gardner's Multiple Intelligences Theory teaches that traditional educational methods largely exclude many students whose greatest capacity for learning lies outside of linguistic abilities. Studies of hands-on inquiry-based education and learning inventory-based programs reveal beneficial elements that could conceivably explain a large part of the success of Keller/PSI. By identifying those elements, educators could design educational methods that incorporate the most useful components of Keller/PSI without necessitating a full implementation of Keller/PSI programs where technical and practical considerations preclude doing so.
Chapter Two -- Review of Literature
Since its introduction in the late 1960s by educational theorist Fred Keller, the personalized system of instruction (PSI) approach to academic instruction enjoyed short-lived popularity. Its failure to become a more general method of educational instruction is more a result of the technical and practical difficulties of incorporating it smoothly into exiting educational curricula than a function of its effectiveness ( ). In fact, the overwhelming weight of the empirical evidence documents that Keller/PSI is significantly better by measures of course completion rates ( ) and subject matter retention ( ).
Despite significant potential benefits, implementing successful Keller/PSI programs can be tremendously difficult within the traditional framework and limitations of the academic calendar and semester hour requirements ( ). Luckily, the empirical evidence suggests that some of the underlying reasons that Keller/PSI is often successful are merely coincidental components of Keller/PSI programs rather than directly contingent upon a Keller/PSI-type of design ( ). If those components could be identified and understood, it might be possible to derive some of those advantages without relying on a full-scale implementation of Keller/PSI.
In some respects, there are apparent parallels between the elements of Keller/PSI and concurrent unrelated research into learning theories and teaching methodologies. In its original form and design, Keller/PSI happens to implement several components that are completely consistent with Gardner's Multiple Intelligence and Kolb's Learning Inventory Model ( ) as applied to human learning.
However, one of the core Keller/PSI concepts imposes considerable administrative difficulty. Since its first use, Keller/PSI has also been implemented in various modified forms that featured certain components but limited or otherwise changed others. Most commonly, those variations imposed a firm requirement to complete a course by a specific time, even if they attempted to remain faithful to the other aspects of Keller/PSI ( ). The fact that those variations of Keller/PSI were equally successful ( ) provides some basis to deemphasize focus on the original Keller/PSI system and to narrow the focus to the identifiable components of Keller's original design that seem to be consistent with prior research of changes likely to benefit modern education programs.
The combined review of the evidence provides a basis to conclude that elements of Keller/PSI could be tremendously valuable to contemporary educational programs (
). On the other hand, the value of those elements is lost to the extent that complications in implementing full versions of Keller/PSI is a requirement to do so; for many academic institutions full Keller/PSI implementation is not an available option (
). Since volumes of literature document the value of several specific educational practices that are incidental specific benefits of Keller/PSI, there is considerable value in extracting those individual components and implementing them individually as well as in any practical combination where full Keller/PSI implementation is not possible.
The Keller/PSI Concept
The essential features of Keller's PSI are the segmentation of academic courses into smaller component learning units, instruction through TAs, schedule-free self-pacing, emphasis on written learning materials, and the decreased reliance on substantive lectures by professors ( ). More specifically, Keller/PSI is designed to promote "mastery" of course material by teaching and testing small units of material one at a time. Keller/PSI strongly deemphasizes the role of professors and the lecture method.
Instead of relying on substantive lectures, Keller/PSI uses lectures more for motivational purposes, planning, and coordination than for the delivery of substantive learning material ( ). Teaching assistants are trained to provide one-on-one supplemental instruction and guidance for students by scheduled request ( ). Similarly, because of the reduced role of the professor, Keller/PSI relies more heavily on written course materials than traditional lecture-based educational methods ( ).
The signature feature of Keller/PSI is the purposeful elimination of requirements to complete courses (or individual sub-units of courses) by any calendar schedule (
). Whereas traditional educational curricula require courses to be completed within a given semester, Keller specifically permits students to establish their own schedules independently. Generally, students must complete the necessary sub-units and pass unit tests on each of them to receive academic credit for the course; however, Keller/PSI allows students to determine when they are prepared to sit for unit tests.
Moreover, Keller/PSI is designed to promote and recognize the accumulation of knowledge and not to punish students for difficulties achieving subject matter mastery (
). Therefore, Keller/PSI does not penalize failing scores on unit tests except in that progression to the subsequent sub-unit cannot proceed until the student achieves a score demonstrating subject matter mastery.
The Educational Benefits of Keller/PSI
In traditional undergraduate and graduate-level American educational institutions, time management is typically one of the most difficult challenges for students (
). Generally, course grades measure time management skills almost as much as how much subject matter students can understand or retain. In fact, there is evidence that much of the benefit of traditional lecture-based instructional formats is lost because students rely on "cramming" before exams instead of on gradually absorbing and processing learning material at the approximate pace of its presentation in class (
Empirical studies have established that Keller/PSI is associated with higher course completion rates than traditional academic courses in which students may withdraw without penalty until a specific deadline ( ). Higher long-term retention rates among Keller/PSI students than those in traditional instructional designs are also evident in the literature ( ). In effect, the Keller/PSI enables students to avoid dropping courses if their initial difficulties present a risk that completing the course could adversely affect their grade point averages. Keller/PSI eliminates this risk and therefore increases course retention and completion rates ( ).
Other literature suggests that Keller/PSI is even more beneficial in terms of obviating the need for last-minute cramming before exams and thereby promoting more effective study methods from the perspective of long-term subject matter retention (
). It is well established both that cramming is a widely used study technique, especially among undergraduates ( ) and that long-term retention rates are significantly less after cramming than after gradual lesson assimilation at the approximate rate that it is presented in lecture-based academic courses ( ). In that regard, several studies have concluded that students given the option to postpone an exam until they can prepare more fully or to cram for the exam and get it over with more often choose to postpone the exam until they can prepare for it over a longer term (
While Keller/PSI decreases the role of the professor, it provides increased availability of supplemental one-on-one instruction and guidance from especially trained TAs. There is considerable reason to believe that Keller/PSI students benefit more from the latter than they suffer from the former ( ). That is likely a function of the fact that while many students in traditional academic programs never solicit supplemental from their instructors, Keller/PSI students tend to do so with much greater frequency ( ). Likewise, it is well established that one-on-one instructional sessions are more effective than group lectures ( ).
The Problems Associated with Keller/PSI
While there is no apparent empirical evidence in the literature to contradict those characterizing the educational benefits of Keller/PSI, there are studies documenting some of the specific problems encountered in Keller/PSI courses ( ),…