Relative Advantages of Instructional Software in the Classroom

Prior to the reading for this week (Roblyer, 2016) , I was aware that there were different types of software which I used in the classroom. I was vaguely aware that they could be used in different ways for different things, but I had not really thought about categorization. I hadn’t thought about the type of software and how it would impact my pupils. I tend to stumble across things and then think about how I can add them to my classroom environment.

From my reading, I have learned about the following 5 different categories of software. Drill and practice, Tutorials, Simulations, Instructional Games and Problem-Solving Software. In this post I will discuss a little about each one and include some examples for each that could be used with 5th grade pupils. The final part of the blog discusses the relative advantages of using instructional software.

Drill and Practice

Drill and Practice software provides students with opportunities to learn by working through examples, usually one after the other and then receiving some form of feedback on their performance. There are different types of activities such as Branching drills, Flash cards, Chart completion and more Extensive feedback activities.  Given that this type of software was some of the earliest to be used, there is extensive research that shows that these types of activity can facilitate the successful transfer of knowledge to long term memory for users. Criticism often comes from constructivists who argue that drill and practice is synonymous with ‘old fashioned’ and out of date teaching methods. The following pieces of software are examples that I could use and adapt for teaching Social Sciences to my 5th grade pupils.

Sheppard Software: This webpage has a range of different geography and history based drill and practice activities. is a flashcard based piece of online software.


Tutorial software is similar to how a teacher might teach, but virtually. It is usually designed to be completed alone rather than as a complement to other teaching. This type of software is either, branching or linear. A linear tutorial is as it sounds – a straight through piece of software which gives explanation, practice and feedback to the participant no matter the performance of the learner. A branching tutorial is more complex and will offer different ‘paths’ for different learners dependent on their performance. The software often includes drill and practice activities within the tutorial and so as long as the activities are well thought through so the same advantages apply. Difficulties lie in the effort and research required to produce an effective piece of tutorial software. Constructivists also argue that this type of software is simply an extension of direct instruction. This type of software is often limited at 5th grade level – often being designed for older students. I struggled to find an appropriate piece of software for use in Social Science with my class, so included a link to Khan Academy, a resource many of my pupils use for maths but which covers social sciences as well – albeit at a higher level that 5th grade.


Simulation software varies widely but essentially is a piece of software which is a computer model which mimics in some way a situation with the intention of teaching the user how the system actually functions. Rather than teach the user what to do, a range of choices are usually presented to the learner. Simulations which teach a learner, ‘about something’ are categorized as Physical or Iterative and those which teach, ‘how to’ are categorized as Procedural or Situational. This categorization is attributed to Alessi and Trollop (2001). There are a number of advantages to using simulations, but the most apparent to me is the ability to let children participate in learning situation which would otherwise be impossible. Criticisms of the models tend to focus on the danger of eliminating, ‘hands-on’ experience for students especially in science lab software which tends to be the most common. The Icivics resource is free and can be used for history or geography. This is a simulation I have used in the past which teaches pupils about flood defenses in the UK. Note it appears to no longer be supported but worked in Chrome.

Instructional Games

Instructional games are designed to add fun to educational experiences. They can focus of the learner having to acquire and apply knowledge but usually with some kind of rules and gameplay which might include competition. The engagement is one of the strong points as pupils seem to be engaged and drawn into the competition. I have created my own ‘game structure’ to use in maths lessons rewarding pupils with points, levels and awards and they love it. Simple tasks become much more motivated. While not a social science resource, I can not go past this site which we use in school a lot. The maths games are FUN and the pupils love the ability to compete amongst each other as well as against other schools.

Problem-Solving Software

This category of software is very popular and might be mistaken with simulation and instructional games. The difference is that this type of software is created to help students foster specific problem-solving skills rather than focus on one specific curriculum area – although many of the elementary specific titles do focus on math or literacy. Supporters claim that visualization is encouraged, that students are more motivated and that some software helps students to understand how their knowledge can be applied. Critics have claimed that there can be a lack of skills transfer and that there can be a lot of confusion of the actual skills being developed. The following link came from a suggestion in the reading this week and I am going to try it with my maths class this week. Again not for social studies but valuable for 5th grade.

The Relative Advantage

I have learned a lot this week, and have found a plethora of new resources which I will be using in class. More importantly, I have a better understanding of the types of software which I can use. The relative advantages of using such software are clear to me – with one caveat. The software has to be evaluated carefully by the teacher to make sure that it serves a purpose and is appropriate for purpose. If it does, then the advantages are very apparent. Students might well be more engaged and motivated, there exists the opportunity to have more pupils learning independently and in an individual manner. For large classes pupils can all be engaged and often work at a pace that suits them more appropriately. There exists evidence that drill and practice software can help learners commit to long term memory more easily. Often the impossible becomes possible with different simulations. There are balances to be aware of but it is obvious that the advantages that well designed and thoughtfully implemented software afford outweigh the disadvantages.


Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching. 7th Edition. Massachusetts: Pearson.

Alessi, S., & Trollip S. (2001) Multimedia for learning: Methods and development. Needham Heights, M.A. Allen and Bacon







2 thoughts on “Relative Advantages of Instructional Software in the Classroom

  1. Good analysis of each category of software Andrew! Like you mentioned, I had selected resources that I could use in my class but I never really thought about which placing them into different categories. Categorizing them and using them for their intended purpose does seem like a much more deliberate adn effective method. Once again, great post!


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