The Keller Plan was a model of Higher Education instruction devised by Fred Keller (1968) and later the Personalised System of Instruction (PSI) (Sherman et al, 1978; Sherman et al 1982). It had many of the hallmarks of self-regulated learning with the key features being:
Students could proceed at their own pace according to their abilities, interests and personal schedules.
Emphasis on the written word, with materials divided into units or modules.
A focus on materials being in units. Use of written mateial also helps with the development of skills in comprehension and expression.
Clear statement of the objectives of each module
Helping students to proceed at their own pace, but also appreciate what they needed to know by the end of each module.
Students needed to demonstrate mastery of a unit or module before being able to move onto another.
Lectures and demonstrations for motivation
Infrequent lectures and/or demonstrations used to motivate rather than communicating critical information.
Which allows for repeating examinations, personalised instruction and improved personal-social interaction.
Keller Plan in practice
Fox (1995) writing about the Personalised System of Instruction and the Keller Plan notes it to have a number of advantages over conventional educational methods and few disadvantages. With students learning significantly more (measured in final exam score and long term retention), especially those who normally performed in the lower or middle levels. It also helped develop good habits that carried over to other courses. The disadvantages to PSI was the extra effort requried by the tutor and a different way of teaching. Fox also notes that some courses had a higher drop out rate, particularly by students who found it difficult to break any procrastination habits.
Despite the advantages that the Keller Plan offered to Higher Education, it does not seem to have been widely taken up. One exception to this was Herzberg (2001) who was a Professor at York University, Toronto. His experiences with the Keller Plan was through using a modified form of the plan for 25 years, to deliver to 120 undergraduate psychology students a year long introductory statistics course. His revised version of the plan came about through pragmatic ways of dealing with various difficulties that arose in the delivery of the course using the Keller Plan.
The course materials students had access to were extensive and thorough. and was delivered taking advantage of a working area with an open central area with tables and chairs and a number of side cubicles suitable for one individual. This space was available for several hours each week and ‘staffed’ by postgraduate students who took on the role of teaching assistants. Although the undergraduate students could study the materials at home, many organised their time to come to these open sessions to take advantage of the individualised teaching the teaching assistants could provide to sort out any particular misconceptions. In this respect, letting students study modules at their own pace and giving them access to a tutor when needed to sort out problems is very similar to the Dalton Plan developed earlier in the 1900s by Helen Parkhurst.
In addition to completing an assignment for module, module students would take a multiple choice quiz the end of each module to demonstrate their mastery. These they could do with textbook, notes and calculator as the point was understand the material and be able to work with it. It was never a test of memory. Students needed pass this quiz before being able to move to the next module.
One of the elements that made the course possible and successful was the module materials developed and the quizzes, developed by Elke Weber, used at the end of each module for students to test their mastery of that unit. These quizzes existed in multiple parallel forms, so if students failed a quiz and needed to retake, they did not get the same one. Each question in the quiz was also focussed on one of the modules learning objectives. Herzberg particularly liked that the possible wrong answers developed were based on misconceptions and errors that students often came up with.
It was found that deadlines were required to help students that were prone to procrastination, and this reduced the drop-out rate. To help with deadlines, there was an automatic ‘grace’ period added to allow students who found deadlines difficult to keep to, but extensions beyond the automatic deadline were rarely given (or asked for). Effectively only in the most extenuating circumstances. Students had to learn to work to the deadline and use the grace period for any problems they might encounter meeting the official deadline.
Another element that Herzberg felt was essential to his course was the inclusion of ‘Review modules’ on top of the normal teaching modules which helped students integrate topics from separate modules. These Review modules were also found to help students a lot with preparation for the final exam.
Keller Plan today?
The Keller Plan was devised when computers and the internet were effectively also just emerging. The modern internet emerging not until the 1990’s and the first ‘true’ personal computer in 1974 with the Altair 8800. So it is unlikely these technologies would even have been considered by the authors of the Keller Plan and Personalised Systemic Instruction as a tool for delivering instruction. However, today online teaching and learning is very prevalent – supported by the ubiquitousness of these technologies. What is interesting though is that many (most?) of today’s teaching provisions still follow relatively traditional formats.
Both the Keller Plan and the earlier Dalton Plan have similarities in allowing students to work at their own pace. In the Dalton system the students’ experience of self-regulation is guided and limited by having set learning goals and by set times and Herzberg finding this was something he needed to implement. However, in both cases these restrictions are so students can meet externally set targets. Both systems also use ‘laboratories’ a location where students can find a teacher and be able to gather as group when they have a particular problem with any aspect of the work.
Provision of a laboratory/teaching space and allowing students to work at their own pace are aspects that are easy to create with the online tools available today, if not easier and even enhanced depending on what is envisaged by the tutor.