The Keller Plan_An IRRODL overview by L. Grant and R. Spencer



According to Grant and Spencer, The Keller Plan, or PSI (Personalized System of Instruction) was originally designed as “a classroom-based method of instruction with the intention of improving student achievement” and, at the same time, “replacing the long tradition of punishment in education with the use of positive consequences for learning”. PSI, they claim, has five defining features:

  • stress on the written word: content is presented in written formats. there is also a study guide describing what the students are supposed to do, an overview of the course, policies, a reading list, deadlines, tips for good performance.
  • unit mastery requirement: tests between units. in the case of fail students get to be retested at least twice. remedial opportunities remove the stigma of failure and transform the puprose of grades.
  • student self-pacing: students progress at different rates, PSI recognizes this difference
  • use of proctors: PSI uses tutors (aka proctors) to help students learn, former students or professional tutors
  • lectures and demonstrations as motivational devices: despite the stresss on the written word, there is also a place for lectures as an optional feature of teh method despite the fact that lectures haven’t been effective in boosting student performance.

The Keller plan was based on Dubin and Traveggia’s book published in 1968 entitled: “book The Teaching-Learning Paradox: A Comparative Analysis of College Teaching Methods”. The two authors claimed that student performance was independent from distinctive methods of college instruction. Keller’s model was founded on that assumption and saught to demonstrate the validity of the claim.

PSI proved to be superior to traditional methods . In the later years, however, the plan was gradually abandoned. The decline in the use of PSI is mostly attributed to:

  • the recalcitrance of the educational establishment to change
  • implementations of ineffective teaching methods people called “PSI” that did not meet the proper criteria for PSI
  • the time demanded in setting up and maintaining a PSI course
  • misunderstandings of the nature of PSI in the academic literature
  • during the 1980s there was a shift in emphasis in academics from teaching to research (Boyer, 1990), which worked against a time-intensive teaching method like PSI.

PSI the Digital World and Distant Education

PSI continues to offer the prospect of more effective instruction. Recent developments in higher education and in technology have provided the basis, at least in principle, for growth of PSI courses in distance education.

  • PSI provides considerable flexibility for students just as it does for instructors
  • Emphasis on the written word in PSI makes it possible for students to do their course work at virtually any physical location at which they can read
  • Both PSI and distance education courses share the benefits of extending the traditional medium of the printed word to computer-based and online self-instructional resources
  • potential contribution to a scholarship of teaching and learning capable of aligning the two areas, allowing distance educators to draw upon the rich PSI literature as a source of teaching applications and research ideas, while allowing PSI teacher-researchers to extend their work into distance instruction.



Grant, L.K., Spencer, R.E., 2003, ‘The Personalized System of Instruction: Review and applications to distance education’, IRRODL, Vol. 4, No 2, available here

F.S. Keller’s book and Image available here

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