Computer Assisted Instruction in Reading for Students with Learning Disabilities: A Research Synthesis

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NICHCY’s Structured Abstract 46 describes the following:

Title | Computer Assisted Instruction in Reading for Students with Learning Disabilities: A Research Synthesis

Author | Hall, T.E., Hughes , C.A. , & Filbert, M.

SourceEducation & Treatment of Children, 23(2), 173-193. 
Available online at:

Year Published | 2000

The essential skill of reading, including decoding and comprehension, has not been learned by all. The number of children identified with learning disabilities continues to increase in the United States . Of the identified children, the majority are identified in the area of reading. Educators continue to search for interventions to improve students’ reading skills. One format that has provided promise for students with Learning Disabilities (LD) is computer assisted instruction (CAI). To evaluate the extent to which this promise has been realized, this literature review was conducted. A methodical search of the literature on CAI in reading interventions for students with learning disabilities yielded 17 studies. The studies were evaluated by type of computer instruction (drill and practice, strategy, and simulation) and type of reading intervention (prereading, word recognition, vocabulary/language, and comprehension/higher order thinking skills). Results indicate that most CAI programs in reading for this population employ drill and practice procedures, followed by strategy instruction, then simulation. The area of reading intervention focus was evenly split between word recognition and reading comprehension, followed by language/vocabulary, then prereading skills instruction. In many studies CAI was found to be a medium in which children improved reading skills. Those studies demonstrating significant differences favoring a CAI reading intervention, employed effective teaching practices. Several characteristics of effective practices using CAI are highlighted here. Implications for future research employing CAI for students with disabilities in reading are presented.

The ability to read affects students’ progress in all academic areas. Over the years, many interventions have been developed to help students with reading disabilities. In the 1980’s when computers started to become commonplace in public school classrooms, computer programs to help teach reading became a growing trend in reading education. With the increased use of computers in the classroom came the advent of computer-assisted instruction (CAI). CAI programs use different types of instruction, including drill and practice, strategy instruction, and simulation; they also focus on various components of reading, including pre-reading skills, word recognition, vocabulary, and comprehension. As such, CAI offers a number of benefits to students and teachers. To students, it provides drills, exercises, and opportunities to practice reading skills; teachers find it helpful in assessing students’ progress, diagnosing problems, providing information, and maintaining records.

Research Questions
What does the research base tell us about the use of computer-assisted instruction (CAI) to teach reading to students identified as having learning disabilities.

Research Design
Research Synthesis

  • Number of Studies Included | 17
  • Number of Subjects | 569
  • Years Spanned | 1980-1997

Research Subjects
Participants were identified as having learning disabilities (LD).

Age/Grade of Subjects

Specified Disability
Learning Disabilities (LD)

Participants received computer-assisted instruction that focused on phonological and word recognition skills for, vocabulary, and meaning, or on reading comprehension and higher-order thinking skills.

Duration of Intervention
Average number of sessions = 17


  1. CAI programs in reading for students with LD were most likely to employ drill-and-practice procedures, followed by strategy instruction, then simulation.
  2. The skill areas upon which CAI reading programs focused were evenly split between word recognition and reading comprehension, followed by language/vocabulary, then prereading skills instruction.
  3. Most students improved in reading when using computer-assisted instruction.
  4. Students with LD receiving CAI in reading increased performance in reading decoding and reading comprehension.

Combined Effects Size
No effect sizes were reported. Other types of statistics are reported, including the finding that in 13 out of 17 studies, students showed improvement when using CAI.

This meta-analysis concludes that computer-assisted instruction positively impacts reading achievement. The researchers suggest that CAI can serve as a powerful tool for reading teachers, but it is only suitable as one part of an effective reading curriculum. CAI should be used to supplement, not replace, traditional reading instruction. The studies examined in this analysis point to several elements of a successful CAI program.

Teachers who use CAI often implement it as an addition to their regular reading program, meaning that children using CAI are receiving additional instruction and practice in reading. This extra reading time alone may account for some of the improvements shown by children who use CAI.

Not surprisingly, CAI programs designed using research-based teaching strategies were found to be highly effective.

CAI programs that provided students with both elaborate feedback on their responses and opportunities to correct mistakes and rehearse the correct response were found to be more effective than those not providing elaborate feedback and rehearsal.


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