Computers are a familiar sight in classrooms in the twenty-first century, and technology has been used to streamline many educational tasks. There are different types of educational computer use, and not every use of a computer in the classroom is considered computer-assisted instruction (CAI). The educational uses of computers that are considered to be CAI or computer-based instruction (CBI) are those cases in which either instruction is presented through a computer program to a passive student, or the computer is the platform for an interactive and personalized learning environment.
Within the broad definition, computer-assisted instruction may follow different paths to the same end. One example is how this instruction medium is used in relation to other teaching presentations. CAI can be used either in isolation, bearing the whole responsibility for conveying instruction to students, or in combination with conventional, i.e., face-to-face, teaching methods. Research has shown that the combination of conventional and CAI instruction has been most effective in raising student achievement scores.
Computer-assisted instruction is used through the entire range of education from preschool to professional school. It has been offered in a wide variety of fields, including all the main school subjects taught in elementary and secondary schools. At CALI, the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction, law students from across the United States and other countries such as Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Ireland, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, and Taiwan have access to CAI law school lessons to supplement their instruction.
Computer-assisted instruction has also been growing in use in a wide number of employment areas. It has been used to teach novice nurses how to perform intravenous injections, to teach jet engine mechanics in the US Air Force maintenance tasks, and to provide safety instruction for food service workers in an urban hospital.
CAI can also focus on smaller segments of the population. Computer-assisted instruction has also been used to personalize learning for people with learning disabilities, language limitations, and physical limitations. In the latter case, screen-reading programs may cater to sight-impaired users, and a variety of specialized interactive devices, such as roller balls, joysticks, and oversized keyboards may be used by a person when a mouse or standard keyboard present a challenge.