Relative Advantage of Instructional Software in Social Studies


This week in our Technology Integration course, instructional software has been the topic of focus. According to Roblyer (2016), instructional software differs from tool software (i.e. Microsoft Word or PowerPoint) in that instructional software exists solely for the purposes of instruction and learning. Instructional software can fulfill both objectivist and constructivist purposes depending upon the content being taught and the software utilized.

Roblyer (2016) identifies five types of instruction software important in education including drill and practice, tutorials, simulations, instructional games, and problem solving software. Below is a brief discussion of each software type along with a description of its relevance to social studies. Example software applications for social studies are also provided at the end of each section.

Drill & Practice Software

Used to help users practice content knowledge, drill and practice software allows students exposure to concepts with quick, individualized feedback on their progress. Common drill and practice software applications include flash cards and fill in the blank charts or sheets. More advanced versions of this type of software may include branching drills (students take different pathways based on responses) and extensive feedback applications (beyond “good job” or “try again”).

Good drill and practice applications should provide students with the ability to control the pace of the content. Students who are struggling with the concepts being practiced may need extra time to review feedback provided by the software whereas those who have almost reached mastery may be able to progress at a faster pace.

Mastering facts, vocabulary, names of historical figures, and sequencing of events and dates are all critical foundational pieces students need before moving to higher order thinking skills within the content. A student cannot have a deep grasp of the causes of the American Revolution without a fundamental understanding of the colonial story that precedes it. As such, drill and practice tools fulfill an important need in social studies classrooms.

Social Studies Drill and Practice Applications:



Tutorials are applications that are similar to direct instruction in the classroom. A good tutorial should consist of an explanation phase, practice opportunities and feedback related to those activities. Roblyer (2016) identifies two main types of tutorials – linear and branching – based on the sequence they follow. A linear tutorial provides the same content for all learners regardless of their mastery level. Alternatively, branching tutorials differentiate the experience based on a student’s performance on questions or activities. If a higher level of mastery is observed, the viewer may be directed to a more complex path in the tutorial sequence.

A good tutorial should include interactivity or responsiveness in design, especially in terms of practice opportunities and associated feedback. The student should be able to control the pace of the tutorial to meet their personal needs, as with the drill and practice software. The tutorial should be sequenced in a manner that facilitates learning (i.e. concepts build over time throughout the tutorial). Roblyer (2016) also notes that purposeful graphics and video are crucial – too much can be a distraction, especially to younger learners. Teachers may benefit from record keeping capabilities within the software as well.  Finally, a good tutorial provides relatively flexible feedback. A student first learning the content should be able to provide an answer, which if correct, is recognized as such. Rigid rejection of correct answers due to spelling, capitalization, or wording is not a beneficial element in tutorial software.

The benefits for tutorial software are similar to those of drill and practice applications. Students benefit from the immediate, individual feedback possible through tutorial software. These applications also save on time for both students and teachers. Since tutorials can act as a chunk of instruction on its own, they can prove especially helpful in cases of absence (teacher or student), reteach, and the flipped classroom model.

Tutorials with some form of assessment or drill and practice feature are difficult to find in social studies. There are numerous videos available for history content but they lack the interactivity required. Consequently, this resource section is a bit small. There is certainly room for growth in social studies with respect to this instructional software.

Social Studies Tutorial Applications:



Simulations, often confused with games, are applications which give students the opportunity to visualize or manipulate complex content being explored in class. Often, these applications have a focus on systems. Roblyer (2016) identifies two major categories of simulations: those which teach about something and those which teach students how to do something.

The simulations which fall into the about something category include physical and iterative simulations. Physical simulations allow students to manipulate something, such as an electrical circuit. Iterative simulations allow students to observe and analyze a process or concept through manipulation (speed up or slow down a process). This might include a simulation on a concept as complex as genetics.

How to simulations include procedural and situational simulations. Flight simulators are a great example of procedural simulations, which are designed to teach the sequence of steps to carry out an objective. A stock market simulation exemplifies a situational simulation, which is used to create a problem-solution scenario where students must make choices based on their knowledge.

The perk of simulations, according to Roblyer (2016), is that they “make the impossible possible,” a concept especially important in social studies classrooms (p. 90). Any simulation which allows students to travel in time virtually to experience the Age of Exploration or Feudal Europe during the Middle Ages is a powerful teaching tool.

Social Studies Simulation Applications:

Frequently, social studies simulations and instructional games are treated synonymously. These simulation resources ask students to behave or play as a person in history or as a civics professional.

Instructional Games

Instructional games, one of the more recognizable software applications in this post, take content and situate it with gamified elements including rules, credentialing, and competition. Good instructional games should include visual elements and activities which students would find appealing and, consequently, motivating. The content featured in a game should have value in terms of instruction. Additionally, a good instructional game considers student’s physical and cultural needs so as to include as many as is possible.

Instructional games can be used to replace worksheets or practice activities in the classroom. They are also quite valuable as rewards given that they are not used too frequently. Instructional games are especially helpful in teaching additional personal skills such as empathy or perseverance – a need especially important in social studies classrooms.

As with simulations, instructional games help to place students in situations in order to experience history content in a personal way. Games have the capacity to take boring information from the textbook and make it come alive through adventurous stories, lively characters, and student-centered decision making. There are not a tremendous amount of quality social studies games online. That being said, those that do exist are spectacular. Below is a short listing of some high-quality social studies instructional games.

Social Studies Instructional Game Applications:


Problem Solving Software

Lastly,  problem solving software helps students to learn and practice higher order thinking skills. Roblyer (2016) identifies two types of problem solving applications – either content-based or standalone (without a content foundation). Content-based problem solving applications teach these skills through the lens of the content being studied. Alternatively, standalone problem solving applications teach students the process of how to solve problems by modeling the sequence of procedures. It is hoped that by knowing this sequence, students can apply the process to any content or life situation.

The elements required in a good problem solving application include providing students with interesting challenges. The contents of the software should have a clearly delineated connection to specific skills. Problem solving software allows students to visualize the process of higher order thinking skills and provides the interest and motivation needed to solve complex problems. As mentioned previously, good problem solving software models complex thinking for students through the activities provided.

Social Studies Problem Solving Software:



Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching (7th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.


1 thought on “Relative Advantage of Instructional Software in Social Studies”

  1. Megan,

    So glad that your included iCivics in your analysis. I have found that my students learn so much more through these instructional games, particularly in this presidential election cycle. We are very lucky that there are so many technology opportunities available within social studies to make our classes more dynamic. I have not used Khan Academy for SS yet but your blog has inspired me to try it this fall. It has been great for our math students. Great analysis in your blog post.


    Liked by 1 person

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