Aptitude Treatment Interaction Research

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Aptitude Treatment Interaction Research

Since the beginning of formal education, teachers/educators have sought the best method of instruction to maximize the learning potential of their students. It was recognized early that students differ in intelligence, ability to learn, background, environment, learning style, and many other factors that affected their progress through the educational system. Over time the classroom became the place for a teacher’s intuition, experiences, and impressions of the child to be the guidebook (Cronbach & Snow, 1969). As a result, aptitude treatment interaction (ATI) research developed as a way to find the best methods of instruction for the student population.

Historical Perspective and Definitions

ATI hypotheses were in ancient Chinese and Hebrew writings, in early Greek and Roman teaching, and early European philosophies. ATI, however, emerged as a modern research program when defined by Cronbach (1957) for instructional psychology. Since then, ATI research has been used extensively in the field of education and more recently in industrial and clinical psychology (Snow, 1991).

As with any study, definitions are integral to the understanding of the topic. According to Snow (1991), "aptitude should refer to any measurable person characteristic hypothesized to be needed as preparation for response to treatment to successful goal achievement in the treatment(s) studied" (p.205). This writer prefers the definition given by Cronbach and Snow where "aptitude is defined as any characteristic of the individual that increases (or impairs) his probability of success in a given treatment" (Cronbach & Snow, 1969, p. 5). Cronbach and Snow also say that aptitude is, essentially, whatever makes a person ready to learn rapidly (or to adapt effectively to his environment). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language simply states that aptitude is the ability or inclination of an individual to develop skills or acquire knowledge (1969). Intelligence, motivation, and anxiety seem to be the most common aptitudes studied.

Snow states that treatment is any manipulative situation variable (Snow 1991). In the education field, treatment refers to the teaching methods and techniques measured by the outcome of a post-test (Peck, 1983). Teacher characteristics and differences in teaching styles are treatments affecting the learning of students.

Interaction is defined statistically as the degree to which results for two or more treatments, or one treatment over two or more trials, differ for persons who also differ on one or more aptitude measures (Snow, 1991). This writer believes that interaction in the context of ATI refers to bi-directional action observed between the aptitude variables of the subject and the teaching techniques and methods of the instructor.

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Cronbach and Snow say that in interaction research an interaction is present when an effect is found for one find of subject or in one kind of setting and is not found under other conditions (Cronbach & Snow, 1991).

Peck (1983) states that ATI is research correlating teaching methods with measures of student aptitudes finding that students may respond differently to a particular method depending on such variables as intelligence, learning style, or personality. One major question that has developed from ATI research is the ability to transfer the findings by generalizing the results to other groups. Does ATI have educational value?

Research Design

Four basic research designs, standard, treatment revision, aptitude growth, and regression discontinuity, have been recognized in ATI research. The standard design has been used in one form or another for educational purposes. The standard design is a simple randomized between-persons design where treatments are applied toward identified aptitudes to produce optimal outcomes. The outcomes must be measurable; and must be measured prior to treatment and after treatment is applied. The statistics often calculate regression and show correlation coefficients, R and R2, as well as significance of the test.

One study, Aptitude-Treatment Interaction in Computer-Assisted Instruction, examined the relationship between grade point average (GPA) and American College Testing (ACT) scores, and achievement with and without computer-assisted instruction (CAI) (Adams, Waldrop, Justen, McCroskey, 1987). This study consisted of 35 students all taking a physiology of activity course. Six instructional units were taught, three with traditional lecture/class discussion and three with traditional classroom procedures enhanced by CAI. The study results indicated that the student’s inclination toward learning and achievement as measured by GPA and ACT scores was higher significantly with CAI than without CAI. Also, GPA was a better overall predictor of achievement than was the ACT.

A second study proved to be very interesting in its investigation of the relationship between the measurable aptitude of cognitive restructuring ability and treatments that varied the amount of teacher guidance (Cramer, Post, Behr, 1984). This study involved 22 fourth graders identified as having either high or low cognitive restructuring ability. The high guidance treatment was teacher-centered with little student choice. The teacher’s role in the low guidance treatment was to provide students with the opportunity to investigate problems on their own. If a strong interaction appeared, for example, between classes and not within classes, a group level effect is the simplest explanation (Cronbach & Webb, 1975). The results showed an inverse relationship between cognitive restructuring ability and teacher guidance. The students with low cognitive restructuring ability performed better with high levels of teacher guidance and students with high cognitive restructuring ability performed better with low levels of teacher guidance (Cramer, Post, Behr, 1984).

The study of learning rates also seems to be a predominant concern in ATI research. ATI proposes that different learning rates will be different under different circumstances. Until the 1960’s, rate of learning was a background issue. The new science and math curricula, programmed instruction, the concept of intelligence as the ability to learn, and the idea that change could be measured each made an impact on the importance of rate of learning. Each should be studied in conjunction with ATI.

Significant Findings from ATI Research

Several significant findings have come to the foreground from ATI research. In general, no one technique or procedure has been found to benefit both the good and poor student. In addition, no one teaching technique or procedure has been found to benefit all subjects within a homogeneous group even though many public schools today choose to group homogeneously as a way to adapt to individual differences (Peck, 1983). Student characteristics and teaching methods are so varied that unless teachers and students are constant, ATI research results can not be consistent.

Structure within the classroom (lectures, pictures, outlines, rules, etc.) have produced improvement for slower students. The compulsive, weak student appears to do best in the structured program, while the student who is emotionally free to provide his own structure does better in the unstructured program. Less structure in the classroom (small group discussions, discovery activities, individual progression, etc.) encourages better students. Students with more internal motivation had difficulty participating in group activities and performed more poorly than those with less (Peck, 1983).


Because of ATI research, we now sometimes attempt to adapt instruction to the learner. The least responsible method is "fixing the curriculum and method of instruction and adjust through initial selection of students while allowing for dropouts" (Cronbach & Snow, 1969, p. 201). The public school tends to "tune" the student so that he scores higher. Choosing different educational goals for different persons is a second alternative to adapting instruction. A third alternative is choosing different educational means toward the same goal. (Cronbach & Snow, 1969).

Can methods of instruction be found to better serve the student whose fluid ability (ability to analyze) is high relative to his crystallized ability (ability to think concretely). Several debates may crop up in the realm of education. Peck (1983) speculates that (1) an individually prescribed instruction (an IEP or individualized education program) for every student might come about and would mean an allocation of funds for more teaching time and better testing services. (2) Home learning (home school) or cottage-type learning will replace the public classroom where individualized attention is at a premium. (3) A public debate over educating only groups of students would ensue. We would ask, "where should we direct teaching…toward the slow learner, the brighter student or neither of these?" What is the socially accepted answer?

The ATI view may open important approaches to teacher education as the teacher training programs realize the impact of techniques and methods as treatments on the aptitude of the individual learner in the classroom. The hope is that ATI research does not degenerate into a trial-and-error process due to the large number of aptitude and treatment variables to measure, but that education as a whole can benefit from ATI research.


Adams II, T. M. , Waldrop, P. B. , Justen III, J. E., & McCroskey, C. H. (December 1987). Aptitude-treatment interaction in computer-assisted instruction. Educational Technology, 27, 12. 21-23.

Cramer, L. A., Post, T. R., & Behr, M. J. (January 1984). Cognitive restructuring ability, teacher guidance, and perceptual distracter tasks: an aptitude-treatment interaction study. Journal of Research in Mathematics Education, 20, 1, 103-110.

Cronbach, L. J., & snow, R. E. (1969). Individual differences in learning ability as a function of instructional variables. final report. Stanford University, CA: School of Education.

Cronbach, L. J., & Webb, N. (December 1975). Between-class and within-class effects in a reported aptitude x treatment interaction: reanalysis of a study by G. L. Anderson. Journal of Educational Psychology, 67, 6. 717-724.

Morris, W. (1969). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Languages. Boston: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc.

Peck, M. L. (1983). Aptitude treatment interaction research has educational value. Proceedings of selected research paper presentations at the 1983 convention of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology and sponsored by the Research and Theory Division. (pp. 564-622). New Orleans: Association for Educational Communications and Technology.

Snow, R. E. (April 1991). Aptitude-treatment interaction as a framework for research on individual differences in psychotherapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 59, 2, 205-216.

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