National Development Programme for Computer Aided Learning (NPCAL) 1972-1977?


Work in Progress - Needs completing. Needs photos.

Formation - People - Reports and Plans - Timeline - Major Projects

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Various innovative projects in the USA and the UK in the sixties and early seventies began to develop the field of Computer Aided Learning and there was much debate about its value and effectiveness. The NCET (soon to be renamed CET) acted quickly and provided clear advice to government in 1969 for a national development programme.

Four years later the DES, following much discussion amongst the interested departments and an intervening general election, announced a 'national development programme in computer assisted learning' in a DES press release dated 23 May 1972.


Following the announcement of the Programme the post of Director was advertised. A board took place in the summer of 1972 and selected Richard Hooper, BBC Senior Producer in the Faculty of Educational Studies at the Open University. From January 1973 to early summer 1973, there was a phase of exploration and consultation and from the summer of 1973 to the end of the year, there was the setting up of the Programme's management structure and of the first generation of major projects, notably in the university sector. Richard Hooper was supported by two assistant directors, Mrs Gillian Frewin (from ICL) and Roger Miles (from the Army School of Instructional Tehnology). They were supported by two other executive posts and three secretaries.

Its Structure and Governance

As MacDonald and Kemmis (1975) reported, whilst the sixties had been a time of optimistic national initiatives they failed to achieve hoped for change, abd by the time of the early seventies, there was a greater understanding of the limitations of central projects that tried to invent curriculum change and then disseminate it via published materials to a sceptical teaching force, both in schools, colleges and universities.

NDPCAL took on a structure of working on development projects with those educational establishments already working in the field, or working on feasibility projects with those with good ideas. They stipulated joint funding and effective evaluation and monitoring but allowing a significant degree of autonomy to these projects.

Contrary to NCET's recommendations that a non-governmental agency such as itself should direct the programme, the Government decided to retain direct control. (Hooper 1975). NCET was asked to provide administrative services to the new programme, and the programme's central staff were NCET employees but executive control was to be vested in a committee made up of civil servants from seven government departments plus a group of co-opted advisers. The Programme Committee, as it came to be called, was chaired by the DES and funded the work through NCET.

The Programme Committee was more than just a rubber stamping committee, it held the final say on proposals from the Programme Director and involved itself in project evaluation, setting up sub-committees of three or so of its members to look in detail at a particular proposal or project. This led to 2 project proposals being rejected. Each of the thirty projects had its own steering committee but the national control was established because each had to have a member of the Programme Committee as a member.

Setting Up


Hooper (1977, p.166) describes their approach as active and interventionist, working alongside potential projects in their early stages to help develop their design and approach. They also focussed on good project management requiring four monthly accounting periods and carefully controlling expenditure. In this work Hooper and his team was steered by the Programme Committee and all proposals for projects and policy came to it for approval.

The programme formulated two main aims over its lifetime (Hooper, 1975, p17):

  • to develop and secure the assimilation of computer assisted and computer managed learning on a regular institutional basis at reasonable cost
  • to make recommendations to appropriate agencies in the public and private sector (including Government) concerning possible future levels and types of investment in computer assisted and computer managed learning in education and training. (added in 1974)

and two evaluations were set up, one to consider the educational benefits and one to consider the financial aspects.








Computer Assisted Learning in the United Kingdom

Edited by Richard Hooper and Ingrid Toye ISBN 0 902204-54-8

These case studies were collected to give an impression of the stage computer assisted learning had reached by 1973. Part l examines secondary education, and Part ll higher education. Part Ill describes some applications to training in both civilian and military sectors. Part IV looks briefly at the relationship between computer assisted learning and certain specialized research into artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology.

NDPCAL Two Years On: Report of the Director

Richard Hooper ISBN 0 902204-55-6

This tells the story of the first two years of the live-year, government-funded National Development Programme in Computer Assisted Learning. Background, aims and strategy, projects and studies are all described, and various novel features of the Programme are highlighted.

NDPCAL Final Report of the Director

Richard Hooper ISBN 0 902204-75-0

At the termination of the National Development Programme in Computer Assisted Learning, its Director draws together conclusions about computer assisted learning in the United Kingdom. There are four sections in the
book, dealing with the Programme's achievements, the effects and costs of computer assisted learning, how the Programme worked, and what the future may be. Appendices give the membership of the Programme Committee, summaries of funded projects and studies, and a selected bibliography.





Formation of Becta is announced at BETT


Formation of Becta is announced at BETT


Formation of Becta is announced at BETT




Formation of Becta is announced at BETT


Formation of Becta is announced at BETT


Formation of Becta is announced at BETT


Formation of Becta is announced at BETT


Formation of Becta is announced at BETT


Formation of Becta is announced at BETT


Formation of Becta is announced at BETT



NDPCAL funded projects on computer aided learning (CAL) and computer managed learning (CML). Further and Higher Education, for Schools, for the Armed Services and for Industrial Training. It classified projects into different stages (Hooper, 1975, p.26):

  • Stage 1 - Design and Feasibility (FS) - a project that shows that a particular application of CAL or CML is feasible by developing and piloting applications.
  • Stage 2 - Development and Transferability (DP/TP) - the creation of a working system for increasing numbers of students across a number of institutions.
  • Stage 3 - Model Operation - a fully operational project able to act as a model for others.
  • Stage 4 - Assimilation and Dissemination - national funding is being phased out and the institution has taken ownership with other new instituions taking it up.

Full list of Projects and feasibility studies

The following list (Hooper, 1977,p174) illustrates the surprising number of areas of the curriculum where computers were beginning to make an impact at all stages of education, apart perhaps from primary education. Details of a few of these are provided further below.

Further and Higher Education Projects

About half the project funds were spent on projects in universities and polytechnics

  • DP 1/01B Computer Based Learning Project (CBLP)
  • DP 1/02A Engineering Sciences Project (ESP)
  • DP 1/03A Computational Physics Teaching Laboratory (CPTL)
  • DP 1 /04A Clinical Decision Making
  • DP 1/06A Computer Assisted Learning in Chemistry (CALCHEM)
  • DP 1/07 The MATLAB Project
  • DP 1/08 CAMOL in Secondary and Tertiary Education (NUU CAMOL)
  • DP 1/09 Computers in the Undergraduate Science Curriculum (CUSC)
  • DP 1/10 Basic Mathematics
  • DP 1 /11 Computer Assisted Learning-A University Service
  • FS 1/22/03A Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (BP CAMOL)
  • FS 1/22/04 CAMOL in Further Education (Bradford CAMOL)


About one-sixth of the project funds was spent on schools based projects:

  • DP 2/02A Hertfordshire Computer Managed Mathematics (HCMMP)
  • DP 2/03A Computer Assisted Teaching of Remedial Reading
  • DP2/04 Computer Assisted School Timetabling (CAST)
  • DP 2/05 The Local History Classroom Project (LHCP)
  • FS 2/01 Local Information Services Project (LISP)
  • FS 2/03 Computer Assisted Learning in Upper School Geography (CALUSG)
  • FS 2/04 Computer Assisted Learning in Secondary School History

Armed Services

About £160K was spent on schools based projects:

  • DP 3 /01 Computer Assisted Technological Education of Service Personnel (CAT)
  • DP 3 /02 Computer Assisted Learning in Nuclear Science and Engineering
  • FS 3/01A Computer Scheduling of REME Training
  • FS 3/01B Computer Aided Planning and Scheduling
  • FS 3 /02 Diffusionof CAL to Armed Services Users
  • FS 3/03A Simulation and Fault Finding, ARI (SAFARI)
  • FS 3 /22/01 Computer Managed Staff Training
  • FS 3 /22/02 Quality Control in Military Training (Catterick CAMOL)

Industrial training

  • DP 4/01 Management Decision Making
  • FS 4/03 Computer Assisted Post Office Technician Training


  • TP 22/Ol Cambridge University Transferability Project
  • TP 22/02B Computer Assisted Management Of Learning (CAMOL)
  • TP 22/03 BASIC to FORTRAN Machine Translation
  • TP 22/04A Physical Sciences Program Exchange (PSPE)
  • TP 22/05 Havering/Lothian Transferability Project
  • TP 22/06A Geographical Association Package Exchange (GAPE)

Some specific projects

DP1/01 Applied Statistics for Social Science Students

Funded for 2 years from 1.10.73 at a cost of £99,818

Director: J.R. Hartley - Computer Based Learning Project, Leeds University
A computer-based statistics service course involving 500 students from 10 different disciplines in 3 institutions (University of Leeds, Leeds Polytechnic and the University of Bradford). The Leeds Modular One computer with 44 teletypes terminals was used as a statistical laboratory, providing real illustrations of statistical concepts, testing students' comprehension and giving some remedial teaching.

DP 1/02 Computer Assisted Learning in Engineering Sciences

Funded for 2 years from 1.10.73 at a cost of £49,672

Director: Dr. P.R. Smith Faculty of Engineering, Computer Assisted Teaching Unit, Queen Mary
The project involved nuclear, mechanical and electrical engineering at QMC, mechanical engineering at Imperial College, and electrical engineering at University College London, using QMC's PDP ll/40 with 6 Tektronix 4010 and 6 teletype terminals, Imperial CoIlege's CDC 6400 (in batch mode), and UCL's IBM 360/65 with a Computek 300 terminal. The project focussed on the development of simulation packages, the determination of cost, and the transferability of packages.

DP 1/03 Computational Physics Teaching Laboratory.

Funded for 2 years from 1.10.73 at a cost of £21,425

Director: Prof. D. Jackson Dept. of Physics, University of Surrey, Guildford.

A Data General Nova 800 computer was used in a time-shared service to 11 terminals to provide a computational physics teaching laboratory for use as an integral part of the honours degree physics course at Surrey. Some physics tutorials took place within the laboratory, using packages developed by staff members. Students investigated a range of physics problems and experiments, using numerical approaches.

DP 1/04 Clinical Decision-Making

Funded for 14 months from 1.4.74 at a cost of £11,363.

Director: Dr. T.R. Taylor, The University of Glasgow, Dept. of Medicine.

The long-term objective of this work was to produce integrated courses in clinical diagnosis for fourth and fifth year clinical medicine and dental students, involving bedside teaching, computer assisted tutorials in small groups and individual learning at terminals. The computer simulated certain disease conditions, encourages the clinical student to think about his own decision-making process.

DP l/06 Computer Assisted Learning in Chemistry

Funded for 2 years from 1.4.74 at a cost of £64,750

Director: Dr. P.B. Ayscough Dept. of Physical Chemistry, The University of Leeds.

A co-operative of 8 institutions in higher education developed computer assisted learning materials for use in theoretical and experimental chemistry courses involving about 600 students. Two production teams of chemists and programmers were based at Leeds University and Sheffield Polytechnic respectively. They enabled students- on an individual basis- to study in a systematic manner the factors involved in the design of laboratory experiments and toevaluate the results of such experiments.

FS 1/01 Further Education Service Mathematics.

Funded for 16 months from 1.12.73 at a cost of £l2,515.

Director: D. Leach, Dean, Faculty of Science, Napier College of Commerce & Technology.

A suite of programs developed on the University of Edinburgh Regional Computing Centre's ICL 4-75 computer, to provide students with a mathematical and statistical laboratory. Pilot materials in FORTRAN IV for a variety of mathematical, statistical and numerical techniques for solving problems presented by the student.

FS 1/04 Computers in the Undergraduate Science Curriculum.

Director: Dr. I. McKenzie, University College London

Funded for 2 years from 1.1.74 at a cost of £67,861.

The main aim of this study was to investigate and develop methods and materials for using computers in undergraduate science education, in computation, simulation and to enrich teaching and learning. Physicists, biologists, chemists and educational technologists from 12 academic departments at University College, Chelsea College and Surrey University.

DP 2/02 Hertfordshire Computer Managed Mathematics.

Funded for 2 years from 1.10.73 at a cost of £50,368.

Director: Dr. W.Tagg, Advisory Unit for Computer Based Education

This was the development of a computer managed system for teaching mixed ability mathematics in the first two years of comprehensive schooling beginning with 650 pupils at 4 schools in Hertfordshire.

As Tagg (1977, p.236) points out, at this time mixed ability teaching was both the fashion of the time and the cause of many problems particularly for Mathematics with its hierarchical structure. Finding ways of providing a mixed ability group of students with individualised material was attractive. A new mathematics course was developed with the emphasis on individualised worksheets in addition to live teaching and the use of videotaped materials. The computer marked tests and prescribed which worksheets the child should undertake next.

By 1976-77 the project had grown to 12 secondary schools, 3000 students and 80 teachers in Hertfordshire together with two schools in London and one in Bolton.


Hooper R., 1975, Two years On, National Development Programme in Computer Aided Learning, Report of the Director, London: CET

Hooper R., 1977, An Introduction to the National Development Programme in Computer Assisted Learning, British Journal of Educational Technology, 8-3 p165-175.

Macdonald, B and Kemmis, S (1976) Macro-project and Meta-evaluation – the UNCAL Experience. Research Intelligence, 2. pp. 36-39 (online version)

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