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Instructional technology and theory by robert whelan
Instructional technology and theory by robert whelan
Instructional technology and theory by robert whelan
Instructional technology and theory by robert whelan
Instructional technology and theory by robert whelan
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Instructional technology and theory by robert whelan


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  • 1. INS TRUC TIONAL TECHNOLOGY Instructional Technology & Theory A Look at Past, Present & Future Trends By Robert Whelan robert.whelan@nyu.eduWHAT EXACTLY IS tools that instructional technologists if this technology would changeINSTRUCTIONAL TECHNOLOGY? use in their craft. learning and classroom practice,Before I begin my examination of and many over-optimistic claimspast, present, and future trends in INSTRUCTIONAL were made about the efficacy of theinstructional technology, we should TECHNOLOGIES TIMELINE: technology. The promise of educa-clarify exactly what we’re talking 1900-2004 tional TV—which prompted the FCCabout when we refer to instructional With this clarified definition, we can to allocate extensive bands of thetechnology. Does it mean computers, begin to survey the past, present, spectrum for use by schools in thethe Internet, and software used for and future of instructional tech- 1960’s, and the Ford Foundation toinstruction and education? Does nology. The timeline in figure 1 finance the development of a closedit include TV and documentaries, (p. 14) shows key events, theoret- circuit TV network for education andfor example? Or are we focused on ical advances, media-technological training—is but one example. Manythe human element, the resources innovations, and core issues in the would agree that educational TVdeployed, the learner or instructor? growth of instructional technology failed to deliver on its early promiseOr is it all of the above? since the beginning of the 1900’s. and occupies only a peripheral, Robert Reiser, professor of Clearly visible during the 20th underused role in most classrooms.Instructional Systems at Florida century is the growth in complexity Similarly, in the early 1980’s Sey-State University, draws helpful dis- from the early stereographs, through mour Papert (a renowned pioneer intinctions in his 2001 article on the to radio, film, and TV, to personal the field of educational technology),history of instructional design and computers, CAI (computer-aided like many others, saw PCs as a cat-technology: “Instructional Tech- instruction), and the Internet. Spurts alyst for “deep radical change” innology is the problem analysis, solu- in progress can be seen around the the classroom, and predicted thattion design, development, imple- time of war, when military funding by 1990 there would be one PC permentation, management, and eval- led to the testing of new instruc- child.2 These over-optimistic fore-uation of instructional processes tional systems. Also evident is the casts were not borne out due to theand resources to improve learning shift between theoretical paradigms realities of budget limitations andand performance in education and that accounts for the use of technol- ongoing concerns and uncertain-at work.”1 The distinction between ogies in instruction as technological, ties about the effects of computersthe technological processes and the cultural, and social needs evolve. on learning. Moreover, softwareactual physical media is important. tools and hardware performanceFor Reiser, the “soft” technologies of BROKEN PROMISES that could make computers usefulanalysis, design, development, and The bottom row on the timeline and user-friendly in the classroommanagement are what make instruc- reveals an interesting fact about the did not begin to emerge until moretional technology interesting, much ongoing emergence of new media recently. Similar experiences canmore so than the ephemeral, ever- and technologies. In each case, be recounted with other technolo-evolving hardware and software theorists found themselves asking gies earlier in the century, where an1. Reiser, R., (2001). A History of Instructional Design & Technology: Part I: A History of Instructional Media. Educational Technology Research & Development, Vol. 49, No. 1, pp 53-64.2. Papert, S., (1984). New theories for new learnings. School Psychology Review. 13(4), 422-428. Spring/Summer 2005 • Connect: Information Technology at NYU 13
  • 2. Figure 1. This timeline shows some of the most influential technologies, theories, trends, and factors in instructional technology in the last century.3 initial enthusiasm about a particular ware often used in skill-building is ago, learning is seen as a process form of media proved to be prema- an example of behavioristic instruc- of knowledge construction where ture once attempts were made to tional technology design. Behav- the learner is in charge of his or her incorporate the technology into the iorism is sometimes critiqued as own learning experience. Experi- unforgiving realities of the classroom. being too passive and mechanistic. ence, combined with reflection and Having looked back, we can now ask: Cognitivism, on the other hand, social interaction, allows the learner is the World Wide Web, which seems emphasizes the importance of per- to build on prior knowledge and to hold so much promise for educa- ception, learning, and thought as create their own understanding of tors and learners, destined for the bases for understanding human ideas and concepts. An example of a same disappointment and obsoles- behavior and learning. Rooted in constructivist learning environment cence as the Magic Lantern, educa- information processing theory pio- online is a WebQuest, an inquiry- tional radio, and the standalone PC? neered in the 1960s, cognitivism based activity where the information draws from the analogy between used by learners is drawn from the 20TH CENTURY LEARNING computers and minds, allowing for Web.4 WebQuests use information THEORIES 101 the possibility of computer programs to solve problems or gain deeper Before considering this question, that “think” alongside their human insights, and to support learners’ we can find another perspective users. Cognitivistic instructional thinking in terms of analysis, syn- on the past, present, and future design is characterized by analytic thesis, and evaluation. In this way, trends in instructional technology breakdown of a topic or subject meaningful mental models can be by reviewing the most influential matter, and the transformation of formed, and learners can select and learning theories that helped form the subject matter into a set of struc- integrate their own schemas in order instructional technology over the tured cognitive tasks. Cognitivistic to make sense of the world. last 100 years. frameworks can include discovery While behaviorism is character- There are three principal families tasks, problem diagnosis, and trou- ized by a linear, stimulus-response of theories about learning: behav- bleshooting; Papert’s LOGO-based approach to learning, cognitivism iorism, cognitivism, and construc- learning tools are considered cogni- likens the mind of the learner to an tivism. Behaviorism emphasizes tivistic. In these frameworks, knowl- elaborate information processing observable behavior, rather than edge acquisition is seen as an active, system. Constructivism, by contrast, inner mental experiences. From learner-driven outcome, much more puts the learner in charge of their our environment, we learn certain so than with behaviorism. own search for meaning. behaviors while learning not to do An even more active view of The main point here is that when others. Behaviorism is also thought learning can be found in the theory we survey the history of instruc- of in terms of association building, of constructivism. In this philos- tional media, we can see a mapping and the “drill and practice” soft- ophy, first described over 100 years between these theories of learning 3. Timeline graphic created by the author, drawing from the Reiser article referenced in footnote 1. 4. Connect: Information Technology at NYU • Spring/Summer 2005
  • 3. nology that needs to be further cultivated, especially from the EU’s social policy perspective. With this sense of the theo- retical background of instructional technology, and this broad vision of its future, let’s focus now on the present, and on some key trends in infrastructure, content development, and research in the field. A VISION OF THE FUTURE As more and more learning takes place online or with the support of Internet-based resources and tools, Figure 2. Will the World Wide Web one day go the way of the Magic Lantern, the “E” in E-learning is likely to be one of many technologies that didn’t live up to their initial promise? presumed and taken for granted. Fewer students are getting the tradi-and the use of different types of in the way media is used in learning. tional on-campus degree because ofmedia. For example, behaviorism, However, across the Atlantic, the increasing popularity of flexiblewhich was at its height in the first European Union (EU) research online degrees. Therefore, those whohalf of the last century, was com- and technological development in want to experience “traditional” edu-plemented by linear media such as instruction—often referred to as cational methods may increasinglyradio, film, and TV. Cognitivism, “E-learning”—have been following be forced to pay a higher price.which was at its height in the 1960’s a blueprint that both draws from There are also signs of increasedto 1980’s, was complemented by a the US experience and integrates diversification in the resourcesnew generation of desktop and per- European culture and ambitions. available to students. In the future,sonal computing, which found its The focus is on cultivating improved learners will likely be able to obtainultimate expression in artificial intel- efficiency in learning and cost-effec- degrees made up of courses andligence (AI) and AI tutoring systems tiveness, while deploying instruc- experiences from numerous pro-research. tional technologies that better viders. Moreover, mergers and part- Although behavioristic in many address the needs of individuals, nerships of learning institutions,ways, these cognitivist systems still groups, and organizations. publishers, technology companies,represented a different paradigm The European effort is helpful and service providers and consul-from both behaviorism and con- for understanding the current status tancies will lead to shake-ups in thestructivism. Constructivism in its and future direction of instructional ways educational institutions plancurrent incarnation is complemented technology because it leaves less to and deliver their courses. Privateby media and technologies that offer chance than the entrepreneurially colleges will have to offer broaderlearners multiple perspectives, for- driven American environment, and vocational options with major onlinemats, and options for sharing and follows instead a more program- components or go out of business.expressing their ideas. Thus, the matic approach. Many colleges, including NYU,Web, having emerged in the mid- Core concepts in the vision of the already run successful partnerships90’s, with its networked, interactive future of E-learning in Europe are: with corporations to manage theirenvironments, accessible through 1. Universal access to open, ubiqui- training and education programs.portable and handheld devices, tous, experiential, and contextu- Likewise, I see the role of theoffers functionality that goes beyond alized learning materials; professor and instructor continuingbehavioristic or cognitivistic world- 2. The combination of advanced to diversify with the technology.views, and recasts learning as a cognitive science and knowl- The expectations placed on instruc-ubiquitous, experiential, self-driven edge-based approaches with new tors regarding their digital skillsactivity. media, including virtual and aug- have become more exacting and mented reality, virtual presence demanding, and the time required toTHE EUROPEAN VIEWPOINT technologies, and simulations; respond to the steady flow of e-mailUnique economic, geographic, 3. The ability to learn and seek and the creation of new digitalsocial, technological, and intellec- training, independent of time, content has grown exponentially,tual structures in the US have consis- place, and pace as a fundamental placing increased performance pres-tently helped give rise to revolutions affordance of instructional tech- sure on faculty. Spring/Summer 2005 • Connect: Information Technology at NYU 15
  • 4. CURRENT TRENDS IN INFRASTRUCTURE Trends in the growth of technology for instruction can be summarized as embedding, ubiquity, specialization, miniaturization, and mobility. In this context, embedding describes how the network is becoming increas- ingly integrated into our urban envi- ronment. For example, web-enabled devices will continue to drop in cost, while being built into existing conventional devices. Imagine an instructor accessing her Blackboard courses via the touch screen on her Figure 3. Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience5 illustrates his theory on the average retention rates for different types of teaching. The further you progress down the broadband-connected refrigerator cone, the deeper the learning and the more information will be retained. over morning coffee, or answering e-mail from a public web kiosk on the street while attending a confer- sented by, say, podcasting biology CURRENT TRENDS IN ence in Amsterdam. instructors, art-teaching videogra- INSTRUCTIONAL CONTENT Another trend is the increasing phers, and media-ethnographic his- A stumbling block to the increasing ubiquity and mobility offered by torians. diversification and ubiquity of wirelessly connected devices. Per- These trends in infrastructure instructional technologies has been sonal devices like smartphones will require further advances in the relative difficulty of content and PDAs, even iPods and personal interoperability, that is, the ability creation for people unaccustomed media devices, offer non-stop access of different digital platforms to com- to working in a software interface. to digital content and, in many cases, municate and exchange content. Content creation software has tradi- real-time communication and media Emerging standards for accessing tionally been the dominion of highly sharing. The already ubiquitous incommensurate digital resources paid professionals working with iPod may, in the near future, come include SOAP, UDDI, and XSLT. complex, expensive software. with a wireless Internet connection DLORN is one example of an open To date, the emphasis in web- that would allow for potentially vast source, modular content repository based instructional technology has sharing of content and greatly sim- currently being explored at NYU. been on discoverability and use plified podcasting (personal radio- Related to this are concerns about of content (e.g., Google), rather like broadcasting). metadata (information about digital than on creation and collabora- Furthermore, continued min- resources that, among other things, tive discourse, despite many efforts iaturization, specialization, and helps search engines locate them). to redress this imbalance. One improvements in manufacturing Metadata standards are notoriously emerging trend emphasizes bridging processes will offer consumers technical and demanding, in a way the “design gap” between the learner lower costs with greater efficiency. that often discourages content pro- and the instructional system, so that The so-called “m-Learning para- ducers from using them, rendering non-experts can also create and digm”—mobile learning—will bring their content harder to find and share their resources within collab- with it new types of content, smarter archive. Tools for a more flexible orative communities of interest. A devices, and an ever-lower cost. ontology of metadata are beginning new breed of rapid development E- With the realization of these to emerge. learning software tools has been on trends will come new “vertical” These types of new technolo- the rise in the last year. These tools organizations of social and aca- gies will allow educational institu- allow for faster, more exact, and demic interests. The Scholar search tions to go beyond comparatively lower cost prototyping of learning tools in Google are an early example static learning management systems materials and content. Such tools of this trend. Likewise, metropolitan such as Blackboard. These emerging include Macromedia Breeze, Articu- regions, institutions, organizations, infrastructures are, however, use- late, Lersus, SNAP! Studio, Content and schools will see a rise in “sub- less without content, and trends in Point, WebEx, and Mindflash. networks,” that is, shared “synthetic” content development are character- Bridging the gap is not merely a spaces that revolve around the ideas ized by the most interesting innova- question of designing user-friendly and communities of interest repre- tions. software, however. Increasingly, 5. Wiman, R. V. & Meierhenry, W. C. (Eds.), (1969). Educational media: Theory into practice. Columbus, OH: Merrill.16 Connect: Information Technology at NYU • Spring/Summer 2005
  • 5. cognitive science has been informing struction, the formation of mental Our review of these trends bringsthe design process, and techniques models and conceptual structures, us back to the concern about theare being sought for incorporating and their relationship to navigation lifespan of new technologies. Withconstructivist, meaningful, expe- and interface design will continue to the historical perspective gainedriential learning into instructional be researched. Methodologies and from previous technologies such ascontent in a more systematic way. A techniques for evaluating the effec- radio, film, and TV, we can see thatrelated trend, therefore, is the emer- tiveness of web-based learning will the promise of new media can fadegence of basic “pattern languages” become essential as educational out as people realize its limitations.for instructional content design, institutions need to justify and ratio- The question to ask, then, is: won’twhich draw from content-rich and nalize their expenditures. the same disappointment occurengaging experiences such as those Web-specific learning activities with the web-based technologiesfound in simulations or games. In such as collaboration, communica- reviewed in this article?this vein, we can expect to see new tion, and gaming will be researched While it is true that this couldforms of “learning browser” soft- alongside new types of interaction happen, there are no signs thus far.ware that are purpose-built for the that lead to more authentic tasks, an Instructional technology survivedlearner according to their patterns improved sense of social presence, the bursting of the Internet bubblein media usage, learning cognition, metacognitive mapping, and insights intact, for example, and continuesand behavior. into how learners manage com- to grow. When we consider the Another trend in content devel- plexity. Individual differences among learning theories discussed above—opment is the shift away from large, learners (e.g., visual versus spatial; behaviorism, cognitivism, and con-centralized instructional material linear versus holistic) can now be structivism—it’s evident that theprojects run by media conglomerates accommodated very well by modern Web offers a new set of affordances(although these will always exist in computers; however, we still lack the that are no longer one-way, passivesome form) towards more grassroots, tools for determining and catering to transmissions of content, but rather,community-driven instructional individual differences in instructional two-way, interactive environmentscontent development. Technologies content. New dimensions of indi- that allow for learners to exploresuch as rapid development envi- vidual differences will be researched multiple perspectives, in multipleronments, as well as blogs, wikis, with their specific interaction sets, formats, in a way that suits them andand revamped “push” technologies leading to improved, more effective puts them in charge of constructingbased on RSS (technically “Rich Site personalization for learners. Issues their own learning experiences. OnlySummary” but sometimes colloqui- in policy, and social, economic, and time will tell if the Web can offer aally called “Really Simple Syndica- philosophy will also be explored truly effective constructivist learningtion”) put the individual and small in an attempt to make sense of the environment, but at least for now,collaborative group in a position of broader cultural consequences of the future looks power to develop compelling instructional technologies.instructional materials without the LINKSoverhead and complications that CONCLUSIONS • Technology and Learning inlarge media companies face. After a series of fits and starts in the 2005: 20th century, the current trends in ls/future.htmlEMERGING TRENDS IN instructional technology can be char- • Instructional Technology TheoryRESEARCH acterized by continued uptake of the Database: the scenes, instructional technologies, increasingly ubiqui- • E-Learning Europe Program:technologists are exploring new tous access, diversification in content of research, building the future creation, infrastructure, and commu- • EDUCAUSE: http://www.educause.infrastructures, content develop- nities of use, and mobility in learning. edu/ment tools, and theoretical frame- The creation and sharing of learning • Podcasting: iPod Therefore iPod-works which will define the field in experiences will become easier for cast: decades to come. non-experts, while large education- ls/podcast.html As previously mentioned, an dependent organizations and institu-increasing role is being played by the tions will experience almost constantcognitive sciences in helping to build shake-up as a result of the pressurea foundation for web-based learning. to adapt to new technology. The role Robert Whelan is a Ph.D. candidateAs knowledge about learning pro- of cognitive science in informing in educational technology in NYU’scesses and cognition evolves, so will design and research, as it applies to Steinhardt School of Education andits application to the field of instruc- individuals as well as to collaborative a Technology Associate at the ITStional technology. Knowledge con- groups, will grow in importance. Faculty Technology Center. Spring/Summer 2005 • Connect: Information Technology at NYU 17