I would like to outline what I think are some of the major issues in instructional theory at present.
I believe the most significant issue is that we need a new paradigm of instructional theory (in addition to a new paradigm of the ISD process, which I won't go into here). I talked about both at some length in the May issue of Educational Technology (Reigeluth, 1996), but let me reiterate here that I see the new paradigm of instructional theory as focusing on customized learning that fosters learner empowerment, initiative, and responsibility, as well as teamwork, thinking skills, metacognitive skills, and diversity.
Because of the need for a new paradigm of instructional theory, I have started work on a Volume II of the Instructional Design Theories and Models book that I edited in 1983. The purpose of Volume II is to draw public attention to the theories that are currently under development for this new paradigm and encourage more work in this direction. Currently, contributors include: John Anderson, John Bransford, Alan Collins, Lyn Corno, Howard Gardner, Mike Hannafin, Dave Jonassen, Beth and Tom Kamradt, Susan Kovalik, Lev Landa, Thomas Lickona, Barbara Martin, Richard Mayer, Karen McCown, Dave Merrill, Laurie Nelson, David Perkins, Stanley Pogrow, Charles Reigeluth, Rita Richey, Roger Schank, and Rand Spiro.
I feel it is important to encourage instructional theories in a wide variety of different areas--not just in the cognitive domain, where we need theories for fostering understanding, building higher-order thinking skills, developing metacognitive skills, designing problem-based and interdisciplinary or thematic learning environments, and tailoring instructional guidance to specific content-area idiosyncrasies, but also in the affective domain, where we need guidance for developing what Daniel Goleman calls "emotional intelligence" and for what Thomas Lickona calls "character education," as well as how to develop attitudes and values and so forth. Instructional theory has been construed much too narrowly in the past.
The following are three points that may be particularly worthy of discussion:
1. Some of the "key markers" that should distinguish the new (information-age) paradigm of instructional theories from the old (industrial-age) paradigm are:
|INDUSTRIAN AGE||INFORMATION AGE|
|Centralized control||..........||Autonomy with accountability|
|Adversarial relationships||..........||Cooperative relationships|
|Autocratic decision making||..........||Shared decision making|
|Teacher as "King"||..........||Learner (customer) as "King"|
To get a feel for what these key markers mean for instructional theory, the first key marker could be stated as: instructional theories should provide guidance for customizing learning for each learner, as opposed to "one size fits all" instruction. And the fifth and sixth markers could be stated as: instructional theories should provide guidance for giving learners initiative and responsibility for their own learning, while still providing support that makes the learning process more effective, efficient, and appealing. This is in contrast to instructional theories that resulted in instruction where compliance and conformity were emphasized.
[What do you think of these "key markers"? Additions? Deletions? Modifications?]
2. We need to recognize the existence of two major kinds of instructional methods: basic methods, which have been scientifically proven to consistently increase the probability of learning under given conditions (e.g., for given types of learning and/or learners), such as the use of generalities, examples, and practice with feedback for teaching a skill, and variable methods, which represent alternatives from which you can choose, as vehicles for the basic methods (e.g., it doesn't matter very much whether you use print, computer, or audio tape, as long as you use one of them). For example, if someone wants to learn a skill, then demonstrations of the skill, generalities about how to do it, and practice doing it, with feedback will definitely make learning easier and more successful. Behaviorists recognized this, and called them examples, rules, and practice with feedback. Cognitivists also recognized this, but naturally had to give them different names, such as cognitive apprenticeship and scaffolding. And, yes, constructivists also recognized this, and even radical constructivists "walk the walk," even though they may not "talk the talk." An analysis of instruction designed by some radical constructivists reveals a plentiful use of these very instructional strategies.
We have learned much about the basic methods in the old paradigm of instructional theory. Now we need a new paradigm of instructional theory that provides flexible guidelines about when and how learners:
The Learning-Focused instructional theory must offer guidelines for the design of learning environments that provide appropriate combinations of challenge and guidance, empowerment and support, self-direction and structure. And the Learning-Focused theory must include guidelines for an area that has been largely overlooked in instructional design: deciding among such variable methods of instruction as problem-based learning, project-based learning, simulations, tutorials, and team-based learning.
[Do you agree with the existence of basic and variable methods?]
[What do you think about each of the statements in the previous paragraph?]
3. Instructional theory should result in designs that allow learners to make more decisions about their instructional methods, by allowing them to choose from among sound alternative approaches. This reflects the "user-designer" concept in systems design theory (see e.g., Banathy, Systems Design of Education, 1991). There are several ways in which this could be done. In one scenario, design teams (including all stakeholders) create flexible, computer-based, learning tools, like intelligent tutoring systems, that learners can use--while they are learning--to create or modify their own instruction. This concept is like adaptive instruction, except that the learners have the capability to request the computer system to use some instructional strategies, as well as the computer deciding on some strategies based on learner input. As Winn (1989) put it:
This means that the role of instructional designers will involve less direct instructional decision making and more concentration on the mechanisms by means of which decisions are made. ...It follows that the only viable way to make decisions about instructional strategies that meshes with cognitive theory is to do so during instruction using a system that is in constant dialogue with the student and is capable of continuously updating information about the student's progress, attitude, expectations, and so on. (pp. 39-41)
Learners are able to make decisions (with varying degrees of guidance) about both content (what to learn) and strategy (how to learn it) while the instruction is in progress. The work of Dave Merrill and associates on "transaction shells" (Li & Merrill, 1990; Merrill, Li, & Jones, 1992) could well lead to this type of tool and has shown that such a tool is feasible to create.
A major shift in the paradigm of ISD that this scenario of the concept of user-designers represents is the notion that much of the analysis that is now done by a designer for a whole "batch" of learners well ahead of the actual instruction will soon be done during the instruction as the computer system continuously collects information from an individual learner and/or a small team of learners and uses that information to present an array of sound alternatives to the learner(s), both about what to learn next and how to learn it. Also, the teacher or trainer is afforded the opportunity to modify the system in ways s/he thinks are important. The systems concept of "equifinality" reflects the reality that there are usually several acceptable ways to accomplish the same end. The new paradigm of ISD will, I believe, allow for such diversity of means, as well as a diversity of ends, for learners.
In another scenario of the concept of user-designers, computers play a relatively minor role in some instructional situations, so the users must--ahead of time--design the framework or support system within which the instruction will occur. Rather than this being done in a designer-based team, in which an instructional designer plays the leading role, it is done in a user-based team in which the designer plays a facilitating role and the users--teachers or trainers, along with learners--play the leading role (Laurie Nelson, 1995). This user-based approach recognizes the need to put better design tools and knowledge in the hands of those who generally create and deliver the instruction anyway. In order for this to occur, we believe a new paradigm of ISD is needed that will empower the users to play a greater role in designing their instruction than our current conception of ISD allows.
This empowerment is particularly critical in the case of teachers. Teachers are a unique type of clientele for instructional designers. They share with us a (somewhat) common knowledge base in educational theory, as well as powerful perspectives in regards to what typifies appropriate instruction. Teachers also have been empowered, both through formal preparation and classroom practice, to feel a great deal of ownership regarding the instruction they create and deliver. Also, teachers are the ones closest to the learners. Rather than using pre-constructed instructional products, teachers use and create a wide variety of materials that support their own instructional activities. Other than perhaps novice teachers, most teachers tend to take pre-constructed instructional products, deconstruct them, and then use the resulting resources in unique ways during instruction. This raises the question, why do we continue to make complete instructional products for a clientele that doesn't want them nor will use them the way we, as instructional designers, intend for them to be used? Have we been out of touch with the real needs of our clients? We propose that in fact we, as a field, have not fully recognized the need to support trainers, and particularly teachers, in designing their own instruction. And this should expand to include learners. Thus, our responsibility as a field is to conceive of and develop a whole new type of instructional design theory--one which assists trainers, teachers, and learners in meeting their own instructional needs.
[What do you think about the notion of user-designers, and the implications of it
for what instructional theory needs to be like?]
Finally, please let me know if you know of any other theorists or design theories that should be included in Volume II of Instructional Design Theories and Models.
The above includes excerpts from my article in the May issue of Educational Technology and a piece written by Laurie Nelson. If this doesn't give you enough grist for discussion, feel free to comment on anything in that article. I look forward to your comments.
Banathy, B.H. (1991). Systems design of education: A journey to create the future. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
Li, Z., & Merrill, M.D. (1990). Transaction shells: A new approach to courseware authoring. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 23(1), 72-86.
Merrill, M.D., Li, Z., & Jones, M.K. (1992). Instructional transaction shells: Responsibilities, methods, and parameters. Educational Technology, 32( 2), 5-26.
Nelson, L.M. (1995). A user-based approach to instructional design. Unpublished manuscript.
Reigeluth, C.M. (1996). A new paradigm of ISD? Educational Technology, 36(3), 13-20.
Reigeluth, C.M. (Ed.) (1983). Instructional design theories and models: An overview of their current status. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Winn, W. (1989). Toward a rational and theoretical basis for educational technology. Educational Technology Research & Development, 37(1), 35-46.
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