Lessons from the Past

I) Background on my role

As some of you know, I work as a content development lead in a management and consultancy firm. My primary responsibility is to oversee the development of commercial L&D products and services.

II) Germane Lessons

a) Formative and Summative Evaluation

Reiser (2001b) describes a systematic approach to solving educational problems called Programmed Instruction (PI), a term which was likely coined in a 1954 paper by B.F. Skinner entitled “The Science of Learning and the Art of Teaching” (Lockee, Moore, & Burton, 2004). Programmed Instruction is a process that involves an assessment of the educational materials’ effectiveness, the identification of any deficiencies, and the revision of the materials to correct identified deficiencies either prior to or during design (Reiser, 2001b); a process referred to today as formative evaluation. The term formative evaluation comes from work by Michael Scriven in 1967 that highlights the need for instructional materials to be tested with learners while still in draft form (i.e. formative), rather than after they are in final form (i.e. summative) (Reiser, 2001b).

In my experience, formative evaluation is common in the management consulting sector, where timelines are tight and “agile” management practices dominate. Indeed, a cursory examination of recent research suggests that formative evaluation continues to be an oft-used and impactful form of evaluation, and has a proven positive impact on summative evaluation results (Alsalhanie, Das, & Abdus-Samad, 2017).

  1. b) Rapid Prototyping

In his discussion of 1990’s trends in instructional design, Reiser mentions the rise of rapid prototyping, a cycle of trial and error that continues until a minimum viable product is produced (2001b).

This approach to developing instructional materials is one we use often at ITRG, as it is believed to be both more efficient and more effective. Indeed, it gives us the opportunity to identify deficiencies early, before time and/or the opportunity for correction/optimization are lost (often due to an impending, immovable deadline).

  1. c) New Tools + Old Practices

In his keynote speeches “The History of the Future of Ed-Tech” (2014a) and “Un-fathomable: The Hidden History of Ed-Tech” (2014b), Watters describes a tension between new tools and old practices. This tension is illustrated by the all-too-common inclination to put course materials designed for in-person instruction online and view it as an online course, which Watters rebukes Khan Academy for doing in their video “The History of Education” (2014b, p.3). Watters also offers the following simple illustration of the tension: “It’s simple to introduce iPads into the classroom, for example. It’s much more difficult to use them to do entirely new things, particularly things that run counter to how classrooms have operated in the past” (2014, p.3).

This tension is all too familiar, as many individuals not acquainted with Ed-Tech research assume that materials developed for in-person instruction should be equally effective, without modification, in a digital environment. It continues to be a part of my job to discuss the drawbacks of this repurposing with both internal and external stakeholders.

Reiser’s Relevance

At the start of the 21st century, Reiser (2001a; 2001b) advocated a change from the term “instructional technology” to “instructional design and technology” (IDT) as a result of the growth of new practices (instructional design and media employed for instructional purposes) and the associations individuals have with the term technology, namely that it is commonly associated with hardware, software, or physical systems (e.g. computers, overheads) alone. Since 2001, both instructional design and the use of media for instructional purposes have continued to grow, and the myopic view of the term technology has continued (at least outside of the IDT field), offering support to Reiser’s contention that the term IDT more aptly communicates the character of the field.

Reiser also offers insight into the human tendency to take an unjustifiably rosy view of the future when he highlights that people have historically predicted that “new” (at any given time) media will have a dramatic effect on instructional practices; actual effects have been reliably less remarkable than anticipated (2001a). He goes on to make a similar prediction with regard to digital media: “over the next decade, computers, the Internet, and other digital media will bring about greater changes in instructional practices than the media that preceded them” (2001a, p.62). It seems that this bore out, as over a decade later, Bates (2014) states “what distinguished the digital age from all previous ages is the rapid pace of technology development and our immersion in technology-based activities in our daily lives. Thus it is fair to describe the impact of the Internet on education as a paradigm shift…” (2014, p.5).



Alsalhanie1, K.M., Das, S., Abdus-Samad, S. (2017). Formative evaluation impacting the results of summative evaluation – a feedback based cross-sectional study carried out among instructors of an international medical school. International Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, 5(7), 2865-2869. http://www.msjonline.org/index.php/ijrms/article/viewFile/3350/3061

Lockee, B., Moore, D., & Burton, J. (2004). Foundations of Programmed Instruction. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (pp. 545–569). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. http://www.aect.org/edtech/20.pdf

Reiser, R. A. (2001). A history of instructional design and technology: Part I: A history of instructional media. Educational Technology Research and Development49(1), 53-64.

Reiser, R. A. (2001). A history of instructional design and technology: Part II: A history of instructional design. Educational Technology Research and Development49(2), 57-67.

Watters, A. (2014). The History of the Future of Ed-Tech, Chapter 1. In The monsters of education technology. Licensed under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA.

Watters, A. (2014). Un-fathomable: The Hidden History of Ed-Tech, Chapter 2. In The monsters of education technology. Licensed under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA.


Reflecting on my theoretical and pedagogical stance

I recently read an article by Ertmer & Newby entitled Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features from a Design Perspective (2013), which – as one expects from the title – explains three essential perspectives of the learning process: behavioral, cognitive, and constructivist.   This article was a very helpful introduction to the three perspectives, including an explanation of their essence (e.g. how learning occurs, how transfer occurs, the role of memory), as well as a limited discussion of their application in the design of instruction.  It was through reading and reflecting upon this article that I discovered my first inclination is toward Constructivist Learning Theory.

Constructivist Learning Theory rejects the objectivist assumption (entrenched in behaviorism and constructivism) that the world is “real” (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 54), independent of the learner.   In other words, constructivists reject the notion that there is an objective reality and a learner’s mind is merely “a reference tool to the real world” (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 55).  Instead, constructivism sees learners as important actors in the learning process, wherein they interact with the environment to create meaning.

The notion that learners are important co-creators of meaning aligns with my experience in corporate training, as both a learner and facilitator.  Often, learners who have an objectively similar learning experience walk away with very different interpretations, knowledge, and capabilities.  Further, the notion that “what we know of the world stems from our own interpretation of our experiences” (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 55) resonates with me, as I have often walked away from personal and professional interactions with very different impressions than those alongside me.

Under constructivism, the goal of instruction is for learners to construe and build upon information – not to know specific concepts or details (Ertmer & Newby, 2013).  The intent is to arm learners with the ability to “assemble prior knowledge from diverse sources appropriate to the problem at hand” (Ertmer & Newby, 2013, p. 56).  This is particularly appropriate to a key aspect of my work: the design of learning curriculum, including activity design.  Specifically, I can see immediate application for several of the principles suggested by Ertmer & Nemby, including ensuring learning is always anchored in meaningful contexts (particularly in activities); ensuring learning content is presented at different times, in different contexts, and for different purposes; and focusing on learning transfer through assessment.  Luckily, our current learning programs employ these principles; however, there are opportunities to further embed them in both learning design and delivery.

Will my affinity for constructivism continue?  Only time will tell.  In the meantime, I will focus on learning design that suits the needs of modern, technologically-savvy learners – design that is “highly contextualized, personal, and collaborative” (Herrington & Herrington, 2007, as cited in Ertmer & Newby, 2013).




Ertmer, P., & Newby, T. (2013). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly26(2), 43-71.

Herrington, A., & Herrington, J. (2007). Authentic Mobile Learning in Higher Education. Paper presented at the International Education Research Conference. Retrieved from: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/5413