Published on 2013/07/01
The Education Pendulum Has Gone Wild (Part 2)
While the methods of instructional design have changed significantly over the years, the end goal of education has not: it is still effective content delivery for students. Technological capacity should not outpace outcomes in this regard.

In over 40 years of work in education, I’ve witnessed pendulum swings impacting educators, learners and instructional delivery. Looking back over the years from the 1970s to the early 2010s, it’s amazing how much — and how little — has changed in lifelong learning.

In the conclusion of this two-part series, I will focus on what has remained constant over the past four decades in higher education.

What Has Not Changed

Educators’ mission, regardless of method, has not changed. Most instructors desire their learners to gain some combination of knowledge, skills and perceptions from their time together. They hope to prepare learners for their next step in learning, whatever that may be.

Educators’ challenges have really not changed over time, although the source of these challenges has. Educators still face limited time and resources to spend on the daunting task of educating, given an increasingly complex array of content, learners and delivery options. And their fundamental tasks have not changed. They supply learners with relevant content and/or links to resources selected and organized with purpose to assist in learning. They articulate expectations and assign work contributing to the learning process. They share and interact in a variety of ways with learners as individuals and group members to inspire attention to, and motivation for, learning. And they provide some form of expert assessment, be it formal grades,  informal feedback, advice or consultative summaries.

Learners’ mission, regardless of educational option, has also not changed. Most learners want to gain some combination of knowledge, skills and perceptions from their time together with instructors and other learners. They hope to prepare themselves for their next step in learning, whatever that may be.

Learners’ challenges have really not changed over time, although the source of these challenges has. Learners still face limited time and resources to spend on the daunting task of learning, given an increasingly complex array of content and delivery methods. And their fundamental tasks have not changed. They focus to review the content and/or resources selected and organized with purpose to assist in their learning. Although often more time-consuming, learners may also select and organize their own content, as in inquiry learning. Learners then reflect on meaning and put this in mental context with past learning, experiences, interests and aspirations. They attempt to meet expectations in assigned work that contributes to the learning process. They share and interact in a variety of ways with instructors and learners as individuals and group members to maintain their attention to, and motivation for, learning. And they apply expert assessments to their plans for future learning and decisions for life and work.

In the end, instructional technology, while constantly evolving, is still mainly focused on content delivery. Thus far, it has added diversity, speed and convenience, but has not revolutionized or replaced the mental and emotional processes involved in teaching or learning. Educators can deliver content with their voice, printed text, chalk on a board or the latest smart phone or tablet. And, regardless of the amount of content digitized and made available via technology, educators still provide value in selecting and organizing content, using available instructional delivery options and motivating learners to complete the processes required for learning. In return, motivated learners must attend to content and mentally reflect to remember, categorize, apply, analyze, evaluate, act and create.

To read the first part of this series, please click here.

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Readers Comments

Chelsea Bellows 2013/07/01 at 8:51 am

There has been a lot of fear about whether instructors are still needed as higher education evolves. I’ve always confidently answered “Yes,” and now I can show this article as Terpstra explains their role so well.

Peter Laramie 2013/07/01 at 4:21 pm

I’m not sure if learners’ missions will continue unchanged. I believe new technologies put different expectations on students, and also present them with new opportunities. These could lead their missions to change somewhat, although it’s too early to see now what that might be.

Chuck Schwartz 2013/07/01 at 5:30 pm

It’s true that new technology has, thus far, simply presented us with another delivery method. It has not been used to do anything truly revolutionary in higher education. That’s largely because most institutions have simply moved their traditional classrooms to a new locale — online — without changing any of their delivery strategies or processes.

Once we find a way to use the Internet or other technological advances to enhance what is currently being done in the traditional classroom, we could see online education become more than an alternate delivery method.

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