Development of Technology-Based Instruction
April 11, 2001
Because many Instructional Design models have their origin’s in objectivist conceptions of Education, Instructional Designers all to often focus on observable behaviors. Knowledge, of course, is central to education, and learning should not be forgotten. The purpose of this paper is threefold; it is to examine the historical context of the current philosophical debate in Education, to discuss the relationship of knowledge to Instructional Design, and to discuss other ways of conceiving of the Instructional Design process.
In recent years there has been a reconception of education. This reconception has been in the way we construct instructional materials. Instructional design theory for many years was based on the learning theories of Behavioral Psychology. This branch of Psychology for a long time was the most prominent, and dominated learning theory. In the 1950’s, some Psychologist’s began to rebel against Behavioral Psychology and developed the basic precepts of Cognitive Science. Unlike Behaviorism, Cognitive Psychology described knowledge. This new branch of Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, convinced many educators to think of Education somewhat differently.
However, Behaviorism works rather well in many situations. The fundamental methods employed by Instructional Designers such as task analysis, behavioral objectives, and criterion-reference evaluation, are all based on behaviorist conceptions of learning (Jonassen, 1991). But Cognitivism is important because it describes knowledge. As far as many educators are concerned, knowledge is the most important part of education.
Even more recently, some Educators adopted a more relativistic viewpoint called Constructivism. This new view has a completely different perspective. It holds that we construct our own reality by interacting with the universe. These three opposing views began a debate in Instructional Design that is still raging. “How shall we best construct instructional materials?” Should we use the objective methods outlined by Behaviorism or look toward the relativism of Constructivism? Perhaps it is important to look at the philosophical underpinnings of this debate, to better understand how we should best construct instruction.
The Objectivism vs. Constructivism debate is an old one; it is nearly as old as philosophy itself. It deals with the nature or philosophy of knowledge (Epistemology). Not surprisingly, it begins with the Greeks, in particular a group of people that Saettler describes as “probably the first instructional technologists. (Saettler, 1967)” These were the Elder Sophists. The Sophists were a group of teachers, who practiced their craft near Athens in the 4th and 5th centuries B.C. They went against the local custom of the day and began to take large sums of money for their services, sometimes in excess of 10,000 drachmas, for a two to three year course (a drachma was the equivalent of a skilled worker’s daily wage) (Saettler, 1967). It was because of practices like this that education during this period was only for the rich.
Protagoras of Abdera, (480-411 BC), is widely regarded as the first Sophist (Hyland, 1973), and it is with Protagoras that this Objectivism/Constructivism debate first began. Protagoras is remembered for the still familiar saying “Man is the measure of all things: of things that are, that they are, of things that are not, that they are not. (Hyland, 1973).” This philosophy implies that truth or knowledge is within each individual person, and within them is the standard of what is truth, and that there is no objective truth. This philosophy is presumably based on the “deceitfulness” of the senses (Russel, 1945). It is with these words that we gain the philosophical tradition of Relativism (Hyland, 1973). This is the first epistemology, and from which Constructivism would eventually arise.
Socrates was a contemporary of the Sophists. The Sophists, in contrast to Socrates and Plato, were much more democratic. They believed that all men could be taught and had the ability for self-rule, but they could not achieve this potential without education (Saettler, 1967). The philosophies of Socrates, Plato and then Aristotle are all in reaction to Sophist thought (Hyland, 1973). For Socrates, knowledge was within a person from birth, therefore it had only to be drawn out (Gardner, 1985). Thus the origins of “Socratic Dialog.” Socrates left no writings; so, much of what we know of him is through the writings of his student, Plato (Saettler, 1967). The Socratic-Platonic argument with the Sophists then, was that they believed knowledge and virtue could be taught (Hyland, 1973).
Plato also had differences with the Sophist. He described the Sophists as "a paid hunter after wealth and youth. (Plato, 2001)” Plato, on the other hand, like Socrates before him, believed that virtue could not be taught, and that only aristocrats, whom he thought were wise and virtuous, were the only ones worthy of leadership. Therefore, in his opinion, men were either destined for leadership or subservience (Saettler, 1967).
Plato though believed in something akin to the Sophist epistemology. This is best described in The Republic. In this book, he describes his beliefs on the nature of the mind, and God, in a passage that has been referred to as the “Allegory of the Cave.” This passage became very important, later in history to Christian theologians. He believed that God was an infinitely wise, and just spirit, who formed the earth out of perfect forms, or ideas, eternally existent in his mind (von Altendorf, 1993). From this thought, Plato proposed an abstract realm of ideas, which was the “real” reality, and that our world was only an imperfect shadow (von Altendorf, 1993). These ideas, Platonism as it came to be called, prospered in his school “the Academy”, for nearly a thousand years (Hooker, 1999). Aristotle, his most prosperous student though, refuted Platonism.
It is from Aristotle that we truly gain the other perspective of the Objectivism /Constructivism debate. Rather than Socrates or Plato, it is Aristotle who best describes this other point of view. Aristotelianism as it has been called, refers to an empirical investigation of logical methods and thought (von Altendorf, 1993). This logic or objectivity of Aristotle, which catalyzed the modern age, is not in conflict with Sophist or Platonic thought. Aristotle differs with Platonism, in that he rejected the notion that truth is within the person. For Aristotle, truth is within the Universe, and it is for the person to perceive or understand that truth. The opposing ideas of Plato and Aristotle stoked the fires of debate that continues even today.
The debate between Aristotle and Plato, or Aristotelianism and Platonism rather, was taken up in the Renaissance. In reaction to this fundamental split, thinkers in the Renaissance debated along similar lines (von Altendorf, 1993). Platonism evolved and became Rationalism, the deductive reasoning that was accepted by the church and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Aristotelianism became Empiricism or the inductive reasoning of John Locke (1632-1704). The followers of John Locke, the Empiricist demanded the right to measure the Universe and learn from it what they could (von Altendorf, 1993).
It was about this time, in 1623, that Rene Descartes locked himself away in a small farmhouse in Bavaria. He had become frustrated with previous thinkers. It was there that he began a program of reflection, in which, he evolved a method of systematic doubt (Gardner, 1985). Descartes eventually came to the conclusion that the mind was central to human existence, and that it may be separate from the body. This though became a problem for Descartes. How could the mind remain separate from the body? In trying to solve this “mind-body dilemma” he devised methods of how mental states could be derived from the world of sensory experience. In effect he became one of the first physiological psychologists (Gardner, 1985). It was from these methods or theories of knowledge, that Descartes arrived at what he thought was the source of knowledge; for him it arose from the senses (Gardner, 1985).
John Locke and his followers, the Empiricists, disagreed with Descartes on this proposition. Locke began to question if one could accept any knowledge on the basis of introspective evidence (Gardner, 1985). Locke’s Epistemology, in opposition to Descartes,’ focused on the external world (Gardner, 1985). Thus the relativism/objectivity debate continued.
By the 18th century, the time was ripe for a new and different epistemology. This version was still somewhat based on Greek thought. This new epistemology was a revival of Platonism by the German Philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) (von Altendorf, 1993). However his view was more than just a revival of Plato’s ideas. Kant in his, Critique of Pure Reason, had synthesized the Empiricism of Locke and the mental introspection of Descartes (Gardner, 1985). It looked as if the rift between relativism and objectivity had been mended.
Kant had segregated the universe into three aspects: the “phenomenal” which man could observe and measure; the “noumenal” pure intellect; and a transcendental reality that only God knows (von Altendorf, 1993). Kant’s philosophy has been felt throughout the disciplines. In science his philosophy has restricted knowledge to the “probability” of truth. In philosophy and politics it has encouraged thinkers to abandon principles for Pragmatism (von Altendorf, 1993). This philosophy without a doubt has greatly influence 20th century thought. Even though Kant may have mended the breach in philosophy the rest of the world was not ready for what came next.
In 1905 a young Swiss patent clerk, by the name of Albert Einstein, published a paper. This theory of Science, which is now known as the theory of special relativity, was very controversial. Einstein was eventually granted a Nobel Prize in 1921, for his contributions to science, but even then it was not for his theory of Relativity (Hawkings, 1999). It seems science just like philosophy can be very political.
Einstein in a later paper worked out the dynamics of something he called “space-time.” This entity related the three familiar dimensions of space with the fourth dimension time. He reasoned that space-time had to be curved because of its incompatibilities with gravity(Hawkings, 1999). This new theory, that he termed the theory of General Relativity, shattered Newton’s completely objective universe.
Einstein’s theory of general relativity worked well with the more recent theories of magnetism and electricity, but when it came to Newton’s laws of gravity, they were incompatible. Newton’s work, which was based on pure objectivism, it seemed was wrong. This new theory of curved space-time was objectively demonstrated with a solar eclipse on the coast of West Africa in 1917. As Einstein had predicted, the light from distant stars was bent when it passed near the sun(Hawkings, 1999). It was as if relativism had dealt objectivity a seemingly fatal blow.
In the late 19th century a number of philosophers and scientists were beginning to study topics related to what we now would call Psychology (Weiten, 1995). Like Descartes they were frustrated with previous thinkers. They wanted to study the mind objectively. To do this they had to move this new field out of philosophy and into science. In the 1870’s, Wilhelm Wundt, a German professor, mounted a campaign to make Psychology an independent field (Weiten, 1995). In 1879, Wundt succeeded in securing a laboratory for the sole purpose of studying Psychology at the University of Leipzig. Most historians have named this as the date of birth for Psychology (Saettler, 1967).
At the time it was quite common for Americans to travel abroad and receive their education in Europe. One of Wundt's students, American G. Stanley Hall came back to the United States to found the first research laboratory in psychology at Johns Hopkins University in 1883 (Saettler, 1967). Hall was remarkably successful in establishing Psychology in America (Weiten, 1995). He established the first Psychology Journal in the United States. After this feat, he then began the American Psychological Association (A.P.A.) (Weiten, 1995).
Objectivism and Constructivism are 20th century conceptions of the Relativism/Objectivism debate. In the 20th century, Education and Psychology would truly develop into fields of study. Nonetheless much of the theory from these fields overlaps and at times is difficult to distinguish. To help Instructional designers to understand the differences, Reigeluth, made the distinction between learning theory, curriculum theory, and instructional design theory (Reigeluth, 1999). Learning theories are descriptive and describe “how” a person learns(Reigeluth, 1999). The 20th century version of this age-old debate is about how that process occurs.
Psychology in the 20th century would be torn in two different directions, primarily because of learning theory. For the most part, it would turn to Objectivism or Empiricism, to position itself near the “hard” sciences. It would be the educators, late in the 20th century that would take the other perspective. In the early 20th century though, Psychology was dominated by Cognitivism, but this would soon change.
Cognitivism was the theory-of-the-day, at the turn of the century. This was when Freud was most accepted, and when John Dewey wrote an article entitled The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology. This scathing article condemned the logic of the stimulus – response argument, which would soon be taken up by the behaviorists (Dewey, 1896).
It was at this time, that two of Wilhelm Wundt students, Edward B. Titchener and Oswald Küelpe, proposed a science of Cognition. They had rejected Wundt’s decision to avoid the use introspection in Psychology (APA Monitor, 1999). In 1901, Küelpe developed a technique called “Aufgabe,” for studying the higher thought processes. Through “Aufgabe” he questioned individuals during introspection, through a series of experiments (APA Monitor, 1999). Both Küelpe and Titchener proposed a concept of imageless thought (something similar to today’s concept of verbal processing). This began a controversy in Psychology that is still debatable (APA Monitor, 1999).
Was there imagery in thought? However, before this controversy would be resolved, it would bring an early demise to the newly born science of Cognitivism. This was because there was a new, and seemingly more promising theory, called Behaviorism.
Edward Thorndike, (1874-1949), one of G. Stanley Hall’s students, became interested in associations (Driscoll, 2000). Thorndike developed an objective method of studying animal behavior. He would place cats and dogs in “puzzle boxes” and then compared how long it would take for them to escape (Kentridge, 2001). He believed that the animals would eventually discover the secret to these “puzzle boxes” by accident. Once placed in a similar situation they should go through the same operations to be freed. In 1910, he formalized this notion into the principle of psychology, which he termed “the law of effect” (Kentridge, 2001). It reads as follows:
"Of several responses made to the same situation those which are accompanied or closely followed by satisfaction to the animal will, other things being equal, be more firmly connected with the situation, so that, when it recurs, they will be more likely to recur; those which are accompanied or closely followed by discomfort to the animal will, other things being equal, have their connections to the situation weakened, so that, when it recurs, they will be less likely to occur. The greater the satisfaction or discomfort, the greater the strengthening or weakening of the bond."
Thorndike questioned mental associations. He argued that animals did not have memory but only reacted to the environment. He even maintained that a combination of the “law of effect” and associations could explain all of human behavior. This “law of effect” had far reaching effects for behaviorism (Driscoll, 2000). Thorndike’s work would soon bring about the fall of Cognitivism.
After several years of the “Imagery Controversy,” in 1913, Watson called both for the abandonment of current introspective methods and for a redefinition of the appropriate subject matter of psychology to behaviorism. This was in his 1913 Presidential Address to the A.P.A., entitled "Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It." He later published this address in a paper with the same title (Kensicki, 1996). This abandonment of introspection redirected American psychology to Behaviorism for the next 40 years.
Yet, even as Watson was making his now historic proclamation, one of his students, Karl Lashley, was conducting a series of experiments, which would eventually spell an end for “radical behaviorism” (as it would soon be called). In the manner of the behaviorists, Lashley taught mice to run paths through mazes. Next, he systematically removed sections of their brains. As one might guess this caused them to perform poorly within the mazes. After several years of experimentation, he proudly announced in his now famous 1929 monograph that memory traces were stored in the cerebral cortex (Driscoll, 2000). This would show that there was more to behaviorism, than would meet the eye. In fact, memory was an important component of behavior.
In 1938, B.F. Skinner, (1904-1990), perhaps the most important behaviorist, published, The Behavior of Organisms. In this paper he resurrected the “law of effect,” but described it in more overtly behavioral terms (Kensicki, 1996). It was in this paper that he developed the basis of “Operant Conditioning. (Kensicki, 1996)” Operant Conditioning is a theory of learning, which suggests that learning is a function of changes in behavior (Driscoll, 2000). Learning under these circumstances is only due to responses to stimuli in the environment. An individual then is conditioned to respond when a particular stimulus-response (S-R) pattern is reinforced or rewarded (Kearsley, 1996). Although Skinner conducted most of his experiments with animals, his principles of reinforcement held equally well with humans (Driscoll, 2000).
As Driscoll describes it, Skinner’s approach to learning and behavior was to use the “Black Box” metaphor. By this metaphor the brain is like a Black box. We don’t know what goes in or what happens in there, but that is not necessary to determine how the environment governs behavior (Driscoll, 2000).
By 1958, Skinner proposed applying behavioral principles to teaching academic skills through programmed instruction. In an instructional program, content is arranged in small steps, called frames (Driscoll, 2000). Progress is made from simple to complex steps, requiring the learner to respond from step to step. These simple text-based instructional materials were the first “teaching machines” from which computer-based instruction would soon arise. The first computer-based instruction was basically programmed instruction via a computer (Driscoll, 2000).
But as any Instructional Designer knows, there is much more to computer-based instruction than the medium itself. Skinner had the basis of a learning theory. But as was described earlier, Reigeluth distinguished between three types of theories that are important to Instructional Designers (learning theory, curriculum theory, and instructional design theory) (Reigeluth, 1999). By 1958, the year Skinner made his proclamation, curriculum theorist where well on their way to describing a field of study all their own.
One of the earliest developments in curriculum theory began in 1916, when Heard Kilpatrick developed a curriculum methodology based on the writings of John Dewey. This methodology, which he called "the Project method," engaged the student in a number of projects. These projects he defined as "a purposeful activity carried to completion in a natural setting (Tyler, 1975)." This method quickly became popular. Many schools used the Project Method or developed progressive methods of their own. This launched the so-called “Progressive Education Movement.”
In an attempt to defend the new methods from critics, educational studies from this period offered evaluations of the progressive methods. Critiques of the progressive evaluations were not favorable. Critics believed that students educated in this manner would not fair well in college (Worthen, 1987). Thus was born the controversial “Eight Year Study.”
Tanner and Tanner describe the Eight Year Study as "the most important and comprehensive curriculum experiment ever carried on in the United States..." (Tanner & Tanner, 1995). This study compared students from thirty different high schools. These schools were located from Los Angeles to Boston (Tanner & Tanner, 1995). Half of these schools used Progressive curriculum. The other half used the more conventional Carnegie-unit curriculum.
The Eight Year Study established a number of key findings. The most important of these was that the graduates of the experimental programs (the Progressive methods) were not handicapped in any way. In fact they exceeded their peers with higher grade point averages, received more academic honors, and were found to be more objective thinkers (Tanner & Tanner, 1995). So why was their not a “Progressive” revolution in education, that shortly followed the results of these findings? Sadly World War II overshadowed the results of this study. The results were released in 1942 at the height of the war (Tanner & Tanner, 1995). Following the war American politics became comparatively more conservative. This and a number of other reasons discouraged the Progressive Education Movement.
The Eight Year Study did have some positive results though. We receive the basics of Curriculum Design from Tyler (and his student Benjamin Bloom). Ralph Tyler served as the evaluation staff director for this study (Tyler, 1975). Much of Tyler's philosophy was conceptualized during this study. Tyler's most famous work was his 1949 book, The Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction. This book is important because it concisely describes his philosophy of educational objectives in simple logical terms. Tyler to this day has been called "the father of behavioral objectives.(Wiburg, 2001)" Even though a major implementation of his ideas was not realized until the 1950 and 1960's with the works of his predecessors Bloom and Mager, we are still all indebted to Tyler's leadership and talent as an educator (Wiburg, 2001).
It should be noted that Benjamin Bloom also worked with Dr. Tyler as a graduate student, during “The Eight Year Study (Tyler, 1975).” Bloom later made a rather important contribution to the development of Educational Objectives (in the Cognitive Domain). This will be discussed in a later section.
Mager’s work in the 1960s and 1970s further contributed to the development of Behavioral Objectives. Dr. Robert Mager was at this time a professor of experimental psychology at the State University of Iowa. He was also a well-known expert on the design, development and implementation of programmed instruction. Like Tyler before him, he developed an easy-to-read book for teachers, describing how to produce three-component Behavioral Objectives (Driscoll, 2000). With simple language and formulas, Mager easily convinced the reader of the necessity of Behavioral Objectives. Here’s an example passage:
If you don’t know where you’re going, it is difficult to select a suitable means for getting there…Instructors simply function in a fog of their own making unless they know what they want their students to accomplish as a result of their instruction. (Mager, 1984)
Mager’s easy-to-read books have been used to this day as an example of how to construct Behavioral Objectives. However they rely heavily on Behaviorist Principles. Behaviorism, albeit very successful and very influential, in Education and Instructional Design, did not consider topics such as memory or knowledge. Because of this and other reasons many psychologists began to lose faith in Behaviorism and by the 1950s, another group, the Cognitivists, began to develop their own school of thought.
In the latter half of the 20th century, a great deal of research has been accomplished in Education and Psychology. This article cannot hope to describe every study that has been important. Therefore for the purposes of this article, only the highlights will be described.
Some trace the rebirth of Cognitive Psychology to Karl Lashley (APA Monitor, 1999). That is to his speech in 1948, as opposed to his 1929 monograph, which was mentioned earlier. The reader may recall Lashley was Watson’s student, and the individual who conducted memory experiments on mice.
Lashley again challenged behaviorism in 1948, at the “Cerebral Mechanisms in Behavior" conference on the campus of the California Institute of Technology. He did so by giving a rather interesting talk entitled, "The Problem of Serial Order in Behavior. (Gardner, 1985)" In this talk he not only challenged Behaviorist dogma, but he also identified some of the major components needed for a cognitive science (Gardner, 1985).
Lashley’s talk was perhaps the most important given at that conference, but as opposed to being alone as he was in 1929, on this day he was in good company. Interestingly enough, two other individuals joined him: mathematician John von Neumann, and mathematician and neurophysiologist Warren McCulloch. What they had to say at this conference and the papers generated from their talks helped to lay the groundwork for what was to come next.
For Cognitivists, 1956 was a very good year. Gardner cites this as the year Cognitive Science was born (Gardner, 1985). Why this year? This was the year a Symposium on Information Theory was held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Gardner, 1985). Psychologist George Miller sums it this way:
I went away from the Symposium with a strong conviction, more intuitive than rational, that human experimental psychology, theoretical linguistics, and computer simulation of cognitive processes were all pieces of a larger whole, and that the future would see progressive elaboration and coordination of their shared concerns. (Miller, 1979 as cited in Gardner, 1985)
Cognitive Science, as this brief summary suggests is not just Cognitive Psychology. As this symposium showed the world there is a new interdisciplinary field at the juxtaposition of several other disciplines. This new field is marked by the convening interests of Psychologist, Linguists, Computer Scientists, Philosophers, Anthropologists, and Neuroscientists (Gardner, 1985). This year marked the beginning of the Cognitive Revolution and Cognitive Science.
Cognitive Psychology has benefited tremendously by this Revolution. In its simplest terms Cognitive Psychology has gain a whole new way of looking at the human brain and cognitive processes. This new way is the Information Processing model. There is now an assumption that the brain and thus the mind is like an information processor (Dawson, 1998). So like our silicon counterparts the computers, we take in input from the environment and process this information. As we process this information we act upon our environment with our behavior (output).
Even though Gardner did not mention Education when considering Cognitive Science, it also draws heavily upon Cognitive Science. Interestingly enough, 1956 was also a good year for the Cognitivists in Education. This is the year that Benjamin Bloom published his controversial Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I, Cognitive Domain. This book allowed educators to think about the cognitive domain.
Constructivism was developed almost simultaneously with Cognitive science. This in part was due to some recent discoveries, but in many ways it was because educators saw things somewhat differently than their Objectivist counterparts. Constructivism’s story begins somewhat earlier than 1950 though. The reasons for this will be explained shortly.
John Dewey was perhaps the first philosopher or educator to ponder Constructivism, the other perspective of the Objectivism/Constructivism debate. In Dewey’s own words “education is a constant reorganization or reconstructing of experience(Dewey, 1916).”
However Piaget and Vygotsky are generally credited with the cognitive development theories that led to Constructivism (Slavin, 2000). Even though they conducted much of their research in the 1920s and 30s most researchers did not discover it until the 1950s and 60s. This was due to the complex nature of their research and also because their work was published in either French or Russian (Fischetti & Dittmer, 1996).
As 20th century Psychologists listened to the urgings of Watson to give up introspection for behaviorism, a Swiss biologist, Jean Piaget (1896-1980) became interested in child development. In studying child development, Piaget developed a theory of knowledge acquisition that he called “Interactionism” or “Constructivism” (Driscoll, 2000).
Piaget thought of himself as applying biological principles to child development (Slavin, 2000). In studying human development, he observed certain behaviors that all children perform. Examples of these are suckling or grasping. In addition to these behaviors children would develop new behaviors as they grew. This he believed was because all children had an innate tendency to interact with the environment. It is from this interaction that they develop patterns of behavior or thinking called “schemes.” Later in the twentieth century the word “schema” would come into use. It is from these schemas, over time, that humans develop what Piaget called “Cognitive structures.”
Both Piaget and Vygotsky emphasized that learning occurs, when disequilibrium occurs [later termed "cognitive dissonance"] (Slavin, 2000; Kearsley, 2001a). Taking from his biological background, Piaget used the physiological concept of equilibrium and applied it to mental events. In Piaget's terms, when people interact with new stimuli, which do not fit into their cognitive structure, disequilibrium occurs (Slavin, 2000). Accommodation is the overall process that occurs when old ways of dealing with the universe do not work, and new information must be added to current cognitive structures. This process of adding new schemes, to the child's cognitive structure is called assimilation. For instance when a child meets a "cat" for the first time; they may be familiar with dogs, but this "cat" being is an oddity. They may even be told that this is a "cat," not a dog. This new fact must then be assimilated into their existing cognitive structure. Once they understand or assimilate, the meaning of cat they return to a state of equilibrium.
Piaget’s cognitive development theory proved to be very important in the 20th Century. It in many ways still dominates child development theory today (with modifications) (Slavin, 2000). Piaget’s theory would also provide a basis for Constructivism, a new Instructional theory developed by Jerome Bruner in the 1960s and 70s(Kearsley, 2001b).
In the late 1950s, as the fervor in the United States rose over what to do about the Russian satellite Sputnik, Jerome Bruner went to a conference on science and math learning. It was there that he generated his ideas for his 1960 work The Process of Education (Kearsley, 2001b). It was after this book became a best seller that he was asked to serve on the President's Science Advisory Committee. This was during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and it was during this period, that he became a guiding force in the educational reform movement (NYU, 2001).
Drawing on Piaget’s work in Psychology and applying it to Education, Brunner set about writing another work that was published in 1966, this was his Toward a Theory of Instruction. In Brunner’s on words: What is overwhelmingly important is the utility and power of his [Piaget’s] descriptive work. [Brunner, 1966 (p. 7)]. It is from these works that we gain what has been called “Constructivism.” Constructivism is the educational philosophy that learners must individually discover and transform complex information if they are to make it their own (Slavin, 2000).
Merrill described the assumptions of Constructivism in great detail in his 1991 addition to Educational Technology (Merrill, 1991). He listed:
· Knowledge is constructed from experience;
· Interpretation of reality is personal – there is no shared reality;
· Learning is an active process;
· Learning is collaborative with meaning negotiated from multiple perspectives;
· Learning should be situated in realistic settings;
· Testing should be integrated with the task, not a separate activity.
He drew up this list of assumptions from a variety of sources. Most constructivists would probably agree with these assumptions except for one. Many might agree with his second assumption, but they would be classified as “Radical Constructivists.” Like the “Radical Behaviorist,” that came before them, they are the extremists of the group.
Ernest von Glasersfeld first described “Radical Constructivism” in 1974 (von Glasersfeld, 1979). From this perspective there is no objective reality, only what we make of it. In his own words:
“…it is argued that from the experiencer’s point of view, ontological reality is like a ‘black box,’ in that he has no way of discovering what ‘is’ and how it might be structure. Here it should be stressed that radical constructivism does not deny the existence of a world, but it does deny the possibility of rationally describing such a ‘real’ world. The cognizing organism would have no way of determining or deciding whether or not its constructs in any sense reflect the structure of a ‘real’ world, even if it could come up with structures that are not dependent on its concepts of space and time.” (von Glasersfeld, 1979)
So von Glasersfeld is professing the latest version of Protagoras’ statement that “Man is the measure of all things….” This view like that of Protagoras, is based on the “deceitfulness” of the senses (Russel, 1945). Through this perspective we cannot know objective reality because reality is not necessarily what we perceive.
This view does have some validity. Science has shown that there are many things that we humans cannot perceive. Examples of this are as diverse as radio waves, Ultraviolet light or even microscopic organisms.
So on one end of the spectrum we have von Glasersfeld with his “black box’ of reality and on the other, Skinner’s “black box” of the mind (Driscoll, 2000; von Glasersfeld, 1979). These perspectives are often contrasted to demonstrate their assumptions (Jonassen, 1992). These two individuals interestingly enough are polar opposites, and contemporaries.
This leads to Jonassen’s next point, most Instructional Designers fall some where on a continuum between the two extremes. Jonassen diagrams this rather nicely with Piagetian theory, Instructional Design, and Programmed instruction between the two extremes of Constructivism and Behaviorism (Jonassen, 1992). On the very extremes of this continuum would be “Radical” Behaviorism and “Radical” Constructivism.
Of the three philosophies, Behaviorism is not the only objectivist theory (Duffy, 1991). Behaviorism and Cognitivism are both examples of objectivist philosophies (Bednar, 1991; Driscoll, 2000; Duffy, 1991). Objectivism is the tendency to deal with external reality rather than thoughts or emotions (von Altendorf, 1993). Both Cognitivism and Behaviorism were founded on these “scientific” views. Cognitive Scientists, must like any scientists, rely on empirical data. This view has existed since Locke and “the Empiricists.” Remember Locke’s Epistemology, in opposition to Descartes,’ focused on the external world (Gardner, 1985). Constructivists rely on the more relativistic epistemology of Piaget. His epistemology dealt with biological organisms interacting with their environment.
So Cognitivists view learning in an empirical or objective way. They see learning strictly as knowledge acquisition (Mayer, 1999). This view is based on the idea that learning occurs when a learner places new information in long-term memory. The role of the learner then is to passively acquire information as the instructor transmits that knowledge(Mayer, 1999).
Constructivists usually view learning from a Piagetian perspective. The learner first experiences a disequilibrium (a cognitive dissonance) from which they must assimilate new knowledge to accommodate their cognitive structure and return to equilibrium.
These separate descriptions are probably an oversimplification. As Jonassen pointed out: many Instructional Designers fall somewhere on a continuum. So it is quite possible to have both viewpoints. A point of conflict perhaps is when that instructional designer evaluates learning. Cognitivists must have the learner objectively demonstrate their knowledge. For an Instructional Designer with more Constructivist leanings, the demonstration is not as necessary as the production of that knowledge, because each learner might very well interpret that experience differently based upon there previous experience.
It is the opinion of the author, that the Cognitive constructs promoted by Cognitive theorist do supplant the notions promoted by Behaviorists. The paradigm therefore is complete. Cognitivists are able to explain behavior of organisms in an objective way. With the continued brain research that is underway, Cognitivists will in time relegate Behaviorism to the history books. The theories of Skinner will join those of Freud and Thorndike as the history of Psychology.
Instructional Designers then should turn away from Programmed Instruction and look toward Constructivism as a viable option for the development of instruction. Jonassen again offers a continuum for Instructional Designers (Jonassen, 1992). Knowledge Acquisition is useful during introductory stages with well-structured domains (Jonassen, 1992). Learners can use drill and practice routines given they are supplied with adequate feedback. As the level of difficulty increases, learners move into a stage of advanced knowledge acquisition. This is with less well-structured or ill structured domains of learning. Jonassen suggests apprenticeship and coaching for this level (Jonassen, 1992). Finally we reach the level of expertise. At this point learners must rely on there own experience. This level is attained in Academia only in the upper levels of the University, in graduate schools. In business and industry these levels may be attained only after many years on the job. Expert workers or students are expected to be self-directed critical thinkers and even lead others.
Had Jonassen been considering Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive objectives, he may have described it somewhat differently. Bloom describes six levels of learning (Bloom, 1956). What Jonassen described, as “Initial” or “Introductory Knowledge Acquisition” is analogous to Bloom’s first levels: knowledge and comprehension. Jonassen second tier Advanced knowledge Acquisition is analogous to Blooms’ third and fourth levels of learning: application and analysis. Finally Blooms highest levels of learning: Synthesis and Evaluation are similar to Jonassen’s Third tier: Expertise.
Perhaps if the goal of the instructional Designer is to teach “analysis” they should use Apprenticeship or Coaching. But more importantly by comparing these two delineations of knowledge and instruction, it is important to note that Constructivism would be suggested if the learner is expected to synthesize or evaluate. This may be somewhat of an oversimplification though. Complicated forms of Analysis often require a great deal of expertise. The same could be said for some syntheses. They may not need constructive approaches but rather cognitive ones. A good example might be a ninth graders book report. This synthesis may only require some coaching on the part of a facilitator.
But this approach is a valid one. Constructivism is ever more useful as the level of difficulty increases. When students leave school and move out into the workforce the realities of the workplace become apparent, they are expected to do much more than they did in school.
The work force expects higher education to produce students that are ready for all situations. This maybe somewhat unattainable, but if we incorporate constructivists activities into education we can produce thoughtful, reflective students that are ready to tackle difficult situations with strategies and critical thinking skills. To do this Instructional Designers need Constructivist Design Models.
Gagnon and Collay offer a prescriptive method for producing Constructive Classroom Activities (Gagnon & Collay, 2001). This is a student-centered, learning centered approach to developing classroom activities. This approach could be used or modified to develop many types of constructive educational activities. Their approach incorporates six important elements:
· Situation – This is a preparatory stage in which the facilitator explains the goals of the activity and how students should develop their own opinions.
· Groupings – Not only does the facilitator need to group students, but they also need to group the materials available for learning activities. The materials available will often determine the number of groups of students.
· Bridge – This stage makes use of the student’s prior knowledge. It may be thought of as prior knowledge activation. Students should be presented with an introductory problem to solve or think about. This may take place before or after student groups are formed.
· Questions – This stage is to support critical thinking or metacognitive skills. Students need to ponder the implications involved. These will be specific to the situation the facilitator develops.
· Exhibit – Remember learning is an active process. Learners need to actively make decisions and work collaboratively. Developing a product is a good way of accomplishing each of these goals. However, the product is not as important as the process required to develop it.
· Reflections –Finally, students need to reflect on the learning process. They should be reminded of what they learned and also learn from others, if they missed some important aspect of the activity.
Gagnon and Collay’s Cognitive Design model is an example of a prescriptive model. That is it is a prescriptive model as opposed to a descriptive model. Prescriptive design theories offer guidelines as to what method(s) to use to obtain a given goal (Reigeluth, 1999).
In this case the goal is to produce an environment in which constructive learning can take place. However this is just one example of a prescriptive model for developing constructive learning environments. Other models might very well be developed and shown to be more effective. The point being that prescriptive models are useful for developing constructive learning environments.
Instructional Designers are often taught models that all to often focus only on observable behaviors. This is understandable, on some level, these methods are simpler and they have a definite outcome. However as this article has shown, knowledge is of primary importance. Instructional Designers should also consider the learning that takes place not just the instruction. Therefore they should not always focus on that which is easily measurable. The final outcome – Learning or knowledge, is what is important!
The age-old debate over objectivism versus relativism has not been resolved. But we in the 21st century can make some interesting conclusions about the two perspectives. In good relativistic style, perhaps it is a matter of scale… Objectivism has worked well in the sciences because they are simpler; that is Scientists tend to work with fewer variables. However Einstein showed that objectivity breaks down in science when the situation becomes complicated. Relativism has been shown to work well with the Humanities and the Social Sciences because they are much more complicated.
However this is not a perfect solution. Skinner showed that humans could be taught to learn when subjected to objectivist methods. However even a flatworm can learn when stimulated and reinforced correctly. If humans are to be expected to obtain critical thinking skills, and higher levels of thinking, then they will need more complex methods of instruction. As for instruction, even Plato mentioned that we do not live in a perfect world. Perhaps there is no “best” method of designing instruction, but Jonassen made some “good” suggestions.
Finally, Cognitive methods should be used when the domain of learning is well structured. This is for low to mid level learning- Bloom’s first four levels: knowledge, comprehension, application and analysis. Constructivist methods should be used for Blooms highest levels of learning – Synthesis and Evaluation. Lastly, the outcome of education is what is most important – knowledge!
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 For the interested reader: Both the May and September editions of Educational Technology 1991 were entirely devoted to Constructivism, and the Implications of Constructivism to Instructional Design.