Connect: Information Technology at NYU
Instructional Technology& Theory
A Look at Past, Present & Future Trends
By Robert Whelan
Before I begin my examination ofpast, present, and future trends ininstructional technology, we shouldclarify exactly what we’re talkingabout when we refer to
. Does it mean computers,the Internet, and software used forinstruction and education? Doesit include TV and documentaries,for example? Or are we focused onthe human element, the resourcesdeployed, the learner or instructor?Or is it all of the above?Robert Reiser, professor ofInstructional Systems at FloridaState University, draws helpful dis-tinctions in his 2001 article on thehistory of instructional design andtechnology: “Instructional Tech-nology is the problem analysis, solu-tion design, development, imple-mentation, management, and eval-uation of instructional processesand resources to improve learningand performance in education andat work.”
The distinction betweenthe technological processes and theactual physical media is important.For Reiser, the “soft” technologies ofanalysis, design, development, andmanagement are what make instruc-tional technology interesting, muchmore so than the ephemeral, ever-evolving hardware and softwaretools that instructional technologistsuse in their craft.
With this clariﬁed deﬁnition, we canbegin to survey the past, present,and future of instructional tech-nology. The timeline in figure 1(p. 14) shows key events, theoret-ical advances, media-technologicalinnovations, and core issues in thegrowth of instructional technologysince the beginning of the 1900’s.Clearly visible during the 20thcentury is the growth in complexityfrom the early stereographs, throughto radio, ﬁlm, and TV, to personalcomputers, CAI (computer-aidedinstruction), and the Internet. Spurtsin progress can be seen around thetime of war, when military fundingled to the testing of new instruc-tional systems. Also evident is theshift between theoretical paradigmsthat accounts for the use of technol-ogies in instruction as technological,cultural, and social needs evolve.
The bottom row on the timelinereveals an interesting fact about theongoing emergence of new mediaand technologies. In each case,theorists found themselves askingif
technology would changelearning and classroom practice,and many over-optimistic claimswere made about the efﬁcacy of thetechnology. The promise of educa-tional TV—which prompted the FCCto allocate extensive bands of thespectrum for use by schools in the1960’s, and the Ford Foundation toﬁnance the development of a closedcircuit TV network for education andtraining—is but one example. Manywould agree that educational TVfailed to deliver on its early promiseand occupies only a peripheral,underused role in most classrooms.Similarly, in the early 1980’s Sey-mour Papert (a renowned pioneer inthe ﬁeld of educational technology),like many others, saw PCs as a cat-alyst for “deep radical change” inthe classroom, and predicted thatby 1990 there would be one PC perchild.
These over-optimistic fore-casts were not borne out due to therealities of budget limitations andongoing concerns and uncertain-ties about the effects of computerson learning. Moreover, softwaretools and hardware performancethat could make computers usefuland user-friendly in the classroomdid not begin to emerge until morerecently. Similar experiences canbe recounted with other technolo-gies earlier in the century, where an
1. 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.