Hey, mom, this is what I’m studying!

To friends & family who still have no idea what I am studying in grad school, here is an explanation (albeit a little wordy) about the field I am currently in…

Many people hear the name Instructional Psychology & Technology (IP&T) and only focus on the word psychology. Immediately they believe the degree I am pursuing will qualify me to do clinical research or provide counseling to those in need. In reality, the field I am entering is applicable in any setting where instruction takes place; this includes education, business, government, military, church, etc. At its core this area is for those who are passionate about helping others learn more effectively by utilizing technology in conjunction with the principles of instructional design.

The discipline of IP&T can be identified by various names, such as Instructional Technology & Learning Sciences; Educational Psychology & Educational Technology; Instructional Design and Technology; and the list continues. Regardless of its differing names, IP&T is concerned with the universal topic of instruction and has been developing since the first decade of the twentieth century (Reiser, 2012). The use of supplemental materials in instruction has evolved since its early beginnings as technological advances have been made. Schools moved from photographs, slides, and charts to visual instruction aids like lantern slide projectors and instructional films. Eventually radio, television and personal computers were seen as the future of instructional media (Reiser, 2012). Today we see the prevalence of laptops, smart phones and tablets to aid in instruction and learning.

For as useful as these tools are, Clark points out that it is the instructional method that they convey which makes them beneficial. The attributes of the media itself are not enough to account for more effective learning to occur (Clark, 1994). Any form of instructional media is only as valuable as the instructional design it communicates to the learner. In this sense it is useful to consider instructional media and instructional design as two separate practices. While the use of available media was evolving, the theories behind instructional design have been developing since the era of World War II (Resier, 2012).

Well-known psychologists and educators were called upon by the military during the war to conduct research and develop materials for military training purposes. The materials produced were based on research and theory of instruction, learning, and human behavior. After the war these basic instruction principles continued to grow and be added upon. The idea progressed to focusing on and developing specific learner behavior objectives for individuals which gave way to criterion-referenced testing as a means to measure how well each individual could perform a particular behavior (Reiser, 2012). Over the next few decades the field continued to expand and transform with the influence of works from sources like Gagne, Markle, and others.

All of this brings us to today, an age in which technology is easily accessible and the pursuit of learning is supported through many portals. Face-to-face instruction is still relevant but online programs are also ever-increasing as a means of acquiring training and education. As instructional technologists we use our knowledge of the psychology of learning to design instructional programs that will be engaging for those who use them. We use all applicable resources and strive to solve problems that exist in training and education. Based on research we conduct, we are able to identify needs that exist within a given area and design a learning experience that will be enriching. Research also helps us measure and evaluate a program, making any necessary improvements.

My interest in the broad field of IP&T will focus mainly on blended learning in higher education. As a more traditional learner myself, I appreciate attending lectures and taking notes with pen and paper. I recognized during my college experience, however, that many students were not being engaged and challenged to apply the principles learned during lecture. The material itself at times was presented in a way that did not warrant participation or collaboration. As Edgar Dale stated, tests tend to focus more on “What do you remember?” instead of “What can you do?” (Dale, 1946). Blended learning will give room for more performance-based experiences in learning as opposed to merely retaining information without application. What makes blended learning effective is its ability to create a community of inquiry which yields itself to open dialogue and critical debate (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004). It incorporates face-to-face and Internet based learning activities making instruction more engaging, applicable and accessible.

Technology is a means through which we are able to reach a larger audience, however, as previously mentioned, the media is only useful as far as it is able to convey the instructional methods it incorporates. My understanding of the learning process, instructional design principles, and experience integrating technology into instruction provide me with valuable tools to identify problems and solutions in education and training. The economics background I bring from my undergraduate and master’s program is the quantitative and critical thinking foundation upon which I am building as I enter the field of Instructional Psychology & Technology.

Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21–29. http://doi.org/10.1152/advan.00094.2010

Dale, E. (1946). The “Cone of Experience.” In Audio-visual methods in teaching (pp. 37–51).

Garrison, D.R. & Kanuka, H. (2004). Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. Internet and Higher Education 7, 95–105.

Reiser, R. A. (2012). A history of instructional design and technology. In Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (3rd ed., pp. 17-27). Boston, MA: Pearson.

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