Why I want to be an Instructional Designer

This post was written in conjunction with Dr. Richard West’s Foundations of Instructional Technology class at Brigham Young University.

For one of our first assignments in Rick West’s Foundations of Instructional Technology class at Brigham Young University, we were asked to give a brief synopsis of the field of instructional technology and how we see ourselves fitting into that field.  While I won’t pretend to understand the meaning of the many things that have been done before I arrived in this field, hopefully I can give some of the insights that I have received up to this point in my studies.

Thus far, my view has been vastly expanded in terms of what the field of instructional design and technology really is.  My frame of reference, up until now, has been the world that I am coming from — technical higher-education.  Within this realm, instructional technology was very technically focused.  That technology was  typically computer-based tools that I used to help my students understand and explore particular concepts.  The use of this technology seemed natural, as the technical nature of the program that I taught in (video production) lent itself to being a colony for digital natives.  I used these computer tools to accomplish learning because they were second-nature to the natives that I taught.  What I am now beginning to realize, however, is that the use of the tool itself within the realm of education does not necessarily make that a definition of “instructional technology”.  In my definition, the technology came first, and the instruction just so happened to be the location of the use of that technology.

In looking back through the history of instructional technology a few milestones stick out in my mind. The first is the use of instructional films around the turn of the century (this may be because I have studied film as an undergraduate and have been teaching it for the past 5 years).  Although its use failed to live up to the expectations of Thomas Edison to make books obsolete in schools, it still allowed learners to be transported to remote experiences with a fidelity that they might not be able to experience through other media such as text and photography.  The subsequent developments of instructional radio and television, offered little more than the possibilities of film, other than to change the method of delivery to end learners.  And while all of these delivery methods failed to deliver on their self-proclaimed promises to transform education, they still enabled us to have a rich media experience that can transform instructional materials beyond the bounds of the classroom.

While the introduction of computers to the classroom in the 1980s once again claimed to revolutionize education, I don’t think that it was until the birth of the internet and its ability to distribute rich media objects that the promise of this technology as an instructional tool was fully developed.  This coupled with the falling cost of personal computing and the growth of mobile devices allowed access to this instructional content in ways that really haven’t been seen before. Additionally, the rise of these devices and the internet allowed education to be untethered from the classroom.  Here is where I see my entrance on the stage.  My interests in instructional technology is in many ways born of this perfect storm that we are facing in education.  We have fast, ever-present access to the internet (which contains most of the knowledge in the history of men) and we have personal computing devices that allow us to be connected to that vast library of knowledge at all times (much to the detriment of our dinner party trivia conversations).  Yet with all of this connectivity and information, we have an opposite crisis in education:  skyrocketing costs for tuition, much of which is paid by the future financial aid debt of students; less access to higher education for those who are seeking it.  With the tools that we have now, it seems only natural that we can make our education system more efficient.

That’s my reason for wanting to become an instructional designer — I want to make education more efficient.  While I am not completely sure how I want to accomplish this right now, there are a few things that I would like to study that may help me point in the direction that I would like to go.  The first is the creation and implementation of Open Educational Resources (OER) and open classes. While many would argue that these resources have failed to live up to their intended promise, they are nonetheless making small strides in changing education.  These resources can make education more efficient by lowering the cost of enrollment for students, and by allowing instructors to reuse content that was created by other instructors in easy, copyright permissible ways.  While I’m not sure that “open” is the answer for everything at this point, it’s definitely a path that I would like to pursue in more detail.  Another avenue that I would like to do research in is online and blended-learning techniques.  Many schools (my former school included) are looking toward online education as a low-cost way to bring in additional revenue and a way to free up campus resources — I think research needs to be done into these areas to make sure that they are delivered in an effective manner.  A third area that I’ve recently become interested in is Adaptive Learning. Adaptive Learning allows individual students, through the use of their personal internet connected devices, to receive a personalized learning experience to help guide them through content in a manner similar to using a one-on-one tutor.  Adaptive learning seems poised to be another technology which can make our education system more efficient.

As a student that has been formally studying instructional design for two weeks, I don’t pretend to know all of the answers at this point — but I’m hoping to get some.  Many people in the practicing higher education elearning community question the validity and need for a PhD in this field.  I don’t see a PhD just as a degree that I need to get another job, but rather an opportunity that I have to ground myself in the work that has gone on before and hopefully make my own strides toward making our education environment more personalized and efficient.