Implications of the Definition of Instructional Technology
In Chapter One it was argued that a new definition of Instructional Technology was needed to reflect the growth and diversity of the field today, as well as to serve as a catalyst for creativity and further change. This premise is consistent with Ely's (1983) position that "definitions do not create a field but, rather, help to explain its functions, purposes and roles to those within and those outside the area" (p. 2). This definition effort has the further goal of encouraging the development of a more cohesive community of scholars and practitioners amid extreme diversities of philosophy, job, and work context. This chapter will more specifically examine the role and implications of this particular definition in a rapidly changing field.
The Definition and Its Role in a Growing Field
The Development of a Distinct Field
Inherent in this document is the assumption that Instructional Technology is a separate field of study, a separate branch of knowledge. While it has functioned as a field for many years, and recently as a profession, its more mature status is relatively new to the larger society. This maturity can be examined in terms of professional concerns and clear theoretical boundaries. The definition of Instructional Technology is not only influenced by these dimensions of maturity, but correspondingly the definition provides further impetus for additional growth of the field.
A profession has been characterized by Finn (1953) in terms of its :
· body of theory and research;
· intellectual technique;
· application to practical affairs;
· sizable training and certification requirements;
· enforced ethics; and
· Association and communication among members.
Through the years, the field of Instructional Technology has substantially met these criteria, and in the process has developed a sizable body of its own theory, and has broadly applied these principles in a variety of settings. These developments have been documented in Chapters Three and Four.
The expansion of Instructional Technology practice is widely recognized. To a great extent this has paralleled the expansion of technology itself. Whether the field has progressed to the point at which the bulk of its theoretical growth is within its own parameters, dealing with its own issues, and advanced by its own scholars is a debatable issue. This is the heart of the discussion regarding the disciplinary maturity of Instructional Technology. Most would agree that the design domain is more mature than the other domains in this respect, since the majority of the theory building and a large portion of the research in Instructional Technology have been directed toward aspects of design. Consequently, even though the intellectual roots of instructional design are derived from the theory of other fields of study, instructional design is now being advanced by a large body of research and theory which is unique unto itself. We need to replace the body of knowledge from other fields with our own knowledge base in each of the five domains. This is the direction and goal of future intellectual growth of the field.
The Evolution of the Definition
The 1994 and the 1977 definitions both stress that Instructional Technology is a comprehensive design and development process used to solve instruction and learning problems. In both definitions Instructional Technology is viewed as a field with a systematic orientation. Yet there is still a concern in some quarters that Instructional Technology is considered to be only the "things of learning" as proposed by Armsey and Daht.(1973), even though this does not seem to be a current issue in the literature of the field. The 1994 definition is now consistent with both the theory and the practice of the field, even though the concept of Instructional Technology as a hardware oriented profession is still common when speaking to the general public or to those not schooled in the area.
A more critical issue is that of obtaining agreement among the scholars and practitioners of the field on those problems that fall within the scope of Instructional Technology and distinguishing them from those that rightfully belong to other fields. This task is important to a definition, since fields are bound by the nature of the problems which they address. In a mature discipline, there is agreement on whether problems, even new problems generated by a changing society, are pertinent to that field of study and practice. Such decisions are not difficult if the conceptual boundaries of the field are clear. They also are not difficult if the definition of the field is widely accepted and understood at almost an intuitive level. The conceptual boundaries of Instructional Technology can be established by using the structure suggested by the five domains of the field, since these reflect the major areas of practice and specialization. The validity of the definition and the uniqueness of the field then depends to a great extent upon the clarity and comprehensiveness of the domains.
The growth of the definition of Instructional Technology parallels, to some extent, the changing views of the domains of the field. For example, the domain of instructional development as presented in the 1977 definition has grown into three separate domains—design, development, and evaluation—in the 1994 definition. This evolution was the result of the increased activity and importance of these component activities and processes in both theory and practice.
These definition changes have been essentially of an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, nature. This gradual type of change reflects an element of stability and common understanding among instructional technologists. Fundamentally, this stability reflects the field's commitment to the use of instructional systems design Models as the preferred orientation to creating and managing learning environments. In addition, the importance of mediation and visualization to the instructional process is commonly assumed. These shared understandings are reminiscent of Kuhn's description of a paradigm as an "implicit, unvoiced, and pervasive commitment by a community of scholars to a conceptual framework" (Shulman, 1986, p. 4). Kuhn (1962) further asserted that the use of a dominant paradigm in a field is characteristic of disciplinary maturity.
In spite of the general consensus on these fundamentals, there are a growing number of alternative perspectives and approaches. These have been discussed in Chapter Three. Do these alternative explanations and perspectives of the teaching-learning process enrich or splinter the field? Does the framework of the definition and the domains encompass these alternative theoretical positions?
While any disciplinary definition reflects the growth in a field, it could also be argued that premature definition can narrow a field intellectually, thus preventing or restraining continued growth. For example, the definition and domains of Instructional Technology as presented here reflect the elements of a systems approach to education. Some might argue that this position can have the effect of limiting the field and suppressing creative problem solving. It can inhibit formation of additional alternative perspectives. The desirable definition, therefore, is one that identifies the boundaries of the field, but does not constrict the thinking of its members. It is hoped that the 1994 definition will function in this manner.
The Definition and its Role in Communication
Elements That Promote Communication
Shulman (1986) concludes that "the ability to communicate is a central definer of community membership" (p. 4). This ability to communicate is an outgrowth of :
· Common training and enculturation; common conceptual values and goals; and
· Common experiences.
These are all antecedents to membership in a professional community.
Formal training enhances entrance into a profession and communication with others by providing a foundation in the literature and the principles and practices of a field. It explains the knowledge base of the field. It promotes superior practice on the job. It further provides a sense of history, a common set of definitions, and entry into the debates and controversies of the field. Formal training also tends to establish consensus on the problems and paradigms of the discipline. In summary, formal education and training promote a common understanding of the definition of the field.
Many of the pioneers in Instructional Technology received their initial training within other fields, such as psychology, engineering or communications. Such a "family tree" provides a rich academic culture, and promotes the notion that Instructional Technology is an intellectual descendent of other areas of study, but this history also contributes to the continued debate regarding the nature of the field.
Today, current leaders are more likely to have received their introduction to the field from university graduate programs in Instructional Technology. This is almost certainly true for academic leaders and is becoming increasingly true for practitioner leaders. As this entry route becomes routine, there will be even more common understanding of the knowledge base and the boundaries of the field. Another consequence of common professional preparation is a preponderance of common educational values in the field. These background similarities significantly contribute to the development of a common culture, as well as effective communication within the community of Instructional Technology scholars and practitioners.
However, common background experiences also provide a sense of community within a field. Herein lies one of the major contributors to the apparent confusion regarding a definition of this field. There are many occupational settings in which one can apply the principles of Instructional Technology. Each type of setting has a culture of its own, and the diverse cultures can create barriers to communication among Instructional technologists. Perhaps some communication difficulties within the profession need not be attributed to a lack of common definitions, but rather to the impact of multiple communities and multiple cultures among Instructional Technology practitioners.
A Sense of Community
In Finn's 1953 characterization of a profession, he asserted that communication is facilitated by association among professionals. In essence, association creates the sense of community. In addition to association among practitioners who work in a given environment, there are also many formal professional associations in the field of Instructional Technology. Some of these, like the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, encompass many communities of interest, and its members come from a variety of occupational communities. Others, like the International Visual Literacy Association, focus on one area of interest even though its members come from many other communities. When professionals from multiple work communities and multiple interest communities associate, there is a far greater chance of communication difficulties than when they are bound by a more narrowly focused interest.
With the emergence of Instructional Technology as a broad but distinct field, it becomes important to link these many communities of instructional technologists to facilitate the communication needed to reach common goals. Common definitions facilitate this end, especially a common definition and understanding of the nature of the field. The definition, however, must be broad enough to encompass the many interests and specialties present in the field. This is one function of the five domains and their various components. In a sense they should provide a "home" for every member of the larger professional community. Given this larger professional group, it should be easier to promulgate standards, codes of ethics, and policy positions, as well as knowledge and technical expertise among the various communities of Instructional technologists.
Professional identification is more than attaching a label to one's self. It is ensured and nourished by a clear sense of direction facilitated by an understanding of the knowledge base of the field, as well as by experience working and associating with others with a similar background. While common definitions of a field do not guarantee this sense of identification with a field, such identification is difficult to acquire without them. Moreover, this sense of community and identification is often further dependent upon the breadth of disciplinary definitions and the extent to which they leave room for diversity and creative growth.
The Definition and Its Role in Agenda-Building
The Development of an Agenda for Research and Practice
Growth and development within a field are not typically products of chance. Instead they are more likely to be the result of concrete agendas. These are the specific agendas of either influential leaders in a discipline, or more abstract agendas which reflect the intellectual and social climate of the times. Cobb and Elder (1983), when discussing political agendas, indicate that "The content and dynamics of agenda-building are necessarily a function of the larger social, political, and economic context in which this process is embedded. That context is constantly changing, creating new constraints and altering old ones" (p. 188)
In the history of Instructional Technology, there have been important social forces and events which have influenced the field's agenda. One example is the impact of the Russian Sputnik on American educational reforms. Other forces influencing the development of Instructional Technology were the military and industrial demands for quick, effective training. Intellectually, the profound impact of the theories of Robert Gagne on the conditions of learning and the far-reaching influence of the behavioral objectives emphasis also served as a context for the growth of Instructional Technology. The rapidly developing technologies in our society are of both social and intellectual significance for Instructional Technology.
These forces operate on a disciplinary agenda, shaping general approaches to research and theory construction, as well as techniques and principles of practice in the field. At times the influences of agenda setting forces are obvious. Technological advancements are the clearest example. There are others, however. Constructivism is being felt in a broad range of disciplines, within education and other unrelated disciplines as well political forces are demanding an emphasis on testing. Social forces are emphasizing the impact of diversity on learning.
Agendas guiding growth and change are both written and unwritten. Written agendas are found in legislative funding guidelines. Agendas which are unwritten, but just as influential, are apparent in curriculum changes in university programs. They are also apparent in the final selections of presentations at the annual conventions of professional associations. The definition of the held presented here also can have implications for agenda-setting in Instructional Technology. If the definition is widely accepted and incorporated into the culture of the field, it can have implications for both research agendas and practice agendas alike. These implications are apparent in those aspects which are different from the 1977 definition. These differences emphasize the new directions in which the field has moved or is likely to move. It is through these differences that the definition has the potential to serve as a part of the agenda-building process of the field.
Implications for New Professional Agendas
The general areas of difference between the 1977 and the 1994 definitions are:
· the change in name of the field;
· the change in primary orientation of the activities; and
· the changes in the domains.
Herein lie the key sources of influence on the direction of growth and development in the field.
The change in name is on the one hand the most obvious change and, on the other hand, the least important. The rationale for the change has been discussed in Chapter One. The new name emphasizes the major changes in the arenas of practice in this seventeen-year period between the two definitions. In the 1970s, concerns of the schools and the education of children still dominated the field. Today, there is a much wider range of environments in which our professionals work. This has led both researchers and practitioners to be concerned with learners of all ages, with diverse types of content, and with the constraints presented by assorted organizational settings. These varied applications of the general principles and practices of the field require new theory and new research. Such a need is likely to continue for some time.
The second key difference relates to the primary orientation of each of the past definitions as summarized in Chapter One. In 1977 the field was defined essentially as a process. It had a problem solving focus, and even though the strong theoretical roots were discussed, the definition itself was practice oriented. By contrast, the 1994 definition is specifically oriented toward both theory and practice. The field is presented more as an area of knowledge and study which can be applied in practical situations. The direction is provided for development into a full discipline in its own right. This change implies the need for increased research and theory construction unique to this field and decreased reliance upon the products of the research and theory of other fields.
The most profound changes, however, relate to the new configuration of domains and the new delineation of the components of each domain. These changes are extensive. In 1977 there were three domains instructional management, instructional development, and instructional systems. Today, there are five domains, each with four components. These have been described in detail in Chapter Two.
Each domain of the 1994 definition needs to have its own base of research and theory rather than relying primarily on the knowledge of other areas of study. The research bases of the domains are uneven in this respect. There are areas which are barely developed, and others which are well developed. These undeveloped domains and domain components have the greatest implications for new research and practice agendas in the field.
Summary and Conclusions
The 1994 definition of Instructional Technology provides further clarification of the intellectual boundaries of the field, and identifies and emphasizes the connections and dependencies among the domains. It is a stipulative definition which not only describes what the field is today, but prescribes what research is needed for tomorrow. It is intended to facilitate the development of the field and to promote communication among professionals in the community of instructional technologists.
Even though the definition highlights the boundaries of the field, it is not intended to narrow the field or limit the creativity of its members. Instructional Technology has always been viewed as much an art as a science. This characteristic is celebrated, for the creativity of instructional technologists is more likely to maintain the viability of the field than the construction of another definition