Reiser – surprising and depressing

Reiser’s “History” article depressed me even though the depressing aspects were no surprise. As the author described the euphoria that accompanied each major development in the history of instructional media, I knew what was coming—a let-down (and repudiation) as instructors realized that the latest media was not a panacea. This repetitive cycle reminds me of the mood swings of a manic-depressive which makes me wonder if we’re all a little crazy to be in this field. The most depressing aspect, though, was Reiser’s conclusion that, “instructional design practices had a minimal impact in higher education.”

Resier’s media timeline parallels media development in general. What helped me to think of this timeline as a continuum was to ask what each stage added to the mix: films introduced visual learning materials; radio (and films with soundtracks) added an auditory mode; ITV added directed mass media; and computers added personalization. By directed mass media, I mean that television (as opposed to film or radio) feels more directed to me (this might be because I’m in a theatre with a lot of other people when I watch a movie; or because I feel somewhat disconnected listening to a box with a voice). Computers feel personal mostly because I am in control (or at least the machine lets me think I am).

The cost aspect introduced by the World War II need for efficient training bothered me at first. In an ideal world, cost should take a backseat to learning effectiveness. However, aside from the budget realities of decreased public funding for education, I might be changing mi mind about this. Here’s my line of thought. I believe that education has a unique capability to improve the human condition. I grant that we must first solve the survival issues of food, water, shelter, and health, but after that, the solution for most of the world’s problems seems to depend on education. If we spend resources to solve the survival issues, we might not have a surplus to address the educational needs unless we can find efficient methods for delivering effective instruction. I might be deceiving myself, but this argument seems to justify a search for cost-effectiveness.

Reiser’s ID timeline offered several surprises. While it was obvious that the World War II training emphasis would lead to programmed instruction and objectives, I didn’t realize that criterion-referenced tests were a recent development. While I knew of Gagne’s nine steps, I didn’t realize that he created a hierarchy in the intellectual skills area (note: need to go read up on this). While I knew that formative and summative were the two types of assessment, I didn’t realize that this distinction was drawn in order to help design effective learning materials. Reiser used at least one misleading statistic when he cited Market Data Retrieval, “that during the 2004-2005 academic year, nearly two thirds of all colleges and universities in the United States offered online courses” because that number is not supported by Sloan’s Online Nation which reported that only 13.5% of students took at least one online course. This hyperbole is reminiscent of the euphoria which once surrounded ITV. I don’t mean to take anything away from the growth or importance of online learning, especially since that’s the area I work in. But I worry when I see statements like Reiser’s because I fear a backlash when we come down from the mania.