History of Instructional Design and My Role in its Future

The history of Instructional Design is one filled with innovation that leverages available technologies to make the task of instruction more efficient. For ages the typical mode of instruction consisted of a teacher, chalkboard, and classroom discussion (Reiser 2001, p. 55). Some challenges that arise from the stereotypical modes of classroom instruction is the typical activity of a teacher lecturing as students sit passively and listen. The bulk of the efforts in development of the field of instructional design have been to flip that paradigm so that students become active participants in their instruction. A major aspect of activating students is to reach them through the lessons in an engaging way that makes them interact with the learning experience, whether mentally, emotionally, or physically. The 20th century brought about many advances in the technology and psychology of instructional design.

In the late 1800s, Thomas Edison in America, and the Lumiere Brothers in Europe each developed technology for the recording and playback of moving pictures. Early examples of the films they produced are fairly rudimentary with little or no storytelling, but they were an experience that captivated audiences. Many of the Lumiere Brothers films featured scenes from everyday life, including factory workers leaving work, or a train passing by a station (Nowell-Smith 1997, p. 17). Although many of these subjects lasted only a minute or two, the ability to see snippets of life from all over the world was an attraction for audiences. Soon narrative stories were portrayed on film and motion pictures as a form of regular entertainment was established as a permanent part of world culture.

With the advent of sound to accompany motion pictures in 1927 (p. 211) the dynamic nature of cinema evolved into a more immersive experience. When World War II brought the need to efficiently train a workforce tasked with the construction of good needed for the war effort, the technology of film was leveraged to supply the needed instruction to large audiences. This wartime utilization of media for education opened the door for capturing educational subjects in a way that could be widely distributed. In the decades after the war ended and there was a jump in the population, education professionals began to see the usefulness of integrating such media presentations in schools (AECT).

Television was also a major advancement as educational programming became an emphasis of the country and communities that wanted more educational content for their children. While experimentation with closed circuit systems occurred in the 1950s, many of these efforts were abandoned because of the lacking interest and quality. Soon many of the funds that would have supported in-school television was diverted to public television (Reiser 2001, p. 58).

In recent years, technology has seen several rapid advancements, including the internet, eBooks, smartphones, and tablets. These technology advancements enable learning to take place wherever an individual has their device and an internet connection. YouTube, for example, has enabled everyday people to become instructors on a global scale. This boom in individual education production has come from a very low cost of entry to produce and distribute their content. Nearly anyone with a smartphone and an internet account can create and upload educational content for a global audience; but this creates casual training, which is casually created and casually taken with little or no assessment given or needed. This ease-of-access to instructional technology compels instructional designers to set themselves apart from casual instruction creators and focus on aspects of design apart from the technology required to produce and present it.

It is this functional knowledge that sets the instructional design master apart from the casual creator and technology user. The study of instructional design theory provides the master with the guidance necessary to create a form that serves the learner with the greatest efficacy. The function of instructional design, then, may be characterized as David Merrill defined instructional design theory, which “identifies instructional conditions required for particular instructional consequences or outcomes.” (Merrill 2006, p. 338). Without an understanding of the theories of how people learn and when it is best to apply them one is simply creating instructional art. The problem with instructional art, as Merrill identified, is that although they may result “in effective and appealing instructional products, it is often not possible to understand way such products are effective and too often is not possible to replicate” (p. 338). My professional background as a graphic designer has brought me to understand that even visual design is much more than making things look appealing on the page, but there is a strategy and goal involved. As I embark on my journey towards my master in instructional design, it is my desire to gain greater knowledge of instructional design theory so that I may understand how people learn so that I may create instructional materials that activate the learners as they engage mentally, emotionally, and physically with their learning experience.


AECT. What is the History of the Field? (n.d.). Association for Educational Communications and Technology. Retrieved September 23, 2016, from http://www.aect.org/standards/history.html

Merrill, David, & Wilson Brent. (2006). The Future of Instructional Design (Point/Counterpoint). In Robert A. Reiser & John V. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (335-351). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey  (Ed.). (1997). The Oxford History of World Cinema. Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.

Reiser, Robert A. (2001). A History of Instructional Design and Technology: Part 1: A History of Instructional Media.  Educational Technology Research and Development, 49 (1/2), 53-67.

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