On Instruction

While some associate instruction with the leaners as a passive recipient of information, Burton, Moore, and Magliaro (2004) suggest this is an inaccurate conclusion, and they suggest instruction can provide a structure for approaching a complex body of knowledge and also for maintaining knowledge. Reif (2008) identified several factors that make instruction effective including articulating very clear goals; the inclusion of explicit and implicit guidance, support, and feedback that can be individualized; and providing timely and appropriate feedback.

Creating instructional activities requires one deconstruct the problem by articulating goals, identifying the information necessary to solve the problem, devising a path through the information that will facilitate learning, and defining actions that will demonstrate the expected learning. Because the entire instructional problem must be deconstructed in this manner, it can be reconstructed as a digital file. Reif concluded, “Computers are well suited for instructional purposes because they provide a dynamic medium that can not only convey information in visual and auditory forms, but can also flexibly interact with users so as to respond to their actions” (2008, p. 428).

Instruction has been used to create a variety of educational materials. This list includes arcade-style games designed to teach mathematics skills, spelling words, typing skills, and similar lessons; intelligent tutoring systems for individualized lessons (e.g. for test preparation); and simulations, which are designed to make the instructional activity more context-rich than games typically are. Bowers (1988) criticized these designs as “students encounter a one-dimensional world of objective data” (p. 34), and he concluded the prejudices and biases of the programmers exert strong and perhaps unintentional effects on the lessons learned.

Instruction does appear to be an effective model for designing and delivering curriculum in those instances in which the curriculum is well-known and the actions associated with learning the curriculum are clearly and objectively defined. I have argued elsewhere (Ackerman, 2015) that such exercises should represent a minority fraction of a student’s educational career. Given the availability of computer-based instructional materials, the “always-available” nature of those systems, and the popularity of flipped classroom models in which instruction occurs outside of scheduled face-to-face meetings of students and teachers, the efficacious educational technology planners will be prepared to support this use when it is an appropriate part of the schooling experience.


Ackerman, G. (2015). Technology-rich teaching: Classrooms in the 21st century. University Press of America.

Bowers, C. A. (1988). The cultural dimensions of educational computing: understanding the non-neutrality of technology. Teachers College Press.

Burton, J., Moore, M., & Magliaro, S. (2004). Behaviorism and instructional technology. In D. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (2nd edition) (pp. 3-36). Springer.

Reif, F. (2008). Applying cognitive science to education: thinking and learning in scientific and other complex domains. MIT Press.