Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Two Debates

People love to to debate issues. Apparently, the movers and shakers of instructional technology are no different. This has been evidenced by the interesting back and forth between Clark and Kozma regarding the place of media in instructional technology. Another issue addressed in this week's readings involved whether or not ISD is dead. Both issues brought up some interesting questions.

First, does media play a role in learning in and of itself? Apparently, back in the 80s, Richard Clark wrote an article claiming that media have no impact on learning. In fact, it is instructional method that is holds the key. A decade later, Robert Kozma (1994) doesn't really argue this claim, but he does suggest an obligation (or at least an opportunity) to make media impact learning. He thinks researcher's holding on to Behaviorist beliefs is the key to why this has not happened yet. He argues that research needs to embrace a more cognitivist and constructivist point of view to move forward. He supports his argument by exploring ThinkerTools and the Jasper Woodbury Series. He calls for researchers to search for what causes learning to occur. He calls practitioners to design media that produces new methods.

This challenge does not go unanswered. Clark (1994) responds with an article of his own in response both to Kozma and his other critics. He states that his claim that media have no real effect on learning is not new news. Many others established this fact before him. One challenge he received was that it was the attributes of media that influenced learning, not the whole of media. Clark responds that if another attribute achieves the same goal, then it cannot be the attribute that influenced the learning. He further states that if multiple attributes achieve the same goal, then we have a responsibility to choose the least expensive route. Many critics stated that method and media are the same. His response is that any given medium is capable of a number of methods. Another argument is that research has shown learning benefits from different media. His response to that is those studies failed to control for method of instruction. One critic argued that his claim that method of instruction is the key was empirical. Clark did not argue, but stated the claim was just a hypothesis. Throughout the rest of his article, he basically says the same thing in several different ways. Essentially, he continues to assert that research does not control for instructional methods when determining the success of media for learning.

Another hot debate in the field is whether or not ISD is dead. One thing was clear from my readings. Ron Zemke really likes the phrase "stripped to its shorts" to refer to the intrinsic place of ADDIE within ISD. The phrase shows up in both the articles. The April 2000 article touches on some of the arguments given by trainers who believe ISD's time has passed. The first argument is that it is too slow of a process. The second argument is that it doesn't ever really reach its goal. Third, the solutions it produces are not good ones. Finally, it is stuck in the past. The follow up article in February 2002 summarizes some of the debate that happened following that article. Some argued that ISD isn't the problem, but the way it is used. Some argued the complaints were about older versions of ISD. While some criticize what they see as a linear, systematic method with not enough flexibility, others felt that it provided a sense of professionalism. Still others argued that the problem was not enough ISD, not too much.

With regard to the media debate, I don't believe I agree with Clark or Kozma. If I had to agree with something, I would say I lean toward Clark's view that method is more important than media. I don't believe media can ever truly replace human interaction, though some advancements in artificial intelligence make me wonder. I certainly do not agree that we should force media to replace method, any more than I believe we should design online learning around the tools we want to use rather than choosing the best tools for the content. I think media is a necessary enhancement to method for learning. It's like the Benadryl IV they give you prior to a procedure requiring twilight sleep (where you are sedated but conscious, and don't remember it afterwards). The Benadryl makes the anesthesia work better, but you don't want to have the procedure done on the Benadryl alone.

As for the ISD debate, I simply cannot relate to it. Perhaps, this debate sparked changes in the field that addressed all these problems, because instructional design today seems to be very flexible. I was always taught that ADDIE was a guide, not really a model, and as we have seen in all the different models throughout the history of the field, not everyone considers it a linear process. I've seen ISD correct the same kinds of problems the articles were discussing. For example, the statements about training that didn't produce results struck me as strange. I use instructional design to correct that problem. I've not ever seen it cause the problem. So, maybe I've just been spoiled by getting my education at a time when these issues aren't related to IST, or maybe my experiences simply do not match other people's. It will be interesting to see what others have to say about it.


Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. ETR&D, 42(2), 21- 29.
Gordon, J., & Zemke, R. (2000). The attack on ISD. Training, 37(4), 42-53.
Kozma, R. B. (1994). Will media influence learning? Reframing the debate. ETR&D, 42(2), 7-19.
Zemke, R., & Rossett, A. (2002). A hard look at ISD. Training, 39(2), 26-34.

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