Google Map Example

Google Maps provides an exceptional analogy for the place of objectives in instruction.

Here is the scenario:  You are at EVMS and want to eat lunch at Doumar's on Tidewater Drive near EVMS, but don't know where it is.  

You bring up Google Maps on the web and type in your desired desination: Doumar's.   Your destination, or travel objective, is analagous to a learning objective.  It is where you want to end up after your travel.  After you type in "Doumar's" The Google Maps prompt looks like this:

  

Notice that the prompt asks you where you are, too...  What is your starting place?    A plan for getting to a specific location makes absolutely no sense without reference to your starting place.   In instruction--as in travel--this is a critical question.  Before you can plan how you will take a group of students to some learning location (to an objective), you have to figure out where they are right now.   The big question is, How do we get to where we need to be from where we are?  How difficult will the learning journey be? What special things might I need to do to take this group of students with their current knowledge and skills to the place they need to be to accomplish the learning objective?

In Google Maps, once you type in your travel objective and starting place, several possible routes will be displayed and one will be recommended. It looks like this for the Doumar trip:

 

Google Maps provided three different routes with different travel times associated with each for our trip to Doumar's.   It recommended the shortest route (in terms of travel time).  There is a similarity in instruction: you can get to your learning objective using a few different routes.   The most important thing is that you are clear about where you are starting and where you must finish.   Your objective must be crystal clear and your starting place must be crystal clear.  

Are there wrong or incorrect paths?   The answer is yes.    While there are several viable paths to Doumar's from EVMS, there are some routes that are better than others, and some that are just plain foolish.    Heading west from EVMS, for example, will not get you to Doumar's... ever.  

 

Can We Talk About Instructional Strategies and Media for a Moment?

You get it, right?  Our learning/performance objectives direct us.   They are first and most important.   They are the target of everything we do in instruction.  

Now, while we are talking about this Google Maps analogy, we are in a perfect place to talk about the relationship of objectives with instructional approaches and instructional media.

If the destination you type into Google Maps is analogous to a learning/performance objective, then the recommended routes represent the candidate instructional approaches--how you organize and present the content for learning.   

When a learner learns, he or she is creating relationships in the mind called schema.   The learner organizes the different facts and concepts into a related framework that allows for recall when needed.   As instructors, we design the instructional sequence and activities very carefully--building fact upon fact and concept upon concept so that in the end, we produce expert resident physicians.    There are principles that guide this aspect of instructional design.   Talk to your instructional designers (Julie Bridges or Don Robison) about this for ideas.  

Your instructional stategy or approach is analogous to the route in Google Maps.   There are several options, but you must be careful to always aim at the destination (the objective).   

Does the Instructional Medium Matter?

If the route on the Google Maps is analogous to the instructional strategy (Flipped, Clicker, Lecture, Case-Based, etc.), then the choice for mode of transportation is analogous to the media you choose in support of your instruction.  Does the instructional media choice make a difference for learning?  The first answer is "no" the medium is not the most critical thing in learning.   The second answer is "yes" it matters some, and sometimes, it matters a lot.  

"The No Significant Difference Phenomenon"

The most important thing is the design of the actual instruction...  how you put together the learning experience.    Media is definitely a secondary consideration.  Media efficacy research clearly supports one principle: media does not make a significant difference as relating to learning outcomes.    This is referred to as "The no significant difference phenomenon" and it is supported by literally hundreds of studies (Russell, 2001).  In other words, we can teach almost anything using almost any medium.      

In practice this gives us a lot of latitude in our choice of media.   It means that sometimes, for example, we can support learning with stand-alone technology enabled experiences that allow us to focus on other things in class.   It means that there are many options open to us.  

But, to be clear, it does not mean that media does not matter!   Let's go back to our Google Maps analogy for a moment...   After you type in your starting place and destination, a proposed route map is presented.   At the top of the prompt you can choose the mode of transportation you will use.   It looks like this:

For our lunch trip to Doumar's example, you could drive a car, take a cab, take a bus, or walk.   Not pictured in the menu, but still open as options are flying in a helicopter or even hang-gliding.  

In other words, any of these transportation modes will get you to Doumar's.   You could take any one of them. 

But why would you?

There is no significant difference in the outcome of getting you to Doumar's (we can get there using any of these modes of transportation), the difference is in how the mode fits with your current situation.   Each transportation medium offers unique affordances.   Walking is least expensive and great on a sunny warm day (provided you have the time).  Driving is efficient but it is expensive to own a car.   If you have one, you might choose that.   The bus is often a good mode, but maybe not for this particular trip because of bus routes.  If you were trying to make a splash in the local news media, you could hang-glide from the top of Norfolk General Hospital to Doumar's.   It all just depends on your goals and preferences.   

When you consider instructional media, you need to think about where you are (current learner knowledge, skills, and motivation) and where you are going (your learning/performance objectives) and which of the options available to you provides the most efficient means for getting there.    If you were teaching students to dance at a distance, you might choose a video because it would efficiently model the performance.   Could you do it through print?  Yes, but it would be more difficult.    What if your students were already experts at dance and you were trying to teach them to end with a bow instead of a leap?   You could very efficiently teach that through print...  just tell them to bow at the end.   The medium you choose is related to your students starting expertise and where you have to take them.  

In making media choices, consider the attributes of the media--how they will match your objectives--and 'take your learners there' using the most efficient means possible.