An Opportunity for Reform
an essay by
Delano P Wegener, Ph.D.
What do instruction, teaching, learning, conditions of learning, mastery learning, Bloom's taxonomies of learning objectives, and Computer Based Training (CBT) have in common?

Individually each of the above topics is interesting and certainly has value. However, if these topics are properly assimilated, the result is truly an opportunity to significantly reform training for the better.

In this article I will briefly describe how computer based training can be used to bind these topics together. The discussions here are necessarily brief and are intended to whet the appetite of the reader rather than convey a working knowledge of the topics.

Computer Based Training:
Computer Based Training (CBT), Technology Based Training (TBL), Computer Based Learning (CBL), Computer Based Education (CBE), and Computer Based Instruction (CBI) are synonyms for systems which use the computer to facilitate learning. Each incorporates Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI), Computer Managed Instruction (CMI), and Computer Supported Learning Resources (CSLR).

CAI is that part of CBT which interacts directly with the student to present lesson content and is a medium of instruction just as film, lecture, and textbooks. CMI is the part of CBT which does testing, record keeping, reporting, and generates prescriptions. CSLR is that part of CBT which contains the resources to be used by the CBT system. The database of pictures (bitmaps) used in a CBT system is part of the CSLR.

CBT is normally delivered for installation on standalone computers or small computer networks. Delivery of real time CBT via the Internet is now possible and will improve dramatically in the next few years.

Learning is a complex activity involving reception of stimuli, storage in short-term memory, semantic encoding for storage in long term memory, retrieval from long-term memory, and response generation. Although the process of learning is complex, cognitive psychology provides a tremendous amount of information about the learning process and how internal and external stimuli affect that process.

Instructional design should be based on established theories of learning from cognitive psychology.

Gagne (pronounced gan-yea) defines instruction as the set of events that affect learners in such a way that learning is facilitated. He also defines teaching as the set of events, which may have a direct affect on learning, set in motion by a teacher.

Instruction may include events generated by a page of print, a lecture, a picture, a television program, objects on a computer screen, animation, morphing, simulation, physical objects, etc. It is interesting to observe that neither instruction nor learning involve a teacher.

John B. Carroll asserts that teaching should be the management of learning. This concept of teaching is easily adapted to CBT.

CBT should be the management of learning and should include the largest possible set of events which facilitate learning.

It is important to recognize that CBT cannot provide all instruction. Some of the events which facilitate learning, such as "hands on" experience cannot be replaced with CBT.

Conditions of Learning:
Those factors, internal and external, which influence learning are called conditions of learning. An example of an external condition of learning is the degree of emphasis given to one subpart of a drawing. Internal conditions of learning are previously learned capabilities. The conditions of learning are the factors which make learning occur.

CBT should control external conditions of learning to maximize their affect on learning.

CBT should determine the internal conditions of learning of each learner and manage each student's learning in accordance to his/her internal conditions of learning.

Mastery Learning:
In 1968, Benjamin Bloom transformed John B. Carroll's "Model of School Learning" from a conceptual model into an effective working model.

A word of warning; do not confuse the Mastery Learning model with many similar sounding models which may or may not contain some of the critical ingredients of the Mastery Learning model.

The Mastery Leaning model is exceptionally effective when properly implemented. In studies where strategies have been refined, 90 percent of the mastery learning students have achieved as well as the top 20 percent of the non-mastery learning students. A seven year study conducted by myself and Melvin Poage (mathematics author and educator) confirmed these data.

It is my opinion, based on the above seven year experiment, that although Bloom's model is an effective working model, it is not a cost effective model in the traditional instructional environment. However, the prohibitive cost factors found in Bloom's model can be removed when the instructional environment is changed to CBT.

CBT should use the best strategies to implement the Mastery Learning Model.

Construction of learning objectives for CBT should follow Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning Objectives.

Predicting the future of CBT is virtually impossible. There is the potential for greatness and there is the potential for total failure. What we find in the years 2000 or 2005 depends entirely on those of us involved with training and development.

If we remain enamored with technology for its own sake and continue to follow the easy path of least resistance, then CBT will probably be very close to the "total failure" end of the spectrum.

If we become serious about instruction, learning, and CBT by developing CBT as outlined above, then we can expect a real reform in training which will permit 90 per cent of trainees to achieve to the same level of competence as the top 20 percent in current training systems. Furthermore trainees will be able to participate in that training from any point on the globe.

The opportunity for positive reform is ours.