Instructional Technology/Ruth Clark

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Abstract[edit]

There are many great people who have worked, and are working within the field of Instructional Technology. These leaders in the field and their work serve to shape our views, influence our practices, and fuel our research. This paper will look at one such person, Ruth Colvin Clark. Ruth Clark’s work thus far has been focused in the following areas: cognitive and evidence-based methods for training and performance improvement, effective use of graphics, multimedia and learning, and e-learning. This paper will look at Clark’s career, her significant contributions to the field of Instructional Technology, and the impact her work could have, and is having on the way Instructional Technology practitioners develop instruction, look at media’s role in education, and design and develop e-learning.


Influential Leader in IT – Ruth Clark[edit]

This is an exciting time for the field of Instructional Technology. Not too long ago, Instructional Technology was just an emerging field of study (Seels & Richey, 1994). Today, Instructional Technology is not only an area of academic study, but a profession. What this means is that, Instructional Technologists are no longer simply focused on producing products as practitioners, but are involved in research as scholars (Seels & Richey, 1994). There have been many countless people who have contributed, and are contributing, to the way instructional designers and the general public view the field of Instructional Technology. One such individual is Ruth Clark.

Background and Career[edit]

Ruth Clark was born in San Francisco, California. Her father was a military man, so the family moved annually. She says that she attended twelve different schools while growing up. (R.C. Clark, personal communication, February 22, 2006) After graduating high school, Clark went on to earn a Bachelors of Arts in Biology and Chemistry, graduating Magna Cum Laude from Immaculate Heart College in 1964. She then went on to earn a Masters of Arts in Biological Chemistry from the Department of Biology at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1966. In 1998, Clark completed her Doctor of Education degree in Instructional Psychology from the School of Education at the University of Southern California.

When asked why she chose to pursue a doctoral degree in Educational Psychology, Clark said, “I was a science major for both my undergraduate and masters degrees, and what appealed to me was the research basis of learning wedded with the creative aspects of instructional production” (R.C. Clark, personal communication, February 22, 2006).

Since graduating from USC, Clark has worked as a Curriculum Developer, a Training Manager, and an Adjunct Professor. She currently serves as President for Clark Training & Consulting where she provides seminars and consulting services to improve organizational performance. She also strives in her everyday work to translate research in instructional psychology for practitioner application. Clark is also the author and/or co-author of five books and numerous articles. She has also won various awards for her seminars and publications.

As far as her role thus far in the field of Instructional Technology, Clark says that, “My goal has been to translate valid empirical research into usable guidelines for practitioners. I feel my books written with research scientists such as Richard Mayer and John Sweller are contributions that I personally value the most” (R.C. Clark, personal communication, February 22, 2006). Clark’s work has centered on cognitive methods for designing training as well as media’s application in instruction. The two researchers she cited are well-known in these areas. Richard Mayer has served as a Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) since 1975. Mayer’s current research centers on cognition, instruction and technology (Department of Psychology, UCSB, 2003). John Sweller resides at the University of New South Wales, Australia, and has worked since the early 1980s on cognitive load theory (Clark, Nguyen & Sweller, 2006). Evidence-Based Instruction and Cognition Load Theory.

In her many articles, presentations and books, Clark addresses the issue of Instructional Technology practitioners incorporating more rapidly research and learning psychology into their design, development, and delivery decisions (Clark, 2003). She says, “I hope we will see a greater accumulation and synthesis of research on learning mechanisms and how to harness learning psychology through Instructional Technology. I believe we will continue to see the impact of globalization on Instructional Technology implementations. I would like to see more precision of our terms and definitions with an emphasis on defining interventions in terms of their psychological mechanisms rather than their surface features” (R.C. Clark, personal communication, February 22, 2006).

She cites the separation of research and practitioner communities as the main barrier to evidence-based practice (Clark, 2003). She says, “My hope is that the field is moving more toward evidence-based practice and I have tried to move things in that direction by summarizing the research of the best instructional scientists in my books and seminars” (R.C. Clark, personal communication, February 22, 2006).

In her article, “Applying Cognitive Strategies to Instructional Design” (Clark, 2002), she states that in this information era where brains are in higher demand than brawn, training that optimizes organizational performance is more important than ever. She says, “Instructional technology is a design science that must guide the professional production of instruction … we need to allow research rather than fads and folk wisdom to serve as the infrastructure for the professional practice of training and delivery” (Clark, 2002, p. 8).

In the past few years, Instructional Technology has come under fire as being old, obsolete, and ineffective (Gordon & Zemke, 2000). In response to these charges, Clark says, “…the ISD boxes are still relevant and can be profitably populated by new models and techniques drawn from cognitive theories of learning” (Clark, 2002, p. 9). This shift from visible to invisible value in work calls for Instructional Technology to be equally focused on defining and teaching mental processes as observable job procedures (Clark, 2002).

She goes onto say that with this shift from labor to knowledge, there have also been major shifts within in the psychological sciences. Educational psychologists have moved from behavioral to cognitive models of learning. She says, “The research in instructional psychology over the past 20 years provides a good start to a scientific foundation for design of effective instruction (Clark, 2002, p.9). She adds that Instructional Technology practitioners must incorporate an understanding of how cognitive and memory systems work during the learning process.

When instructional technologists design instruction, in order for it to be effective it must support human cognitive processes (Clark, 2002). The works that Clark has produced with John Sweller has focused on the cognitive load theory. This theory, “is a universal set of leaning principles that are proven to result in efficient instructional environments as a consequences of leveraging human cognitive learning processes” (Clark, Nguyen & Sweller, 2006, p.7).

Clark says that the challenge for instructional designers is to develop instruction that provides new instruction to learners without overloading their cognitive circuits (Clark & Taylor, 1994). “Once the learner is overloaded, frustration and demoralization inevitably set in. And people can’t learn when they’re frustrated and demoralized. One key to teaching, then, is to avoid overloading the learner’s working memory” (Clark & Taylor, 1994, p. 40). She offers eight strategies to avoid cognitive overload. They are: talk less and turn key learning points into brief reference notes, do less and make learners do more, chunk training appropriately and dispense it over time, design workbook pages and computer-training screens so that they aid memory during practice, design job aids to aid memory and transfer after training, build automaticity, provide “training wheels” for new learners, and detect and remedy while the training process is in session (Clark & Taylor, 1994).

Clark’s work in the area of making the research findings about cognitive load readily available to instructional designers and training practitioners has had a huge impact on the field. The Human Performance Technology Primer names Clark as one of the leaders in the field along with such notables as John Keller, Robert Gagne and Robert Mager (HPT Primer). Her books and articles are being widely used in educational and training settings. She has been published many times by the International Society for Performance Improvement, which is one of the premier organizations for performance and instructional technologists. Clark also served as ISPI’s President in 1996. As a result of her making this research available, instructional design practitioners are more cognizant about the effect of cognitive load on their learners, and design their instruction accordingly. About Clark’s influence, M. David Merrill said, “Few have done more than Ruth Clark to provide instructional practitioners easy access to the findings of scientific educational psychology” (Clark, 2003, cover).

As far as her expectations for the impact her works will have on practitioners in the field, Clark says, “I’m hoping that we’re starting to professionalize – meaning people increasingly understand that training is an expensive investment, technology is complex and we need to leverage our work on the basis of scientific evidence” (Materi, 2003, p.7). Graphics, Media, and E-Learning.

In her book, coauthored with Chopeta Lyons, “Graphics for E-learning,” Clark looks at ways practitioners can effectively use graphics in e-learning environments to improve learning outcomes. In answer to the question, does graphics improve learning, Clark says, “It depends. Many studies that compared lessons that used text alone to teach content with lessons that added relevant visuals to the text have shown that the versions with the graphics do improve learning” (Clark, August 2003, p. 2). Clark says there are three factors that influence the effectiveness of visual treatments. They are: instructional goal, learning landscape, and features of the graphics itself (Clark, August 2003).

Instructional goals must be factored into the decision making process when selecting graphics. Depending on whether the leaning is procedural or problem-based will influence the types of graphics that will best suite desired learning outcomes.

The learning landscape will also have an impact on the types of graphics that are most effective. Environmental factors such as prior knowledge of the audience, computer capabilities, bandwidth, budget, and organizational standards must be considered when selecting graphics for use in instruction (Clark, August 2003).

Clark explains that graphics contain two types of features, surface and functional. She notes that it does not come as a surprise that graphical features themselves can influence learning effectiveness. What is surprising is that it is not the surface features, which are typically associated with graphics that make the difference. Surface features describe the graphic. Is it a line art, or a photograph? But surface features alone do not determine the effectiveness of a graphic. Rather, it is its functionality that determines its impact on learning (Clark, August 2003).

She says, “Many of us are not using graphics effectively. We need to think about ‘what is my content, what is my instructional goal, who is my audience, what is the delivery method, and what is the best graphic to use,’” (Materi, 2003, p. 7). Clark has also co-authored a book with Richard E. Mayer entitled, “E-learning and the Science of Instruction.” In it, they define e-learning as, content and instructional methods delivered on a computer with the aim of improving organizational outcomes (Materi, 2003). She adds though that e-learning should not be generalized. There are many types of e-learning, from synchronous to asynchronous, and from merely delivering information to improving performance. She states that e-learning should be designed on four course architectures: receptive, directive, guided discover or exploratory (Materi, 2003).

With the increasing growth of e-learning, there has been much debate about its effectiveness and levels of quality. Research now shows that traditional classrooms and virtual classrooms (synchronous e-leaning) are about equally effective overall. It is not the medium that makes the difference; rather it is the way instructional designers utilize the features of media that influences learning (Bernard, 2004).

Clark agrees with these findings by saying, “The trick to successful use of delivery medium, electronic or traditional, is to exploit the features of that medium in ways that lead to learning” (Clark, 2005, p. 2). In an effort to aid practitioners in the field design more effective e-learning instructional modules, Clark has developed the DVEP model.

The DVEP model stands for Define, Visualize, Engage, and Package (Clark, 2005). The Define stage is the first and in it the designer is articulating the business goals and the knowledge skills needed to achieve them. Then, the designer needs to choose the instructional methods needed to achieve the stated learning objectives. The last step in this initial stage is selecting the delivery media that best deliver the instructional methods identified (Clark, 2005).

The second stage is Visualize. In this stage, the designer selects and/or designs the various types of visuals that will best promote learning. She states that it is crucial that designers select visuals for learning functions, and not just because they look good (Clark, 2005). She says, “… you should de-emphasize decorative graphics that can distract learners and depress learning in favor of representational visuals that illustrate the job environment, along with explanatory visuals that promote deeper understanding” (Clark, 2005, p. 5).

The third stage in the model is Engage. Frequent, meaningful learner interaction with the content is the main route to learning, and the virtual classroom offers many options to engage learners (Clark, 2005). Clark says that in order to keep learners engaged, designers must provide frequent, job-related interactions and use variety in question type (Clark, 2005).

The final stage in the model is Package. In this stage designers must pay attention to all the elements that precede and follow the virtual classroom event (Clark, 2005). This means helping with technical issues, stating course objectives and assignments, and establishing a social presence during the early stages of the virtual session. She also says that designer should design working aids for handouts. This should be done during the planning phases of design. Once these handouts are created, it is then imperative that exercises are provided that require learners to reference these handouts during the virtual session and later on the job (Clark, 2005).

As e-learning continues to expand, the need for effective evaluation of its effectiveness grows with it. Clark says, currently there is not much evidence on the best practices for implementing synchronous learning environments. She does say though, that designers can implement what is known about asynchronous learning and human learning processes until more research is forthcoming (Materi, 2003). Explore one of her elearning symposia [1]. In this symposium, Clark presents an "Evdienced Based Guidelines for Effective Instructional Visuals".


The impact of Clark’s work in the areas of graphics, media and e-learning is being felt in positive ways by practitioners in the field. Her book with Mayer was the number one best seller according to its publisher, and the International Society for Performance Improvement awarded it with Outstanding Instructional Communication (Materi, 2003). Apart from the awards she’s received for her publications, Clark’s work is also impacting practitioners from all around the world.

In her article, “The e-Learning Edge: Leveraging Interactive Technologies in the Design of Engaging, Effective Learning Experiences,” Lisa Galarneau of New Zealand, cites the work of Clark and Mayer to show how the effective use of media can positively impact learning outcomes (Galarneau, 2004).

In an article entitled, “A Cognitive Approach to Instructional Design for Multimedia Learning,” Stephen D. Sorden of Northern Arizona University cites the work of Clark and Mayer as it pertains to online learning. Their research states that online learning can only be effective if structure it in a way that efficiently maximizes learning. What has to be emphasized is not how the instruction is delivered, but whether empirically-tested strategies for multimedia instruction are employed that facilitate knowledge construction by the learner (Sorden, 2005).

Also, Hansjorg von Brevern from the Institute of Information Systems University of Bern, Switzerland in his article, “Cognitive and Logical Rationales for E-Learning Objects,” cites the works of Clark as it pertains to media selection and managing cognitive load.


Clark compares the US ISD certification program to what is being offered by her training consultancy. Explore how you can build performance technology and instructional design competencies. [2]. For those who have ever used Clark's products and training services, would you want to share your experiences, and the products effectiveness?

Conclusion[edit]

Ruth Clark’s work over the years has proven to be of vital importance to practitioners in the field of Instructional Technology. She is calling for the field to grow into its professionalism. She says, “We don’t have the professional recognition and the credibility that other professions do and my hope is in the next 20 years we’ll get a lot more of that. I think part of the key is evidence-based practice, to know what the research is and begin to apply it” (Materi, 2003, p. 7). Currently, Clark is working on finishing a book on how to use the new virtual classroom technologies effectively. This will give her an opportunity to discuss the relationships between media affordances and learning and to emphasize again that what causes learning are instructional strategies - not delivery media. She is also always looking for partnerships with academic practitioners engaged in long-range programs of experimental research on instructional and other performance support methods (R.C. Clark, personal communication, February 22, 2006).


Instructional Technology

References[edit]

Bernard, R. M. et. al. (2004). How does distance education compare with classroom instruction? A meta-analysis of the empirical literature. Review of Educational Research, 74(3), 379-439.

Clark, R. C. (2002). Applying cognitive strategies to instructional design. Performance Improvement, 41(7), 8-14.

Clark, R. C. (2003). Building expertise: Cognitive methods for training and performance improvement. Washington, D.C.: International Society for Performance Improvement.

Clark, R. C. (August 11, 2003). More than just eye candy: Graphics for e-learning. The E-Learning Developers’ Journal, 2-9.

Clark, R. C. (May 16, 2005). Four steps to effective virtual classroom training. The E-Learning Developers’ Journal, 1-7.

Clark, R. C., Nguyen, F., Sweller, J. (2006). Efficiency in Learning. San Francisco: Jossey Bass Pfeiffer.

Clark, R. C., Taylor, D. (1994). The causes and cures of learner overload. Training, 31(7), 40-44.

Department of Psychology, University of California Santa Barbara. “Richard E. Mayer.” Retrieved from the Internet on March 19, 2006 from http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/people/faculty/mayer/index.php.

Galarneau, L. (2004). The e-learning edge: Leveraging interactive technologies in the design of engaging, effective learning experiences. Paper presented at the e-Fest 2004, Wellington, New Zealand.

Gordon, J., Zemke, R. (2000). The attack on ISD. Training, 37(4), 43-53.

Human Performance Technology Primer [Electronic Version]. Retrieved from the Internet on March 19, 2006 from http://www.afc-ispi.org/hptprimer.htm.

Materi, R. (Fall 2003). A conversation with Dr. Ruth Clark. The Canadian Learning Journal, 8(2), 6,7,10.

Seels, B. B., Richey, R.C. (1994). Instructional technology: The definitions and domains of the field. Washington, D.C.: Association for Educational Communications and Technology.

Sorden, S. (2005). A cognitive approach to instructional design for multimedia learning. Informing Science Journal, 8, 262-279.

von Brevern, H. (2004). Cognitive and logical rationales for e-learning objects. Educational Technology & Society, 7(4), 2-25.