Technology and Efficiency: Competencies as Content
Dennis R. Herschbach
Curriculum proposals and counter proposals
characterize technology education. Some proposals enjoy
widespread attention, others attract only momentary notice.
Considerable incongruity, moreover, sometimes exists
between stated objectives and the methods proposed to
achieve them (Clark, 1989). One source of uncertainty is the
lack of clearly articulated curriculum designs. A curriculum
design pattern provides a logical way to organize
instruction. However, as Eagan (1978) observes, uncertainty
over how the curriculum should be organized leads to
uncertainty about content.
Industrial arts historically has drawn heavily from the
competency, or what is more recently termed the
technical/utilitarian design pattern (Herschbach, 1989;
Zuga, 1989). The technical/utilitarian pattern undergirds
much of what is being termed technology education,
although a considerable lack of clarity may accompany its
application. The purpose of this paper is to examine the use
of the technical/utilitarian design pattern and its
application to technology education. However, competencies,
the older, but shorter term will be used throughout this
Comparison With Other Design Traditions
Curriculum theorists generally agree that there are
variations of five basic curriculum design patterns, used
singly or in combination: a) academic rationalism; b) com-
petencies (technical/utilitarian); c) intellectual
processes; d) social reconstruction; and e) personal
relevance (Eisner, 1979; Eisner and Vallance, 1974; Orlansky
and Smith, 1978; Saylor, et al., 1981; Schubert, 1986;
Smith, Stanley and Shores, 1959). There are important
differences between each design pattern.
In general, the competency pattern is characterized by
the application of what is commonly termed an "ends-means
model," popularized by Robert Tyler in the 1950s. Objec-
tives, the ends of instruction, are first identified. The
content of instruction is selected to address the
objectives, and the various instructional elements, the
means, are then designed to assist students in attaining
the objectives. This is a characteristic also shared with
the academic rationalist design pattern.
In contrast, the social reconstruction and the personal
relevance patterns place less emphasis on predetermined
content. The term "curriculum development" is used in the
broad sense, referring to both identifying the content and
developing the accompanying instructional materials, student
activities, evaluation items, and so on. This is because the
selection of content is thought to be influenced in part
by what is known about the learner and individual
differences in background, ability, interest, and learning
style. There is less concern for learning particular
knowledge, so little distinction is made between the what
(content) and how (delivery system) of instruction. What
students are expected to learn is a product of the
instructional activities, and may vary between learners.
This is because it is thought that instructional content
cannot be fully specified until student characteristics and
interests are taken into account (Egan, 1978).
The process pattern can fit into either of these
general groups, depending on the particular objectives of
instruction. This is because there is no set way of
organizing content. Thus, the process design can be in-
tegrated into an academic rationalists or competency
pattern, or it can complement the social reconstruction and
personal relevance designs.
Technical instruction when organized within the
framework of a competency design has other distinguishing
characteristics. One of the most notable features is that it
is performance, rather than subject oriented. This is the
difference between technical instruction and instruction
in formal subjects, such as biology, physics or economics.
This is a difference that sets the competency pattern off
from the academic rationalist design. Although formal
subject matter from the disciplines is used, the technical
activity is the basis for determining what formal subject
matter to select. The subject matter selected for
instruction relates directly to the technical activity. The
link between instruction and the use of skills is direct,
Efficiency is a concept fundamental to the design of
instruction based on the competency pattern: Instruction
is efficient to the degree that course objectives are mas-
tered. Instructional efficiency is achieved through the
teaching methods, activities and instructional materials
designed to guide learning. This is commonly referred to as
the instructional "delivery system." Of course, the delivery
system is designed to accommodate student background,
learning differences between students, and available re-
sources. When instruction is rationally designed,
incorporating sound principles of learning, greater
instructional efficiency results.
Instruction based on the competency pattern tends to
be characterized by lists of objectives; ordered
instructional sequences which relate to the objectives;
highly organized instructional systems; and measures of
performance which assess the outcomes specified in the
objectives. The content of instruction is identified
through one of many analytical procedures used to identify
technical skills, including manipulative, process or
conceptual. The relationship between all of the
instructional components is direct and functional (Molnar
and Zahorik, 1977).
The systematic design of technical instruction based
on competencies has a rich tradition. Charles Allen's
influential work The Instructor, the Man and the Job, pub-
lished in 1919, demonstrated the usefulness of organizing
instruction into logical units which could be standardized
among different training locations. The effectiveness of in-
struction was no longer based solely on the ability of the
individual instructor, but was also due to the quality of
the design itself, which served to guide the instructor and
provided the basis for planning, conducting and evaluating
instruction. Subsequent work by W. W. Charters (1923),
Robert Selvidge (1923; 1926), Selvidge and Fryklund (1930)
and others helped to develop a framework for the
systematic analysis of instructional content and the design
of instructional materials.
These early efforts were applied during World War II to
the training of military personnel and production workers.
The effectiveness of deliberately planned and
systematically organized training was clearly demonstrated.
Following the war, government groups and private industry,
convinced that quality and productivity could be improved
through systematic training, invested in research and
development. This work established the foundation for
contemporary instructional design practice. Theoretical
constructs were formulated along with practical procedures
which helped to guide instructional development and
implementation. There was a direct impact on public
education as new ideas found a place within the educa-
tional literature. The military and industry, for example,
originally funded much of the work carried out by
influential researchers such as Miller (1962), Mager
(1962), Gagne (1965) and Butler (1972). The results of their
work were applied to the design of public instruction.
The scope of activity also expanded significantly. At
least five lines of research which impacted on instructional
design were pursued:
1. attention was focused on the need to clearly specify
objectives in observable and measurable terms;
2. measurement and evaluation concepts were advanced, making
it possible not only to directly measure learning outcomes
but also to assess the efficiency of the various
3. learning theory was merged with instructional design
4. advances were made in the use of instructional
materials and educational technology; and
5. instructional system models were formulated.
By the 1970s sufficient theory and practice existed to build
wellconceived, efficient, integrated systems of
instruction. Instructional development evolved into a
large enterprise serving government and military groups,
private industry, public education and related professions.
The 1980s have seen additional instructional system
refinement, particularly in the application of learning
theory and the use of educational technology. Computer technology
especially is a current focus. Present models for the design of
technical instruction build from a rich body of knowledge,
and draw concepts and practices from a diverse stream of
influence, including industrial psychology, skills
analysis, programmed learning, measurement and evaluation,
media design and learning theory. There also has been a con-
vergence of practice. In theory and substance the
instructional design models used in vocational and technical
instruction differ little from those applied to industrial
training and to other subject fields which emphasize
improving practice. Essentially, a rational, problem-solving
approach is applied to the design of instruction.
Industrial arts educators have made extensive use of
the competency design pattern (Herschbach, 1989; Zuga,
1989). However, its application has been less specific and
tied less directly to training for specific jobs. The
instructional models are less elaborate than those applied
to industrial or military training, yet the same basic
conceptual framework is used; and although the underlying
efficiency rationale often may be masked by broad
educational and social objectives, the attainment of
specific learning outcomes is the intended final
instructional result. Differences are in the specificity of
instruction, rather than in the overall design pattern.
Industrial arts educators have been less concerned with the
development of high levels of technical skills and with
in-depth skill development in selected technical areas.
Knowingly or not, technology educators also use the
competency pattern, particularly in those programs which
center on technical specialties (Zuga, 1989). As an
outgrowth of industrial arts, some of the same industrial
design practices are followed in technology education. The
unit shop continues to be widely used (Smith, 1989; Virginia
Polytechnic Institute and State University, 1982). The
tendency, however, is to align program design more closely
with the work of Tyler rather than with the elaborate models
currently used in industrial or military training.
Tyler: Formulating a Model
There have been many characterizations of the
instructional design process. The most fundamental and
influential has been the work of Ralph W. Tyler, set forth
in Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction (1949). To
understand Tyler's work is to understand the basic
concepts behind the design of technical instruction
structured around competencies.
Tyler advanced a fundamental, but simple, idea that
profoundly influenced the course of instructional design;
namely, that decisions about the ends of instruction, the
objectives, should be made first and that all other
decisions should follow. He reasoned that it was first
necessary to have clearly in mind what is to be taught
before actually proceeding with designing instruction. "Ob-
jectives," said Tyler, "become the criteria by which
materials are selected, content is outlined, instructional
procedures are developed and tests and examinations are
prepared" (1949, p. 3). Although this may now seem like a
common sense idea, it has served as the foundation for
considerable subsequent instructional design work. With the
publication in 1962 of Mager's book Preparing In-
structional Objectives, the idea of first formulating
objectives became popularized.
As previously discussed, instructional systems
characterized by the use of objectives are based on what
is commonly termed an "ends-means model" of instructional
design. As the name suggests, decisions about the
objectives--the ends of instruction--are separate from,
and made prior to, decisions about the means--the
instructional activities, materials and so on designed to
facilitate learning. The various instructional elements
are designed to assist students in attaining the objectives.
The ends-means model provides a way to directly relate
instruction with outcomes. All of the instructional
components used are developed from, and support, the
attainment of the objectives. Tyler (1949) realized the
complexity of the learning act, but he reasoned that if
the related instructional components were focused on the
attainment of the wanted behavior, there was a high
probability that the desired outcomes would be realized.
Efficient instruction would result.
While Tyler's early work has been reformulated,
extended and improved since the publication of this
influential volume in 1949, the basic instructional design
tasks remain the same. The instructions designer must
1. What is the purpose of instruction?
2. What educational experiences should be provided in order
to attain the purpose?
3. How can instruction be effectively organized?
4. How can instruction be best evaluated?
While retaining the basic rationale and substance of the
Tyler model, Taba (1962) developed seven explicit steps:
1. Diagnosing of needs
2. Formulation of objectives
3. Selection of content
4. Organizing of content
5. Selection of learning experiences
6. Organization of learning experiences
7. Determination of what and how to evaluate
Selvidge: Influencing the Field
One effort to develop a program of study for industrial
arts based on competencies centers around the work of R.W.
Selvidge at the University of Missouri. Selvidge's model
fits within the Tyler framework, and it has continued to
influence instructional design.
Although he was mainly concerned with trade and
industrial training rather than industrial arts education,
the analysis approach advocated by Selvidge was sanctioned
in the 1930s by the American Vocational Association as
being appropriate for industrial arts. The aim was to bring
elements of manual training, manual arts and vocational
education together. Many industrial arts educators adopted
the analysis approach to the selection of content material.
Several variations of this approach were widely used, and
job and trade analysis are still the dominant method of
selecting course content material for technical
instruction (Herschbach, 1984).
Analysis, as developed by Selvidge, was an adaptation
and alteration of elements from both manual training and
manual arts. It incorporated the shop project as an
essential aspect of instruction, as well as industrial
processes, material and related information. Content was
selected by an analysis of a trade or occupation for
materials that would achieve the instructional objectives of
the course. Instruction was broken down into units entailing
operations and jobs. The content selected tended to be heavy
on the manipulative side, and this was viewed as being
appropriate for pre-vocational or vocational development.
While there is variation among advocates, the basic
method and sequence are as follows:
The first step is to determine the objectives of the
program of studies; these comprise "the information skills,
attitudes, interests, habits of work we expect the boy to
have when he has completed his period of training" (Selvidge
and Fryklund, 1930, p. 36).
Secondly, an analysis of the subject field should be
made in order to arrive at the main divisions of the field.
For instance, "a course for automotive mechanics might
logically be organized into such divisions as engine, power
transmissions, chassis, electrical and body repair; these
main divisions are then further analyzed" (Giachino and
Gallington, 1954, p. 68).
The next step is the selection from the analysis of
those items that are appropriate for the length of the
course, student ability, course level, available
equipment, and the general objectives. The total course
content material comprises a list of: "things you should be
able to do" (operative skills), "things you should know"
(information necessary for successful performance of the
skills), and "what you should be" (attitudes and habits
necessary for successful performance).
Lastly, the course content material should be
formulated into a course of study, with teaching materials
organized and arranged for instructional use.
Instructional sheets are often used for this purpose. Prac-
tice work, production and individual projects are used.
Selvidge developed a procedure through which technical
instruction could be systematically designed by the
classroom teacher. Much as Charles Allen (1919) had done
before him, Selvidge provided a way by which instruction
could be standardized and instructional quality resulted
from the design process itself. Efficiency was to be the
outcome. Selvidge's wide success, however, provoked
opposition. Some considered that instruction was too
vocational to be appropriate for industrial arts.
Particularly vocal was William E. Warner (Evans, 1988).
Warner: Reflecting Industrial Categories
Warner's deep opposition to Selvidge was no doubted
rooted in his own instructional plan. Warner largely
discounted the analytical method as developed by Selvidge
for identifying instructional content. Instead, instruction
would take place within the "Laboratory of Industries"
through selected industrial categories, such as metalworking,
ceramics, and communication. Exploratory, vocational, consumer,
artistic and developmental objectives would be stressed
(Warner, 1936). Developments along Warner's ideas took the
form of segments, or categories, of industry, such as
graphic arts, metals, and woods, as representative areas of
instruction. Later, largely through the work of his
graduate students, the general categories of power,
transportation, communication, construction and
manufacturing were stressed (Warner, 1948). The Industrial
Arts Curriculum Project (IACP) included only two, con-
struction and manufacturing (Journal of Industrial Arts,
1969,). More recently, the Jackson's Mills group has
suggested communication, construction, manufacturing and
transportation (Hales and Snyder, 1982).
However, Warner was unable to develop a practical way
to derive specific instructional content from the larger
instructional categories. He was never explicit about the
relationship between objectives and course content. In other
words, how did objectives translate directly into what
students were to learn? As Taba (1962) observes, this is al-
ways difficult to do because focus is lacking. The
categories are general organizers, "but set no guideposts to
what should be emphasized, and what not" (p. 304). Conse-
quently, in much of Warner's work there was inconsistency
between the curriculum rationale and the content selected
(Bruner et al., 1941). Moreover, it was not uncommon for
practitioners to apply Taylor's concepts to the selection of
instructional content while still retaining the more global
organizers characterizing Warner's work. This practice
Gordon Wilber: Finding the Middle Ground
Gordon Wilber's (1948) work is significant in that he
occupied the middle ground between two extremes: Selvidge
and Warner. Basically using Tyler's approach to the design
of instruction, Wilber proposed that content selection start
from a set of general objectives, followed by specific
behavioral objectives. Lessons, projects and activities
would next be developed to effect the desired behavioral
changes. Subject matter was considered as being two types:
manipulative, involving the use of tools and materials,
and resulting in projects; and related material.
Wilber's program is an amalgamation of the two approaches by
Selvidge and Warner, it was couched in sounder pedagogical
terms. Like Tyler, Wilber's model included a clear
progression from goals to content and learning activities,
culminating in evaluation. By following the ends-means
model proposed by Tyler, there was a logical way to bridge
the gap between the general curriculum organizers pro-
posed by Warner and others and specific instructional
content. At the same time, by focusing on general
objectives, Wilber avoided the close resemblance to
vocational instruction which so often characterized the
programs patterned after Selvidge.
Attesting to Wilber's influence, a curriculum
development model based on behavioral changes was adopted by
the American Vocational Association in 1953. Throughout
the 1970s the American Industrial Arts Association
supplied guidelines for incorporating behavioral outcomes
into instructional programs. Through the work of Mager
(1962), Popham and Baker (1970) and others, "competency-
based" instruction became popularized. Few areas of study in
public education were immune to its influence in the 1970s,
and the Tyler model exerts a pervasive influence today.
"The power and impact of the Tyler model cannot be
overstated," Molnar and Zahorik (1977) observe. "Virtually
every person who has ever been in a teacher education
program has been introduced to this model. It has been
synonymous with curriculum work at all levels" (p. 3).
Subject areas, such as science instruction,
mathematics, and English tend to draw course content from
the disciplines, rather than work activity, and they are
based on the academic rationalist design pattern. This sets
them off from technical subjects such as technology
education and vocational instruction. Nevertheless, the
"delivery system" (the objectives, course material,
activities, and evaluation items) reflects the ends-means
model. Moreover, efficiency is the underlying objective of
both (Herschbach, 1989). When educators talk about basic
skills testing, greater accountability, or a more rigor-
ous curriculum, they are talking about greater efficiency.
In general, American education for at least the past three
decades can be characterized by an efficiency thrust.
All forms of public technical education use the
competency design pattern. Its application, however, is
less sophisticated than is found in military and industrial
applications. It is more akin to the work of Tyler and
Wilber than to the elaborate design models currently in use.
It is applied in a more abbreviated form. As technology
educators ponder the curriculum challenges of the future,
to what extent can the competency pattern serve to guide
The efficiency rationale is, and will continue to be a
major goal of American education. Financial constraints,
the alarm over low student achievement levels, the com-
petition of a global economy, political ideology, these
and other factors which shape the public's perception of
education, will continue to drive the objective of effi-
ciency. At least since Selvidge's day, industrial arts
educators (and presently technology education supporters)
have adhered to the efficiency rationale, even if unknowingly.
The concept of technological rationality is inherent in
technical instruction (Molnar and Zahorik, 1977). Perhaps
for this reason, the competency design will continue to
have wide appeal.
However, if the competencies design is to serve as a
major organizing pattern for technology education it is
essential to address at least three major issues.
First, theorist must clarify the educational function
of technology education so that there is a direct
relationship between the ends and means of instruction.
Conceptual inconsistency has been a characteristic mark of
the movement (Herschbach, 1989; Clark, 1989; Zuga, 1989).
However, as Egan (1978) notes, "If one lacks a clear sense
of the purpose of education then one is deprived of an
essential means of specifying what the curriculum should
contain" (p. 69).
Whether or not the efficiency rationale should be the
major underlying rationale of technology education, and
whether the competency design should be a major organizing
framework is open to debate. Other objectives, which are
largely the outcome of other design patterns, certainly
Second, the relationship of technology education to the
separate subjects design pattern must be clarified. As
previously discussed, the competencies and academic
rationalists design patterns both share the common rationale
of efficiency, and both make use of Tyler's ends-means
model. The two patterns are used in combination, but
depending on how they are used results in distinctly
The supposition that technology is a discipline
(separate subject), reducible to discrete units of
instruction similar to that found in the teaching of
mathematics, English or physics, is open to question. As
Frey (1989) suggests, "technology is grounded in
'praxis,' rather than abstract concepts, or 'theoria'
(p. 25). And while technology can be characterized as
object, process, knowledge, and volition, these
characteristics manifest themselves through human activity
(Frey, 1989). However, to the extent that technology is
conceived as an intellectual discipline to be studied rather
than activity to be engaged in, there is less room for the
application of the competency design pattern.
Third, and perhaps most important, the content of
technology education must be conceived in broader terms
than is usually achieved by the application of the
competency design to curriculum development. Use of the
competency design pattern often results in narrowly
prescribed instructional content, such as that found in the
work of Selvidge. Application of the Tyler model to
curriculum development can result in a static instruc-
tional design (Smith, Stanley and Shores, 1957; Molnar and
Zahorik, 1977). These limitations, however, can be
overcome. To do so means defining competencies in broad
terms. Competencies are more than the ability to ma-
nipulate tools, use material and apply mechanical
processes. Problem solving, critical thinking skills,
ordered ways of working these are competencies that can also
be identified. The analytical methods formerly applied to
identify job tasks and tool operations can be equally
applied to the identification of broader conceptual learning
and general educational outcomes. Gordon Wilber demonstrated
this. Particularly appealing is the idea of effecting a
synthesis with the process design pattern.
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1(1), 34-58. 20
Dennis Herschbach is an Associate Professor in the
Department of Industrial,Technological and Occupational
Education, University of Maryland, College Park, MD.
Permission is given to copy any
article or graphic provided credit is given and
the copies are not intended for sale.
Journal of Technology Education Volume 3, Number 2 Spring 1992