JTE v3n2 - Technology and Efficiency: Competencies as Content

Volume 3, Number 2
Spring 1992

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,
          and functional.
              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).

          Historical Overview
              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
             instructional components;
          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
          continues today.

          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.

          The Challenge
              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
          curriculum development?
              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
          merit consideration.
              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
          different curricula.
              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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          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