Journal of Technology Education

Journal of Technology Education

Current Editor: Chris Merrill,
Previous Editors: Mark Sanders 1989-1997; James LaPorte: 1997-2010

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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