Instructional Design’s Beginnings
So I was very interested to learn recently that instructional design’s history can be traced more than a century into the past. It’s amusing now to read how the “experts” of the time thought so highly of radio, “motion pictures,” and audio-visual equipment. In the early 1930s, many “techies” of the time were certain that radio would revolutionize education. Even earlier, in 1913, one Thomas Edison envisioned the influence of film. He said, “Books will soon be obsolete in the schools…. It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture. Our school system will be completely changed in the next ten years.” Either Edison was a bit over-anxious, or perhaps the rest of the world just couldn’t keep pace with his vision.
Even more intriguing to me was the big leap instructional design took — in the form of training films — during World War II. The U.S. Army Air Force was said to have produced more than 450 training films and purchased 55,000 film projectors to get a large amount of training delivered in a relatively short period of time. It was estimated that there were over four million showings of training films to military personnel in just a two-year period. Was all of that training successful? Well, at the end of the war, here is what the German Chief of General Staff had to say: “We had everything calculated perfectly except the speed with which America was able to train its people. Our major miscalculation was in underestimating their quick and complete mastery of film education.”
That kinda gives you an extra sense of pride to be working in the training and development field, and to be an American! I served in the Air Force and I was not aware of this bit of history, and how the military was, many decades ago, so instrumental in moving the T&D field forward.
Reiser, R. (1987). A History of Instructional Design and Technology. In R. Reiser & J. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (pp. 17-34). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.