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Instructional technology is a field in which emergent technologies combined with current trends in psychology and learning theory are applied toward improving job training and performance as well as meeting educational challenges. The rapidly changing educational or training needs of an institution or company are met through systematic processes of learning and instruction that incorporate technologies such as computers, teleconferencing, podcasts, software and interactive media. Instructional technologists are typically responsible for the design of instruction, management of instructional resources, settings, products and events and the evaluation of instructional programs.
The origins of instructional technology are debatable but the contemporary application can be traced back to World War II when it became necessary to train a large labor and military force quickly and efficiently. The United States military employed instructional films, standardized tests and manuals when training soldiers. A similar strategy was used to train the large number of new factory workers.
The analysis of the specific needs and goals of the target group of learners is one of the primary tasks of instructional technology. Once the needs and goals have been identified, the most appropriate learning system is selected. In many cases, it is necessary to develop a new learning system entirely from existing theory and technologies like software applications, teleconferencing and podcasting.
After the learning system has been designed, the instructional technologist implements it. This may involve running an employee training session with a software application, helping a teacher learn how to make a webpage or use a computer, or organizing a video chat between students in different countries. Distance learning is another increasingly common instructional technology that allows students to connect and interact with instructors despite physical distance.
Assessment and evaluation have also been affected by instructional technology. Educational software applications can be tailored to meet the needs of individual students and allow them to obtain instant feedback on their work and make their own corrections. The value of products and programs is also assessed by instructional technologists.
In some cases an instructional technologist will be responsible for managing and allocating technology resources as well as teaching and training. Resources can include a technology, media or learning center or computers, mp3 players and other equipment available. Project management and oversight are additional tasks for the instructional technologist.
There are several possible careers within the field of instructional technology such as teaching, training and developing software. The most common is in education where an instructional technologist may be a teacher who incorporates technology into his or her methodology or a staff member charged with helping instructors use technology. Additional career paths include developing educational software applications and training a company’s staff using technology. In addition to a college degree, those working in instructional technology can also pursue professional certifications in technology facilitation, technology leadership and other business and industrial certifications.