What can a past perspective tell us about learning experiences?

As many of you may know, in addition to my full-time gig in ID at The (trademark rejected) Ohio State University, I’m also a Ph.D. student in Learning Technologies.  As I’m finishing up my coursework and transitioning to candidacy, I’ve tried to take some time for reading. This reading is often targeted in the learning technology/education realm and in addition to research articles, I often like looking at books.

I thought I’d start with what I already have so this evening I took a browse in my living room looking at my bookshelf.   A former supervisor often would give me books from his office (he at one time had a Picasso painting on the floor, no joke).   While I appreciated these books, sadly, I often didn’t take the time to take a good look at them. This evening I pulled Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction by Ralph Tyler off my shelf and cracked it open.  I knew this was a gifted book from my previous supervisor due to the Half Price Books sticker on the cover (I’m pretty sure the place was his second home). I opened the cover to check the publication date, 1949. Flipping through the chapters I came across the chapter, How Can Learning Experiences Be Selected Which Are Likely to be Useful in Attaining These Objectives.  As I read the pages, not only did Tyler provide a definition for learning experiences but also general principles. I thought I’d share it with you in hopes of having a conversation about this.

According to Tyler, “the term learning experience refers to the interaction between the learner and the external conditions in the environment to which he can react. Learning takes place through the active behavior of the student; it is what he does that he learns, not what the teacher does.  It is possible for two students to be in the same class and for them to be having two different experiences.”  


A few things stand out to me in this definition:

  • There was no eLearning in 1949
  • I’m assuming “he” was a more general term for people

I’d also like to unpack this definition and share my internal inquisitive dialogue, specifically the external conditions the environment for the reaction.  Going back to my interest in learner engagement, I can see this translating the behavior involved in the learning experience. What are they doing? How is the learner an active participant?  What did these interactions look like? Reading further, Tyler suggests the teacher can “provide an educational experience through setting up an environment and structuring the situation so as to stimulate the desired type of reaction.”  Does this mean that learners can have different experiences in the same conditions?

Now let’s dive into Tyler’s general principles in selecting learning experiences:

#1: “For the given objective to be attained, a student must have experiences that give him an opportunity to practice the kind of behavior implied by the objective”

When I first read this one, I thought it may imply those pesky learning styles that some folks may still believe.  Tyler provides the context in authentic learning, how does this learning objective tie to a behavioral/ performance outcome? 

#2: “Learning experiences must be such that the student obtains satisfaction from carrying on the kind of behavior implied by the objectives”

This one was quite interesting too.  Again, I wonder what Tyler would think about all of the eLearning out there which has the learner constantly hitting next.  What Tyler meant about this one is to know your audience. Make the experience enjoyable. Don’t insult their intelligence. Don’t bore them to death.  

#3: “The reactions desired in the experience are within the range of possibility for the students involved”

Tyler’s intent with this one is the appropriate level.  How can you build experiences that are Goldilocks, just right for the learner? 

#4 “There are many particular experiences that can be used to attain the same educational objectives.

This one alludes to not doing the same thing over and over again.  Challenge the status quo in your learning experience. Keep the learner on their toes. 

#5: “The same learning experience will usually bring about several outcomes”

When learning experiences are crafted with care, outcomes are also multi-dimensional.  This is something I try to do with my work at OSU, I challenge faculty to think about the transferable skills students will get from their class.  What can they learn in this course that helps them in their future career path, no matter where they go?

This is the tip of the iceberg for this chapter as Tyler expands more on these concepts.  What do you think of this? Are Tyler’s perspectives still in line with instructional design?  Sound off below! 


One thought on “What can a past perspective tell us about learning experiences?

  1. Great summary Cara. The definition still holds strong. The variables that influence the learning outcomes have changed. I also agree where he states two different outcomes are possible in the same class – think about the wide array of personal experience people bring to the classroom!

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