The Importance of Instructional Literacy

What is instructional literacy?

When I set out to write this post, I had no idea if the term had ever been used formally. So I googled it out of curiosity. And to my surprise, an article from American Libraries popped up, titled Build Your Own Instructional Literacy by Char Booth (April 30, 2010). My first thought: leave it to a librarian to come up with this kind of terminology. My second thought: great minds think alike!

Booth developed a four-part instructional literacy framework as follows (and taken directly from the article):

Reflective practice is the process of understanding and shaping your skills and abilities throughout the entire process, not just assessing your performance at the end of an interaction. Metacognition is the internal element of reflection, while collaboration is its external element.

Educational theory is evidence-based insight into teaching and learning, which consists of learning theory (how people synthesize information and create meaning from instruction), instructional theory (teaching methods in on-site and e-learning contexts), and curriculum theory (content knowledge specific to subjects and audiences).

Teaching technologies are the tools and media that facilitate learning in face to face, online, and blended instruction, as well as methods for evaluating and selecting them effectively.

Instructional design is a systematic and learner-focused method of integrating reflection, theory, and technology into the teaching and training process.

Educational theory, teaching technologies, and instructional design altogether form the basis of what is instructional design and technology. I believe reflective practice can only be done in the context of understanding those other parts of the framework.

While this framework does a good job of articulating instructional literacy, across the field of education, instructional practice often fails to reflect instructional literacy.

Examples of Where Instructional Practices Fail to Reflect Instructional Literacy
Example 1
Did you know that the widely popular and heavily used SAMR model has no basis in educational research? Read Dr. Jonas Linderoth’s open letter to Dr. Ruben Puentedura. Dr. Linderoth is a professor in the Department of Education, Communication and Learning at the University of Gothenburg. To be honest, the first time I heard of SAMR was in a webinar I was presenting on IDT skills in librarians. Dr. Linderoth’s criticism puts into words exactly how I feel about it.


Example 2
Generally speaking, MOOCs defy many of the design principles of good learning environments. Self-directed learning requires a level of motivation that many learners do not innately possess. That is why we are finding that a good number of MOOC takers are already degree holders. (I do think MOOCs hold promise in areas such as corporate training, professional development, informal learning, and as supplementary material for high school and college courses. But, they are quite expensive to develop, so it remains to be seen what will happen with them.)


Example 3
To date, much of the research on flipped learning has examined student perceptions rather than learning outcomes. That doesn’t mean flipped learning is bad per se, but the best instructional design for it is uncertain. Unfortunately, flipped learning is often limited to video lectures outside of the classroom and Q & A inside the classroom (that’s still pretty traditional in terms of learning, and does not reflect strong instructional literacy).

For me, instructional literacy goes beyond the four skill sets of Booth’s framework. Information literacy underlies instructional literacy. And librarians, being the information literate gurus that they are, should strive for evidence-based teaching practices. That means:

  • Becoming familiar with the language of instruction (the educational theory component of the framework).
  • Learning how theory looks when put into practice. Outside of formal education or professional development, there are research journals, such as Theory Into Practice and TechTrends that do just that.
  • Evaluating the qualifications (and authority) of professional development speakers. For example, a training course on instructional design should be taught by someone who is professionally trained as an instructional designer. I see a lot of peer training that is primarily based on the premise of “this is cool and it worked for me.”
  • Recognizing and utilizing the disciplinary specialties of different organizations. For example, AECT and ISTE are the authoritative organizations for instructional design and technology. ASCD is the authoritative organization for curriculum development. AERA is the leading organization for education research. That means that technology integration advice from ASCD might clash with technology integration advice from AECT (and knowing that AECT is more authoritative in that instructional area is essential).
  • Researching for evidence-based support of best practices in teaching and learning.

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Instructional Literacy

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