Why Does Instruction Matter?

If you are an Instructor, or a beneficiary of Instruction, you intuitively know the importance and value of Instruction. But have you ever systematically analyzed Instruction’s strategic purpose; its top-most goal?

Understanding the strategic purpose of which you are a part is a necessity in any human endeavor: especially when it comes to educating the next generation. We all do a better job if we have figured out the overall strategy. Think about the value of informing soldiers about the overall mission before telling them their role.

If you have not thought about the strategic goal of Instruction, and you are using Instruction as a means of teaching, coaching or training others you should consider proving to yourself what Instruction is, before delving into the specifics of how it works, or how to apply its principles, or what kind of Instruction is more appropriate in a given set of circumstances.

A definition is always helpful as a starting point, and a generally accepted one is this: “Instruction is the practice of creating instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing.”

But what I would like to help explore is more than a definition – I would like to answer this question: What is the strategic objective of Instruction?

My first premise is that all activities have a strategic purpose; the question is whether we know or are even aware of that strategic purpose. My second premise is that thinking about and identifying the strategic purpose of something should be a vital first principle of any human activity.

So, think of the strategic or top-most goal as the ‘What.’ If a practitioner cannot identify what something does and clearly articulate its purpose then trust from other participants in the endeavor and good results will be harder to come by.

No project ever gets far without the strategic ‘What’ being clearly identified, as well as a series of complementary tactical steps - the ‘How’ - without which the strategy remains unattainable.

How does one go about identifying the strategic purpose of anything? The identification of the strategic goal and the supporting tactics can only be discovered by critically thinking about the issue. And a really good way to start is by asking why it matters.

To answer the question about why it matters, the best place to start critically thinking about any issue is 30,000 feet up. The bird’s eye view allows us to “zoom out” on an issue, ensuring we first see and take into account the surroundings or context of the issue, before “zooming in.”

If a commander planning an assault only sees the lie of the land at his own eye-level from at most six feet above the ground, even with binoculars, most information about the true contours of the battlefield will elude him. There is a reason why hot air balloons made their appearance on the field of battle very soon after being seen as mere entertaining curiosities floating above Paris in 1783: they revealed the context of the battle.

So, the obvious next question is this: By what means can one discover the strategic purpose – the topmost goal - of Instruction, and thereby identify the tactics necessary to accomplishing that strategic purpose?

As I have said the answer is critical thinking. And critical thinking is all about questioning. The key is to ask and answer questions beginning with these six words: WHO. WHAT. WHY. WHERE. WHEN and HOW.

STEP ONE. Go up in the balloon by beginning with the “zoom-out” questions. The questions that identify the context, hierarchy or taxonomy of Instruction before drilling down. Here goes.

Q. WHAT is Instruction and learning a part of?
A. Those activities which educate, instruct and impart knowledge or skill.
Q. WHAT are those activities which educate, instruct and impart knowledge or skill a part of?
A. The human body of knowledge.

STEP TWO. Now you have “zoomed out” and established the context of Instruction in its correct hierarchical position: namely, methods that help transmit the human body of knowledge. It is time to “zoom in.”

Again, the methodology is the same. First, ask and answer as many questions as you can beginning with the words WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHERE, WHEN and HOW.
Here is an example of how it could work. (Note, your questions and answers might differ and, since we are dealing in a subjective area, your conclusion might be different but equally valid. It’s the process that matters.)

Q. WHO benefits from Instruction?
A. The stakeholders in schools (students, families, teachers and society-at-large.
Q. WHO is responsible for the Instructional process?
A. Civic leaders and schools.

Q. WHAT is the purpose of Instruction?
A. To facilitate the transmission or sharing of existing knowledge.
Q. WHAT is the value of transmitting or sharing existing knowledge?
A. The need for society to survive and evolve.

Q. WHY is Instruction important?
A. Society is changing rapidly making the transfer of knowledge more important and more difficult.
Q. WHY is the transfer of knowledge more difficult?
A. The volume of data is increasing exponentially, and more difficult to decipher.

Q. WHERE is Instruction most valuable or important?
A. Wherever competition for resources exists.
Q. WHERE should Instruction be implemented?
A. Wherever change is a constant and obstacles to success exist.

Q. WHEN should Instruction be deployed?
A. Whenever change is a constant and problems need to be solved.

Q. HOW should Instruction be deployed?
A. Optimally, by identifying and implementing the necessary tactical steps.

STEP THREE. Go back over the questions and answers above and highlight the handful of words or phrases that stand out as intuitively most important in formulating a strategic stamen: the top-most goal of Instruction.
For example:

  • Instruction is to impart knowledge or skill
  • The human body of knowledge
  • The four stakeholders
  • Sharing of existing knowledge
  • The need for all entities - society and individuals - to survive and evolve
  • Change is happening rapidly making the transfer of more important and more difficult
  • The volume of data is increasing exponentially

STEP FOUR. Summarize the highlighted words and phrases into a coherent paragraph beginning with the words “The strategic purpose of Instruction is………….” (Like a poem the goal is to convey the most with the fewest words.)

For example, “The strategic purpose of Instruction is to systematically share knowledge with a view to optimizing the stakeholder’s interests.”

Your questions, answers, and strategic statement may be different and no less valid. The importance lies in the process of thinking critically and strategically.

In this editorial, I have used the Terego Enterprise Training Method http://teregoenterprisetraining.com/ to methodically analyze an issue. To see more detailed examples of exactly how this method works click on the link and register for a free demonstration.

Alex TeregoAlex Terego  After 40 successful years in the hi-tech business, during which he participated in all phases of computing, beginning with IBM and culminating in selling his voice mail company, Alex became an early thought-leader in 21st Century skills development. He developed his Terego  Method™ when teaching Critical Thinking at the Thunderbird School of Global Management and the Eller Graduate School of Business at the University of Arizona.

The program is now available at no cost for schools. Click to see this narrated video It is an investment of seven minutes of your time to discover how you can teach students to think for themselves and in teams.

Follow me on Twitter @alex_terego

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