Instructional aids are devices that assist an instructor in the teaching-learning process. Instructional aids are not self-supporting; they support, supplement, or reinforce what is being taught. In contrast, training media are generally described as any physical means that communicates an instructional message to students. For example, the instructor’s voice, printed text, video cassettes, interactive computer programs, part-task trainers, flight training devices, or flight simulators, and numerous other types of training devices are considered training media.
In school settings, instructors may become involved in the selection and preparation of instructional aids, but they often are already in place. For the independent instructor setting, the instructor may need to select and prepare instructional aids. Whatever the setting, instructors need to learn how to effectively use them.
Instructional Aid Theory
For many years, educators have theorized about how the human brain and the memory function during the communicative process. There is general agreement about certain factors that seem pertinent to understanding the use of instructional aids.
- During the communicative process, the sensory register of the memory acts as a filter. As stimuli are received, the individual’s sensory register works to sort out the important bits of information from the routine or less significant bits. Within seconds, what is perceived as the most important information is passed to the working or short-term memory where it is processed for possible storage in the long-term memory. This complex process is enhanced by the use of appropriate instructional aids that highlight and emphasize the main points or concepts.
- The working or short-term memory functions are limited by both time and capacity. Therefore, it is essential that the information be arranged in useful bits or chunks for effective coding, rehearsal, or recording. The effectiveness of the instructional aid is critical for this process. Carefully selected charts, graphs, pictures, or other well-organized visual aids are examples of items that help the student understand, as well as retain, essential information.
- Ideally, instructional aids should be designed to cover the key points and concepts. In addition, the coverage should be straightforward and factual so it is easy for students to remember and recall. Generally, instructional aids that are relatively simple are best suited for this purpose.
Reasons for Use of Instructional Aids
In addition to helping students remember important information, instructional aids have other advantages. When properly used, they help gain and hold the attention of students. Audio or visual aids can be very useful in supporting a topic, and the combination of both audio and visual stimuli is particularly effective since the two most important senses are involved. Instructors should keep in mind that they are often salesmen of ideas, and many of the best sales techniques that attract the attention of potential clients are well worth considering. One caution—the instructional aid should keep student attention on the subject; it should not be a distracting gimmick.
Clearly, a major goal of all instruction is for the student to be able to retain as much knowledge of the subject as possible, especially the key points. Numerous studies have attempted to determine how well instructional aids serve this purpose. Indications from the studies vary greatly—from modest results, which show a 10 to 15 percent increase in retention, to more optimistic results in which retention is increased by as much as 80 percent. [Figure 4-16]
Good instructional aids also can help solve certain language barrier problems. Consider the continued expansion of technical terminology in everyday usage. This, coupled with culturally diverse backgrounds of today’s students, makes it necessary for instructors to be precise in their choice of terminology. Words or terms used in an instructional aid should be carefully selected to convey the same meaning for the student as they do for the instructor. They should provide an accurate visual image and make learning easier for the student.
Another use for instructional aids is to clarify the relationships between material objects and concepts. When relationships are presented visually, they often are much easier to understand. For example, the subsystems within a physical unit are relatively easy to relate to each other through the use of schematics or diagrams. Symbols, graphs, and diagrams can also show relationships of location, size, time, frequency, and value. By symbolizing the factors involved, it is even possible to visualize abstract relationships.
Instructors are frequently asked to teach more and more in a smaller time frame. Instructional aids can help them do this. For example, instead of using many words to describe a sound, object, or function, the instructor plays a recording of the sound, shows a picture of the object, or presents a diagram of the function. Consequently, the student learns faster and more accurately, and the instructor saves time in the process.
Guidelines for Use of Instructional Aids
The use of any instructional aid must be planned, based on its ability to support a specific point in a lesson. A simple process can be used to determine if and where instructional aids are necessary.
- Clearly establish the lesson objective. Be certain of what is to be communicated.
- Gather the necessary data by researching for support material.
- Organize the material into an outline or a lesson plan. The plan should include all key points that need to be covered. This may include important safety considerations.
- Select the ideas to be supported with instructional aids. The aids should be concentrated on the key points. Aids are often appropriate when long segments of technical description are necessary, when a point is complex and difficult to put into words, when instructors find themselves forming visual images, or when students are puzzled by an explanation or description.
Aids should be simple and compatible with the learning outcomes to be achieved. Obviously, an explanation of elaborate equipment may require detailed schematics or mock-ups, but less complex equipment may lend itself to only basic shapes or figures. Since aids are normally used in conjunction with a verbal presentation, words on the aid should be kept to a minimum. In many cases, visual symbols and slogans can replace in-depth explanations. The instructor should avoid the temptation to use the aids as a crutch. The tendency toward unnecessarily distracting artwork also should be avoided.
Instructional aids should appeal to the student and be based on sound principles of instructional design. When practical, they should encourage student participation. They also should be meaningful to the student, lead to the desired behavioral or learning objectives, and provide appropriate reinforcement. Aids that involve learning a physical skill should guide students toward mastery of the skill or task specified in the lesson objective.
Instructional aids have no value in the learning process if they cannot be heard or seen. Recordings of sounds and speeches should be tested for correct volume and quality in the actual environment in which they will be used. Visual aids must be visible to the entire class. All lettering and illustrations must be large enough to be seen easily by the students farthest from the aids. Colors, when used, should provide clear contrast and easily be visible.
The usefulness of aids can be improved by proper sequencing to build on previous learning. Frequently, good organization and natural patterns of logic dictate the sequence. However, use of standardized materials, including a syllabus, is recommended. Sequencing also can be enhanced simply by using overlays on transparencies, stripping techniques on charts and chalk or marker boards, and by imaginative use of magnetic boards. Sequencing can be emphasized and made clearer by the use of contrasting colors.
The effectiveness of aids and the ease of their preparation can be increased by initially planning them in rough draft form. Revisions and alterations are easier to make at that time than after their completion. The rough draft should be carefully checked for technical accuracy, proper terminology, grammar, spelling, basic balance, clarity, and simplicity. Instructional aids should also be reviewed to determine whether their use is feasible in the training environment and whether they are appropriate for the students. [Figure 4-17]
In practice, the choice of instructional aids depends on several factors. Availability, feasibility, or cost may impose realistic limitations. The number of students in a class and the existing facilities are other considerations. In some school situations, the designers of the curriculum determine the use of instructional aids. In this case, the instructor may have little control over their use. On the other hand, an independent instructor may have considerable latitude, but limited resources. Often, instructors must improvise and adapt to the existing circumstances in order to incorporate quality instructional aids.