Psychologists, designers, educationalists, and many professors around the world work on improving the quality of education because a lot depends on the education of a whole generation. The resources a teacher uses while teaching play a role in how students learn. Motivation, stimulation, retention, interest, actionable learning, etc. can vary based on how the act of teaching occurs.
In this article, I’ll be covering how the teachers of tomorrow can leverage digital interactions and technology to facilitate learning. Traditionally speaking, we are talking about teaching aids and instructional materials.
If you want to know WHY these help in learning, you can check out the psychology and neuroscience behind it.
Table of Contents
Teaching aids and Instructional materials
Teaching aids (TAs): Teaching aids are objects (such as a book, picture, or map) or device (such as a DVD or computer) used by a teacher to enhance or enliven classroom instruction (Merriam-Webster). They could be audiovisual teaching aids such as videos and guest lectures or tactile like 3D models.
Instructional materials (IMs): Instructional materials are defined as resources that organize and support instruction, such as textbooks, tasks, and supplementary resources (adapted from Remillard & Heck, 2014). It refers to the human and non-human materials and facilities that can be used to ease, encourage, improve and promote teaching and learning activities. They are whatever materials used in the process of instruction (IGI global). The great Soviet encyclopedia defines IMs as educational resources used to improve students’ knowledge, abilities, and skills, to monitor their assimilation of information, and to contribute to their overall development and upbringing.
What are Teaching Aids?
Broadly speaking, any device that helps teach can be called a teaching aid. These devices can be traditional items such as blackboards and flannel boards as well as modern devices such as tablets and projectors. Scientific tools such as telescopes and microscopes could also be used as teaching aids in a given context. Two overarching common factors between most teaching aids: mediums that promote sensory engagement and stimulation.
Examples based on classification systems:
Non-electronic – Chalkboards, flip boards, slates, photos, telescopes,
Electronic – Powerpoint slideshows, videos, Augmented reality/Virtual reality goggles, AV-room equipment
Auditory: radios, tape recorders, CD players
Visual: Slides, projectors, digital screens
Audiovisual– Youtube content, Vines (yes, they are helpful), Ted Talks, Live streams, documentaries
Audiovisual and tactile – 3D models, plants, rocks, field visits
What are Instructional Materials?
Instructional materials are those items that assist the information aspect of teaching. Not teaching holistically. These could take the form of textbooks, worksheets, 3D models, charts, infographics, etc.
Instructional materials also include assessment and testing methods. Basically, any material, any information containing resources which that the teacher uses while instructing. Now testing materials don’t necessarily contain information, but they help the retention and learning of information, thus, they are instructional materials. Sometimes, they are a means to an end, the end being the assimilation of information.
Traditional resources: lectures, talks, writings, project rubrics, guidelines, textbook primers, reference books, extra-readings, teacher and student-created summaries, workbooks, supplementary material such as flashcards and charts
Digital media: Videos, photos, presentations
Open resources: Expert blogs, open-source journals, public databases, open courseware, forums
Testing resources: Standardized tests, classroom assignments, online submissions, quizzes, essays, collaborative projects
Key differences between Teaching aids and Instructional materials
As you’ll see in this article, TAs and IMs work together to reach teaching goals. However, the traditional separation of TAs and IMs is superficial and needs revision. It breaks down based on who uses a specific tool and how it is used. Dictionaries don’t define Instructional materials clearly. This term (IM) is largely restricted to the literature on specific pedagogies. In fact, the term ‘Instructional materials’ is used in the context of reaching course-based learning goals. IMs are specifically designed to be aligned with learning objectives and outcomes. Whereas teaching aids are not always designed to meet course-based goals. You might have guessed, the same object can be a TA or an IM.
Example 1: A teacher is using a book in the class, each student has a copy.
If a book is used as a course prescribed resource, it is an instructional material.
If the book is a student engagement activity (reading and discussing a story to build vocabulary) and isn’t a part of the syllabus, it would function as a teaching aid.
Example 2: if you are studying algae under a microscope.
A microscope would be an instructional material if a course-based learning goal is ‘using a microscope to study microscopic entities’.
However, a microscope would be a teaching aid for a theory class on algae. A teacher could use one to show students what it looks like in order to engage the class in learning about algae.
Traditionally speaking, teaching aids have been thought of as devices that can be used – white and blackboards, computers, calculators, projectors, slideshows, tape recordings, television, etc. They are tools that help the delivery of information. A TA isn’t information, or to put it in a different way, information is not directly embedded in a TA. But IMs, they often have information embedded in them. Resource books, worksheets, graphs, etc. are all IMs because of this embedding. However, tools such as microscopes are IMs if they are precisely aligned with a teaching objective.
Sometimes, graphic media can be used as both – infographics could be a teaching aid if they are consequential yet not a core teaching resource or they can be embedded within a book or used as a way to summarize a larger concept directly. Digital media is often considered as an Instructional material because information is embedded in it and it needs planning. This planning eventually is integrated into the coursework.
Incredible amounts of learning take place online. And thus, teachers have redesigned & repurposed their content for online delivery.
The need for teaching aids and instructional materials
- Conceptual knowledge requires examples, familiarity with the concept’s features, contexts, and engagement/experience. These tools directly help.
- Some academic subjects like biology or electronics can benefit students in useful ways if they know what the real-world counterparts to a theory are – circuits, tissue under a microscope, plants, etc. Such information sticks longer because the memory encoding for these concepts involves strong sensory and experiential components. The brain acquires the concept with multiple representations in a network- right from what the concept looks on paper to how it feels to the senses.
- Using youtube videos and discussing Ted talks puts dense information in a familiar context. Youtube is a part of human culture, so are memes, putting information in the context of the internet culture can motivate or change the perception of the so-called ‘boring’ topics.
- IMs and TAs also motivate students at the level of the classroom. This goes hand in hand with confidence (security that one can learn) as having materials is proof of accessing information. Having access can, at the very least, prime students to learn.
- Relying on general information on the internet can overwhelm students due to an inherent lack of direction and potential misinformation. This problem can be solved by designing IMs to accommodate snowballing around a topic, authority references, summarizing content or priming content like video overviews and infographics.
- The cost of implementing TAs and IMs is not trivial. However, improved teaching efficacy and learning efficacy can significantly lower the burden of learning course content. Teachers may save time, students may require lesser effort to achieve learning goals, and primary organizational resources would be better managed (manhours to pay for, classroom upkeep, scheduling). And even if it does cost the organization a little more, better learning would probably always be worth it.
- Testing and assessment not only helps to confirm the learning of content but it also helps improve the learning. Research has shown that being tested (the testing effect) can promote memory and conceptual understanding. Attempting worksheet exercises, quizzes, essays, etc. reinforce learning as well as create a hub for further self-motivated learning. Check out the 1st link in the articles listed below for referenced research insights.
- At the superficial level and the definition level, who wouldn’t want a lively class and learning experience?
Other articles you might find useful:
- Study habits for teachers to teach and students to use
- Inquiry-based learning: viability, research, and methods
- Why one should learn even though it is not needed
By fully utilizing these resources, you, as a teacher or a learning facilitator, can make your lessons rich and fun for your students!