The past 20 years have provided the following intellectual and technological advances which could form the basis for an applied or "engineering" science of education—that is, a science of instructional design. These new intellectual and technological tools could make possible substantial advances in the design and delivery of effective instruction at a time when the need for more teachers and better instruction is critical.
Advances in cognitive science give us a new and more precise understanding of the knowledge we need to teach, and they give us new and more sophisticated techniques for programming computers. Cognitive science, a relatively new field, has developed primarily from the combined interests of psychologists using computers to model the complex phenomena of human reasoning and computer scientists seeking ways to use a computer to respond flexibly from a collection of stored knowledge, rather like a human does, instead of simply following the steps of a predefined program.
Advances in technology give us, at reasonable cost, machines sufficiently powerful to use techniques from the cognitive and computer sciences. Machines at costs currently around $1,000 to $3,000 are sufficiently powerful to run programs reflecting the insights of cognitive science, and the costs of powerful computers continue to decrease.
Twenty years of experience in using computers as an educational medium gives us enough command of that medium to apply it effectively. The computer is a novel instructional communication medium. Every medium requires experience for optimal use. (Television of 40 years ago now appears awkward and naive compared with the elegance of today's best programs.)
The desperate need for better school instruction in mathematics and science provides an opportunity for technology to take a more central role in the delivery of instruction.
Particularly in mathematics and in the physical sciences, schools have difficulty attracting and retaining talented teachers, who often have other appealing career possibilities. The current rate at which teachers are being trained is very small. In the foreseeable feature, there will be only a small fraction of the number of qualified teachers needed to educate the technically literate work force that is so important to our nation.
There is a need, and an opportunity, to attract and train good scientific talent to apply cognitive science and technology to the solution of educational problems.
Although the field of educational research has always involved fascinating and socially important problems, it has historically had difficulty in attracting top quality research talent. The intellectually-exciting developments listed in the preceding paragraphs are making this field more appealing to many of our best young researchers.