I believe that we will see no real innovation, no fundamental change, in post-secondary education, at least from within, unless all instructors have basic training in teaching at a post-secondary level.

I was involved in developing a post-graduate certificate in technology-based distributed learning which later morphed into a full Master in Educational Technology at UBC. Both of these though were optional programs – you don’t need these qualifications to teach in post-secondary education. And as a result, most of the students in these programs are not tenured faculty in post-secondary education.

However, let’s suppose we had a benevolent dictatorship (some would argue we have that already in Canada) and he/she mandated that all post-secondary instructors must be qualified before they can teach in universities or colleges. What would such a program look like? Here are my thoughts on this.

Any training program is a balance between the minimum that a learner needs to know to operate effectively and the time available for training. A full one year master’s program will obviously cover much more ground than an eight week part-time program. Initial training does not have to be perfect and satisfy all requirements, because I see professional development as a continuous process throughout one’s career. I will concentrate here on what I consider the minimum that an instructor needs to know to teach effectively in post-secondary education (assuming that they already have a good knowledge base in the subject area):

  • epistemology: understanding different kinds of knowledge, for instance the difference between objectivism (often reflected in the teaching of science and engineering) and the social construction of knowledge; a discussion of the nature of networked knowledge. Recognizing that there are differences in beliefs in how knowledge is validated and an understanding that there are different perspectives on this will provide a foundation for choosing appropriate teaching strategies in different domains of knowledge (science or arts, for instance);
  • the biological basis of learning: a basic introduction to how the brain works, particularly regarding memory, cognition, and emotions (especially motivation); this will become important in interpreting the emerging field of brain research and learning
  • learning theories (linked to epistemology), such as behaviourism, cognitivism, the social construction of knowledge, and possibly connectivism
  • the design of teaching: applying theory to practice: this would include needs assessments related to learner differences, an introduction to instructional design, defining learning outcomes and objectives, learner activities (especially around the social construction of knowledge) and the link between learning outcomes, knowledge representation (see below), and assessment; using open content; course evaluation methods; different types of courses (face-to-face, blended, distance); and an introduction to course and program planning
  • learning technologies: this would start with an assessment of the instructor’s current IT skills and up-skilling where necessary; the relationship between technology and knowledge representation; functions and structures of learning management systems and web 2.0 tools; relationship between different technologies and theories of learning; strategies for media and technology selection
  • project work: designing, delivering and evaluating a course

Each of these areas would be worth the equivalent of three credits except the project, which would be worth six credits, and together would lead to a post-graduate certificate or diploma in post-secondary teaching (21 credits in all). Thus the program would be completed in under a year of full-time study, preferably as part of a graduate program.

To obtain a master degree in post-secondary teaching, the learner would need to add three elective courses (making 30 credits) as follows:

  • electives: these might include a course on research in teaching and learning; on emerging technologies; on cultural and international issues in teaching and learning; on planning and managing courses; on the application of a particular technology tool; on teaching strategies for a particular subject discipline; or other topics of choice by the learner as independent study.

All programs would be available online, or face-to-face, or in a blended mode. There would be at least one institution in every state or province licensed to offer the program, and the program would be nationally recognised and a condition of employment as an instructor in post-secondary education.

So over to you. What would you include? Do you disagree with what I have included? Could you think of a more imaginative way to provide training?

And yes, I realise that this will never happen: who needs training in teaching anyway? Can’t anyone do this?


  1. Thanks, Tony B. for a challenging article but perhaps Tony R.’s response equates with mine. I feel that the question should be rephrased as, “I believe that we will see no real innovation, no fundamental change, in post-secondary education, at least from within, unless all TEACHERS have APPROPRIATE training in TECHNOLOGIES at a post-secondary level.”

    I must insist that it is essential that we see a revolution in pedagogies which, in turn, will demand the use of the tools which we are presently exploring. Perhaps the first stage would be to re-classify ‘instructors’ as ‘teaching assistants’ with an appropriate reduction in pay?

    The present malaise in thinking that “We’ve always done it this way – why should we change?” is not only a problem of post-Secondary education. It seems to me that the vast majority of teachers still reflect the methodologies of their own teachers of previous decades. (The sage on the stage etc)

    One simple example is that of the takeup of IWBs in HE. – I’ve yet to see a small-group presentation to HE students where the IWB has been used intelligently – invariably the only technology used being the flip-chart.

    Perhaps one area that I cannot find in your bulleted list, ‘the minimum that an instructor needs to know to teach effectively in post-secondary education.’ is that of assessment strategies. Please see my post at: http://efoliointheuk.blogspot.com/2010/04/e-assessment-some-timely-notes.html

    Ray T

  2. Many thanks for a great comment, Ray

    With respect to assessment, I thought I had covered that with ‘the link between learning outcomes, knowledge representation, and assessment.’ Too condensed, I realise now -it needs unpacking, but I totally accept your point.

  3. All teachers – k-12 & beyond, using IT or not, should be thoroughly versed all of that. Why limit it to post secondary – should be dealing with highly autonomous learners by then who have a good grasp these matters as they pertain to themselves.

    K-6 teachers grounded in the knowledge implicit in the list would support the evolution of autonomous learners – so much less groundwork for teachers in the post secondary sector.

    And I have seen an IWB used with great intelligence in infant grades.

  4. As an Australian Vocational Education and Training facilitator in blended learning, and student undertaking a Masters program, I am very much aware of the levels of competency of academics “teaching or instructing” in higher education.

    I am currently undertaking an MBA subject, a Services and Marketing course, where the PhD instructor is presenting a delivery style completely using the “death by” powerpoint (basic technology)delivery medium. The instructor read word for word all slides. This is in contrast to the marking criteria for which is applied to students presentations for this course. Every rule in instructional technique has been ignored. When the hierarchy of the University were approached, the students are informed that this is the best quality instruction you will get and we are proud of our standards. This is from a leading University.

    How do academic leaders like TB compete with this level of institutional practice in influencing change? Unfortunately you are right Tony, we will never see it change, well not in my lifetime anyway.

    We have all experienced this, and it might be the time to introduce minimum requirements for facilitators in higher education, similar to those required at the Australian TAFE / Registered Training Organisation level.

    It would not be unreasonable to expect that instructors require a minimum of 12 credits (Grad Cert) to deliver an undergraduate in their first year and linked to professional development, 24 credits (Grad Dip) second year on, 36 credits (Masters) for delivery of Masters programs. Another incentive would be linking these qualifications to pay scales, ie you cannot progress from the bottom scale until you have met the “academic instructional” requirements ie Grad Cert / Dip / Masters in Education / Technology.

    To deliver “recognised” qualifications at the Vocational Education and Training level in Australia you need a minimum of the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, which in my opinion could equate to at least an academic Grad Dip level qualification. It certainly equates to status at the Grad Cert level of a Bachelor of Adult and Vocational Teaching qualification now.

    This could easily be accommodated in Australia through a Recognition of Current Competency process and dare I say it, assessed by leading Vocational Education and Training facilitators. The Australian VET system has a number of excellent practitioners in several fields in which we can draw expertise from within this country. The challenge would be in gaining acceptance that real practical skills have a place in our academic institutions.

    There are other good examples throughout the world. It is academic after all.

    A great, well thought through article Tony.
    Chris A

  5. Hi, Minh

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, I agree that if k-12 teachers had this as their pre-service training curriculum, it would make it much easier for universities.

    However, k-12 teachers must be accredited to teach, so I guess my question is: why are they not getting this in their B.Ed degrees?

    The problem is that many professors in Faculties of Education are even more behind the rest of their colleagues in understanding the changes that are occurring in the outside world, and are still teaching for a world that is technology-free. Unless we get the Faculty of Ed professors also trained in the ‘new’ curriculum, the training of k-12 teachers is not likely to change, either.

  6. It would be splendid if ALL teachers, K-20 and those who teach in govt and companies too were familiar with and keen on those topics. Many of us have been exhorting in that direction for years.

    Where I differ is in thinking that the way to go is with courses that distinguish between theory and practice, as yours did. Let’s start with the end in mind. More interaction between students in coming up with solutions. Better research skills using existing and tech based resources. More authentic assessments. Better tracking of individual progress and transparency about that progress. Distinctions between what must be known by heart and what can be aided via technology or slips of paper or on demand knowledge bases…

    If we start with outcomes, like those listed just above, then we can think about how to help educators get there. Classes would not be my top method. Coaches maybe. Lots of worked examples. Action learning through projects. And expectations and inspections. Yup, we change the selection and assessment system to match those ends.


  7. I’d like to vote for information skills: finding, evaluating, organising and using information effectively.

    This probably lies between ‘learning theories’, ‘design of teaching’ and ‘learning technologies’.

    It’s a set of skills best acquired in pursuit of other learning but which nevertheless is essential; therefore we need teachers to be skilled ‘information workers’ to more easily pass on these skills to learners.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here