Continua, Conversations, Content Delivery

Continuum of INstruction Delivery


Instructional delivery methods can still be a pretty divisive issue (sadly) and I’ve written before (as well as others) about the dualistic thinking that often clouds these discussions. Thus, it’s no small task for faculty developers to remain largely agnostic toward instructional delivery methods and associated technologies while facilitating productive discussions around best-practices. One tactic I’ve employed  lately to combat dualism is to introduce these topic via simple continua. For example see my “Clark-McLuhan Continuum“, “Collaborative Technologies Continuum“, “Large Classes Coffee Continuum“, or the presentation below on hybrid/online course design. (For a decidedly deeper discussion on the role of continua in the philosophy of science, see Lewin’s 1931 masterpiece entitled “The Conflict Between Aristotelian and Galileian Modes of Thought in Contemporary Psychology.”)

Obviously simply drawing a line does not an open, productive conversation make, but it can communicate three important things to instructors: (1) apart from sheer negligence, we consider your current teaching approach/philosophy valid and acceptable; (2) best-practices don’t come as templates or scripts, the best are “ways of thinking” about creating solutions that fit with your unique pedagogical challenges/opportunities and; (3) improvements are incremental, iterative, and theoretically have no end. Not coincidentally, these three points match with three innate needs (relatedness, autonomy, and competence) the satisfaction of which is required for motivation and proper self-regulation as described by self-determination theory.

  • Relatedness (feelings of security and belonging in the social environment): A continuum creates one big, non-hierarchical ‘ingroup’ as everyone can orient themselves on the line thwarting the ingroup/outgroup or us/them dichotomy that can often arise. It doesn’t matter if you’re adjunct or tenured, teaching online or a devoted FTF lecturer, you can join others on a line — a line that, when framed correctly, can convey the shared goal of “teaching students well.” While this may seem very small and subtle, empirical evidence suggests that such conservative social psychological interventions can have profound impacts on relatedness, motivation, and performance (see e.g., “Mere Belonging“, a post I wrote, or my own research in this area).
  • Autonomy (the perception of control over one’s own actions): A continuum also gives instructors’ control over the improvement process by providing ways of thinking and options instead of prescriptions. Even some of the best instructors and educational technologists have found that their overly prescriptive advice doesn’t always have the desired effect.
  • Competence (feeling of accomplishment that is derived from effective functioning): Finally, a continuum gives every instructor something to move toward in their pedagogy and an incremental pathway to get there. Baby steps are completely acceptable and improvement is incremental and iterative. This not only provides pathways for developing competence, but also squares with the development of mastery goals and an incremental (as opposed to fixed) mindset championed by Carol Dweck and others.


I recently used the continuum pictured above and the presentation below to start a discussion on how best to begin intentionally supporting alternate instructional delivery methods on a large scale. At many institutions these discussions started well over a decade ago, while in places like mine we’re still starting from square one or starting from a place where most cows are out of the barn with little strategic guidance for them.


Additional Resources:

  • Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. D. (2008). Blended learning in higher education. Framework, principles, and guidelines. San Francisco, John Wiley & Sons.
  • Picciano, A. G., & Dziuban, C. (2007). Blended learning: Research perspectives. Sloan Consortium.