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 learners. 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 be involved in the selection and preparation of instructional aids, but they often are already in place. An independent instructor may select or prepare instructional aids. Whatever the setting, instructors need to know how to use them effectively.

Instructional Aid Theory

There is general agreement about certain factors that seem pertinent to understanding the use of instructional aids.

  • Carefully selected charts, graphs, pictures, or other well-organized visual aids are examples of items that help the learner understand, as well as retain, essential information.
  • Ideally, instructional aids cover the key points and concepts.
  • The coverage should be straightforward and factual so it is easy for learners to remember and recall.
  • Generally, instructional aids that are relatively simple are best.

Reasons for Use of Instructional Aids

Properly used instructional aids help gain and hold the attention of learners. 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. One caution—the instructional aid should keep learner attention on the subject; it should not be a distracting gimmick.

Clearly, a major goal of all instruction is for the learner 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 1]

Instructional Aids and Training Technologies
Figure 1. Studies generally agree that measurable improvement in learner retention of information occurs when instruction is supported by appropriate instructional aids

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 learners, 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 learner as they do for the instructor. They should provide an accurate visual image and make learning easier.

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 learner gains knowledge faster and more accurately, and the instructor saves time in the process.

Guidelines for Use of Instructional Aids

The use of any instructional aid should be planned, based on its ability to support a specific point in a lesson. The following 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 learners 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 should be avoided.

Instructional aids should appeal to the learner and be based on sound principles of instructional design. When practical, they should encourage learner participation. They also should be meaningful to the learner, lead to the desired behavioral objectives, and provide appropriate reinforcement. Aids that involve mastering a physical skill should guide learners 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 should be visible to the entire class. All lettering and illustrations need to be large enough to be seen easily by the learners farthest from the aids. Colors should provide clear contrast.

While many instructional aids come with purchased material, the effectiveness of instructor-produced aids and the ease of their preparation can be increased by initially planning them in rough draft form. 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 learners. See the figure for a summary of the desired qualities of instructional aids. [Figure 2]

Instructional Aids and Training Technologies
Figure 2. Guidelines for effective instructional aids

Types of Instructional Aids

Some of the most common and economical aids are marker boards and supplemental print materials, including charts, diagrams, and graphs. Other aids include projected material, video, computer-based programs, and models, mock-ups, or cut-aways.

Marker Board

The marker board is a classroom tool for instructors. Its versatility and effectiveness provide several advantages for most types of instruction. First, the material presented can be erased, allowing the surface to be used again and again; and second, the boards serve as an excellent medium for joint learner-instructor activity in the classroom.

Supplemental Print Material

Print media, including photographs, reproductions of pictures, drawings, murals, cartoons, and other print materials are valuable supplemental aids. Charts, diagrams, and graphs are also in this category. Many of these items are suitable for long-term use on bulletin boards and in briefing areas. Pictures, drawings, and photographs are especially effective because they provide common visual imagery for both instructors and learners. In addition, they also provide realistic details necessary for visual recognition of important subject material. In many cases, this type of supplemental training media may be reproduced in a format for projection on a screen or other clear surface.

Enhanced Training Materials

Training syllabi represent enhanced training material and contain provisions for instructor endorsements and recordkeeping. Such syllabi not only present the course of training in a logical step-by-step, building block sequence, they contain provisions to remind both learners and instructors of critical regulatory training benchmarks which are approaching. When required endorsements and recordkeeping provisions are designed into training syllabi, it is much easier, from the instructor’s standpoint, to conduct required training, track learner progress, and certify records. The training record can be reviewed and the training status easily assessed in case the learner transfers to another school or instructor.

Another example of enhanced, instructor-oriented material for pilot training is a maneuvers guide or handbook which includes the ACS as an integral part of the description of maneuvers and procedures. From the beginning learners understand how to perform the maneuver or procedure and also become familiar with the performance criteria. The examiner for the Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) is required to ask four questions in each of the subject areas, which are required by the regulations to be taught. The examiner also is required to assign a practical project from each subject area. Individual maintenance instructors, as well as publishers, have compiled lists of typical questions and projects. Use of these questions and projects as part of the syllabus helps an instructor ensure that all subject areas for a particular class have been covered.

Projected Material

Whatever type of projected training aid used, it is essential for the content to be current and support the lesson. Use of projected materials requires planning and practice. The instructor should set up and adjust the equipment and lighting beforehand and then preview the presentation. During a classroom session, the instructor should provide learners with an overview of the presentation before showing it. After the presentation, the instructor should allow time for questions and a summary of key points.

Computers have changed the way information is presented to today’s learner. A laptop computer may be all that is needed for the one-on-one presentation. For groups, the instructor can tailor the presentation for the class and use a large screen or other viewing system.


Instructors need to follow some basic guidelines when using video. The presentation is not designed to replace the instructor. Prior planning will help determine the important points and concepts that should be stressed, either during the presentation or summary. Instructors should be available to summarize the presentation and answer any questions learners may have regarding content.

Interactive Systems

“Interactive” refers broadly to computer software that responds quickly to certain choices and commands by the user. A typical system consists of interactive material and a computer. With search-and-find features incorporated, the system is a powerful information source. The software may include additional features such as image banks with full color photos and graphics, as well as questions or directions which are programmed to create interactivity for learners as they progress through the course.

The questions or directions are programmed using a branching technique, which provides several possible courses of action for the user to choose in order to move from one sequence to another. For example, a program may indicate, “That was incorrect. Go back to … and try again.”

Computer-Assisted Learning (CAL)

As mentioned earlier, CAL has become a popular training delivery method. In its basic form, CAL is a combination of more than one instructional media, such as audio, text, graphics, and video (or film) usually shown on a PC.

With CAL, the roles of both learner and instructor change. Learners become more involved and instructors may no longer occupy a center-stage position in a typical classroom setting. Instead, instructors become supportive facilitators. As such, they serve as guides or resource experts and circulate among learners who are working individually or in small groups. This results in considerable one­on-one instructor-learner interaction. Thus, the instructor provides assistance, reinforcement, and answers for those who need it most.

In this situation, the CAL should still be considered as an add-on instructional aid to improve traditional classroom instruction. The instructor, although no longer the center of attention, continues to maintain adequate control over the learning environment to ensure learning objectives are being achieved. [Figure 3]

Instructional Aids and Training Technologies
Figure 3. In a computer-assisted learning environment, the instructor still ensures that learning objectives are being achieved

A more advanced application of computer-based training may involve less instructor control. For example, a laboratory-type environment may be configured with separate study areas for each learner. With this setup, the physical facility is usually referred to as a learning center or training center.

Learners in these centers are often monitored by a teacher’s aide or other trained personnel who can provide guidance, answer questions, and act as a conduit to the instructor who is responsible for the training. In this case, the responsible instructor needs to establish procedures to make sure the required training is accomplished, since he or she certifies learner competency at the end of the course.

Models, Mock-ups, and Cut-Aways

Models, mock-ups, and cut-aways are additional instructional aids. A model is a copy of a real object. It can be an enlargement, a reduction, or the same size as the original. The scale model represents an exact reproduction of the original, while simplified models do not represent reality in all details. Some models are solid and show only the outline of the object they portray, while others can be manipulated or operated.Although a model may not be a realistic copy of an actual piece of equipment, it can be used effectively in explaining operating principles of various types of equipment. Models are especially adaptable to small group discussions in which learners are encouraged to ask questions. A model is even more effective if it works like the original, and if it can be taken apart and reassembled. With the display of an operating model, the learners can observe how each part works in relation to the other parts. When the instructor points to each part of the model while explaining these relationships, the learners can better understand the mechanical principles involved. As instructional aids, models are usually more practical than originals because they are lightweight and easy to manipulate.

A mock-up is a three-dimensional or specialized type of working model made from real or synthetic materials. It is used for study, training, or testing in place of the real object, which is too costly or too dangerous, or which is impossible to obtain. The mock-up may emphasize or highlight elements or components for learning and eliminate nonessential elements.

Cut-aways, another type of model, are built in sections and can be taken apart to reveal the internal structure. Whenever possible, the various parts should be labeled or colored to clarify relationships.

Production and equipment costs are limiting factors to consider in developing and using models, mock-ups, and cut-aways. Depending on the nature of the representation, cost can vary. For instance, scale replicas are often very expensive. In general, if a two-dimensional representation will satisfy the instructor’s requirement, it should be used.