Instructional Design

Change the World by Inventing New Tools

By Zachary Fruhling

Many of the people who ushered in the personal computer revolution in the 1970s and 1980s, and subsequently internet culture in the 1990s and beyond, had ties to counterculture movements of the 1960s and early 1970s. For example, Steve Jobs was a reader of the Whole Earth Catalog, a print periodical containing helpful articles and information about useful tools for sustainable living.

The emphasis on tools had a profound impact on Steve Jobs, who realized that technology can be thought of as tools for the mind, with the effect of amplifying our uniquely human mental abilities to achieve new levels of efficiency and creativity. Indeed, Steve Jobs called the personal computer a “bicycle for our minds,” since the bicycle as a tool similarly increases the efficiency of human mobility:

So new digital tools increase our efficiency and creative powers, but they also have a transformative power and a world-changing effect. This is because the transformative power of tools is cumulative and exponential. People use new tools to invent even better tools, to be even more efficient and even more creative.

With any given set of tools, a status quo emerges as best practices for those tools become codified into “rules” and “standards.” But when new tools are invented, the game is changed, new forms of creativity emerge, rules are rewritten, and the world is again transformed. Whether the printing press, the telegraph, the invention of radio, the personal computer, or the internet, the progress of the world can be measured and punctuated by the development of new tools.

The same is true in the world of content development. Think of the progression from “movable type” to “word processing,” to “desktop publishing,” to simple HTML-based web-pages, to “multimedia,” to the highly interactive and immersive content experiences that we know today. Each of these stages of content development was fueled by the development of new content development tools to increase the efficiency and empower the creativity of others.

So what does this mean for us as educators, content developers, instructional designers, and tool builders? This quick history lesson in the progression of technology in the industrial and information ages tells me that the most efficient way to make maximum impact on the content development world is for us to be tool-builders, developing new authoring and content development tools and processes that enable ourselves and others to produce massively engaging, maximally effective, truly modern learning experiences with world-changing and industry-changing potential.

Zachary Fruhling is an instructional designer, online educational content author and developer, educational technologist, philosophy instructor, poet, and podcaster with nearly 20 years of experience in higher education and educational content development. See Zachary's website at

    You may also like to read

    Tags: , , , , , , ,