Brent G. Wilson (BS ’76, PhD ’82) loved growing up in the Bay area of Northern California. He loved Bob Dylan and identified with the idealism and independence of his generation. “[I] had high hopes and high aspirations for a better world,” Wilson shares. Unlike many of his peers, however, Wilson was also blessed to grow up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He loved to go to the Oakland Temple to watch the pageants and sing in choirs. Wilson also remembers solidifying his faith and learning at the “Know Your Religion” events in the area, a version of education week where Latter-day Saint leaders and public figures (like Elaine Cannon, Steven Covey, and George Pace) would come to share their thoughts on Gospel topics. “I would just go and soak it up,” Wilson says. These wonderful experiences not only boosted his faith, but inspired him to serve a mission in Spain.
On returning from his mission, Wilson decided to go to BYU. Despite some reservations about “Utah culture,” Wilson enjoyed BYU, and found a community within the psychology department. Initially he was interested in clinical psychology, but when he was given the chance to work with the instructional psychology program, he found his passion. Wilson says, “I was thrilled to have some kind of work that would grow me, stretch me academically.” He discovered a love for studying “how people learn, and how instruction works in education.” Directly after receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology, he started and completed BYU’s doctoral program in instructional psychology. Wilson says, “My initial fuel was what makes good instruction. How do you teach and learn in a really effective and powerful way? And technology, I [see] as a means for helping that happen.”
Wilson is a leader in the fields of instructional design and information and learning technologies. He teaches at the University of Colorado Denver, where he crafts and teaches courses on learning processes, information technologies, and online learning. Wilson is well-known for his one-on-one involvement with students and fellow teachers. He is one of the most widely-cited and influential thinkers in his discipline, and his book Constructivist Learning Environments: Case Studies in Instructional Design is becoming a classic in instructional design literature. Wilson has also published two other books and over 80 other works.
The youthful independence he learned growing up in California is apparent in his work; rather than shutting out new technology like video games, Wilson embraces and advocates experiential models for classroom learning. Wilson says, “Presently my field is at a crossroads. Old models can't keep up with the choices young people have for learning and communicating. Our efforts to control and repress these out-of-school tools and practices only make school more frustrating and out of touch. With some collaborators, I am exploring an aesthetic or experience-based approach to technology and education. In the same way that games can be extremely engaging through constant activity toward goals—we are developing a framework for approaching instruction from the learner's experiential point of view—from the inside out rather than the outside looking in.”
Wilson is even more passionate about his family and pastimes than he is about instructional design. When he’s not at work, Wilson enjoys reading books and plays with his wife, making any kind of music (he plays the guitar, piano, and a little banjo), hiking and biking around the Boulder Flatirons, watching the Denver Broncos, and traveling—especially to visit his kids in Salt Lake and Thailand. And he still listens to Bob Dylan.