The criminal justice profession is increasing demands that university graduates have not only the requisite professional knowledge, but also the ability to apply that knowledge to working scenarios. With that increasing demand comes the challenge for educators to find new and engaging ways in which learners can incorporate what they have learned in practical applications. One of the challenges for educators is stating the universal criminal justice learning objectives in a way that the objectives become performance indicators. This integration of academic and practical education can provide the learner with increased abilities to think like practicing professionals and use their criminal justice knowledge in ways that are directly related to scenario-based problem solving. Learning technologies now enable educators to improve distance learning programs through the use of scenario-based software that allows learners to apply recently acquired knowledge to solving workplace scenarios.
The criminal justice discipline has a long tradition in higher education. Early efforts by colleges and universities focused primarily on criminal law and criminology. The driving force to expand criminal justice programs came with the efforts to professionalize the field in part due to the events of the 1960’s and the subsequent Supreme Court rulings in response to police behavior. The 1960’s were a time of transition for higher education criminal justice programs. The recommendations from President Johnson’s Crime Commission and corresponding funding programs such as the Law Enforcement Education Program (LEEP) were behind many of the changes. Federal funding of programs provided an opportunity for large numbers of criminal justice students to attend college. To meet this new student demand higher education institutions either created new programs or expanded already existing criminal justice curricula. Traditionally there has been a disconnect between what has been considered knowledge and training. A long-running struggle with the criminal justice educators has been making choices between the broader emphasis of the liberal education philosophy and that of the practical application aspect of the profession.
This is not to say that the development of criminal justice programs in higher education has not been successful. These programs have likely resulted in a vastly more informed community in terms of criminal justice concepts and issues as a result of the many learners who have enrolled in any criminal justice course as part of their educational experience. In the article in the Journal of Criminal Justice Education’s “Higher education and law enforcement career paths: Is the road to success paved by degree?” it suggest that currently over fifty percent of the police officers in the United States have at least some post-secondary education (Polk & Armstrong, 2001).
It can be argued that the liberal education philosophy component of the criminal justice discipline has neglected to address that component of learning that addresses the ability to do or perform. This issue has not gone unrecognized by educators and government agencies that have a vested interest in the development of the criminal justice discipline in higher education. Increasingly, there has been more emphasis on assessing criminal justice programs and developing means by which program goals can be linked to the profession’s performance objectives (Kuykendall, 1977). In 1994 the U.S. Department of Justice sponsored a publication aimed specifically at developing performance measures for criminal justice programs. The handbook was “designed to allow the program designer to move from the broadest and most universal criminal justice goals to the most narrow performance indicators” (Hatfield, 1994, pp. 4).
Criminal justice professionals must have a thorough knowledge of the laws, rules and other operating principles under which they must perform their duties. Training has traditionally addressed those “hands-on” skills which under ideal conditions would incorporate both academic and technical applications. What has been noted is that a majority of police training has relied on a lecture-based methodology which incorporates little or no time for using what was learned in practical applications (Schafer, Boyd & Youngs, 2006).