Educational technology

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1 Introduction

Educational technology, sometimes shortened to EduTech or EdTech, is a wide field. Therefore, one can find many definitions, some of which are conflicting. Educational technology as an academic field can be considered either as a design science or as a collection of different research interests addressing fundamental issues of learning, teaching and social organization. Educational technology as practice refers to any form of teaching and learning that makes use of technology. Nevertheless, there are a few features on which most researchers and practitioners might agree:

  1. Use of technology is principled: Technology means the systematic application of scientific knowledge to practical tasks. Therefore, educational technology is based on theoretical knowledge drawn from different disciplines (communication, education, psychology, sociology, philosophy, artificial intelligence, computer science, etc.) plus experiential knowledge drawn from educational practice.
  2. Educational technology aims to improve education. Technology should facilitate learning processes and increase performance of the educational system(s) as it regards to effectiveness and/or efficiency.

In this short introduction we will try to give a preliminary definition of the field.

1.1 Other definitions

Educational technology is a very wide field. Therefore one can find many definitions, some of which are conflicting.

  • Technology means the systematic application of scientific or other organized knowledge to practical task. Therefore, educational technology is based on theoretical knowledge from different disciplines (communication, psychology, sociology, philosophy, artificial intelligence, computer science, etc.) plus experiential knowledge from educational practise (Natalie Descryver)
  • Educational technology is the use of technology to improve education. It is a systematic, iterative process for designing instruction or training used to improve performance. Educational technology is sometimes also known as instructional technology or learning technology. (Wikipedia:Educational_technology)
  • The study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources. ([1])
  • A definition centered on its process: "A complex, integrated process involving people, procedures, ideas, devices, and organization, for analyzing problems, and devising, implementing, evaluating and managing solutions to those problems, involved in all aspects of human learning" ([2])
  • "One definition of Educational Technology is that it is a systematic, iterative process for designing instruction or training used to improve performance" (Encyclopedia of Educational Technology)
  • Lachance et al. (1980:183) also focus on the the process idea: la technologie éducative en tant que processus systématique intégrant les diverses fonctions du processus éducatif. Elle vise, d'une part, à analyser des problèmes reliés à l'enseignement et/ou à l'apprentissage et, d'autre part, à élaborer, implanter et évaluer des solutions à ces problèmes par le développement et l'exploitation des ressources éducatives (cited by Lapointe, 1991).
  1. Teaches with technology (uses technology as a tool)
  2. Primarily concerned with the narrow spectrum of information and communication technologies
  3. Primary goal: To enhance the teaching and learning process

Terminology issue: Educational technology is a field. A educational technology refers to a technology that is particularly suited for education plus its usage/range of applications maybe. See the educational technologies article and the category educational technologies.

See also: Instructional technology and elearning which sometimes are used as a synonym,s sometimes not.

1.2 Incomplete definitions

  • Technology that is used as tool in education ... it's not just technology
  • Field of education centered on the design and use of messages and physical support conditioning pedagogical situations and learning process. [3] ... it's not just conditioning

2 Goals of Educational Technology

Educational technology research always had an ambitious agenda. Sometimes it only aims at increased efficiency or effectiveness of current practise, but frequently it aims at pedagogical change. While it can be considered as a design science it also addresses fundamental issues of learning, teaching and social organization and therefore makes use of the full range of modern social science and life sciences methodology.

"Technology provides us with powerful tools to try out different designs, so that instead of theories of education, we may begin to develop a science of education. But it cannot be an analytic science like physics or psychology; rather it must be a design science more like aeronautics or artificial intelligence. For example, in aeronautics the goal is to elucidate how different designs contribute to lift, drag maneuverability, etc. Similarly, a design science of education must determine how different designs of learning environments contribute to learning, cooperation, motivation, etc." (Collins, 1992:24).

Technology is therefore both a tool and a catalyzer and it can become a medium through which change can happen.

Educational technologists would not therefore consider the computer as just another piece of equipment. If educational technology is concerned with thinking carefully about teaching and learning, then a computer has a contribution to make irrespective of its use as a means of implementation, for the design of computer-based learning environments gives us a new perspective on the nature of teaching and learning and indeed on general educational objectives. (O'Shea and Self: 1983: 59).

3 What is it about ?

Defining the field is both simple (e.g., see the definitions at the top) and difficult. There are a several perspectives.

3.1 From an instructional design perspective

Besides being a field of research, Educational Technology is synonymous for { Pedagogy, Learning, Instructional design, etc.} with technology and therefore also an engineering discipline, a design science or an craft (whatever you prefer).

In order to define educational technology we may ask ourselves what constitutes an instructional design and what disciplines look at these constituents.

The instructional design space

Even from a pure "engineering perspective," it doesn't make much sense to talk about Educational Technology just in terms of Instructional design models or instructional design methods. An instructional designer also feels concerned by more fundamental disciplines like general learning theory or pedagogical theory. These theories provide interesting insights on issues like the relation between learning type or learning level and appropriate pedagogic strategy, how affect and motivation may influence the learning process, what multimedia design can learn from theories on human information processing or cognitive load, why metacognition and collaborative learning is important etc.

3.2 From a design-research oriented perspective

More design-oriented educational technologists rather look a cross-section of several phenomena, i.e., they adopt an interdisciplinary approach that will ultimately lead to better pedagogical designs in a given area.


Owen (2008) identifies three key pedagogical facts that "organise" the ICT-enhanced pedagogical landscape.

3.3 From a fundamental research perspective

Many researchers in the field rather adopt a more fundamental research stance and they focus on small well defined problems such as "under which conditions can multimedia animations be effective."

3.4 From an institutional perspective

A field is implicitly defined by journals, conferences and study programs.

The Journal of Interactive Learning Research published by the association for the Advancement of Computing in Education included on March 2006 the following enumeration of interactive learning environments that gives an idea on the technical scope of the field.

Note: Main-stream e-learning is a special case of computer-based training and computer-mediated communication. It also may include other elements like passive or interactive multimedia animations.

3.5 From a technology perspective

Each time a new technology appears soon after it may be hailed as a new solution to education by both researchers and practitioners. Therefore, one also could argue that fundamentally speaking, educational technology research and practice is technology driven (although not many members of the community would accept this stance). E.g., see Daniel Chandler's Technological or Media Determinism discussion.

3.6 From a "where is it used perspective"

Note: e-learning often refers to technology or designs used in distance teaching, but it also is used to describe any sort of technology use in education. Now that most e-learning initiatives in public higher education turned out to deliver less than what was promised, e-learning is no longer a hype word and its use seems again to become more restricted.

4 A short history

Educational technology in way could be traced back to the emergence of very early tools, e.g., paintings on cave walls. But usually its history is made to start with educational film (1900's) or Sidney Pressey's mechanical teaching machines in the 1920'.

First large scale usage of new technologies can be traced to US WWII training of soldiers through training films and other mediated materials. Today, presentation-based technology, based on the idea that people can learn contents trough aural and visual reception, exists in many forms, e.g., streaming audio and video, PowerPoint presentations + voice-over. Another interesting invention of the 1940's was hypertext, i.e., V. Bush's memex.

The 1950's led to two major still popular designs. Skinners work led to "programmed instruction" focusing on the formulation of behavioral objectives, breaking instructional content into small units and rewarding correct responses early and often. Advocating a mastery approach to learning based on his taxonomy of intellectual behaviors, Bloom endorsed instructional techniques that varied both instruction and time according to learner requirements. Models based on these designs were usually referred to as computer-based training" (CBT), Computer-aided instruction or computer-assisted instruction (CAI) in the 1970's through the 1990's. In a more simplified form they correspond to today's "e-contents" that often form the core of "e-learning" set-ups, sometimes also referred to as web-based training (WBT) or e-instruction. The course designer divides learning contents into smaller chunks of text augmented with graphics and multimedia presentation. Frequent Multiple Choice questions with immediate feedback are added for self-assessment and guidance. Such e-contents can rely on standards defined by IMS, ADL/Scorm and IEEE.

The 1980's and 1990's produced a variety of schools that can be put under the umbrella of the label Computer-based learning (CBL). Frequently based on constructivist and cognitivist learning theories, these environments focused on teaching both abstract and domain-specific problem solving. Preferred technologies were micro-worlds (computer environments were learners could explore and build), simulations (computer environments where learner can play with parameters of dynamic systems) and hypertext.

Digitized communication and networking in education started in the mid 80s and became popular by the mid-90's, in particular through the World-Wide Web (WWW), eMail and Forums. There is a difference between two major forms of online learning. The earlier type, based on either Computer Based Training (CBT) or Computer-based learning (CBL), focused on the interaction between the student and computer drills plus tutorials on one hand or micro-worlds and simulations on the other. Both can be delivered today over the WWW. Today, the prevailing paradigm in the regular school system is Computer-mediated communication (CMC), where the primary form of interaction is between students and instructors, mediated by the computer. CBT/CBL usually means individualized (self-study) learning, while CMC involves teacher/tutor facilitation and requires scenarization of flexible learning activities. In addition, modern ICT provides education with tools for sustaining learning communities and associated knowledge management tasks. It also provides tools for student and curriculum management.

In addition to classroom enhancement, learning technologies also play a major role in full-time distance teaching. While most quality offers still rely on paper, videos and occasional CBT/CBL materials, there is increased use of e-tutoring through forums, instant messaging, video-conferencing etc. Courses addressed to smaller groups frequently use blended or hybrid designs that mix presence courses (usually in the beginning and at the end of a module) with distance activities and use various pedagogical styles (e.g., drill & practise, exercises, projects, etc.).

The 2000's emergence of multiple mobile and ubiquitous technologies gave a new impulse to situated learning theories favoring learning-in-context scenarios. Some literature uses the concept of integrated learning to describe blended learning scenarios that integrate both school and authentic (e.g., workplace) settings.

The 2010's include MOOCs, a consolidation of rapid elearning in business, a return of a type of simulations through serious gaming and a technical trend towards delivery with HTML5 (as opposed to proprietary solutions).

See also the very completeHistory of virtual learning environments.

5 Families of Educational Technologies from a conceptual perspective

Today we are facing a wide range of pedagogical strategies and available technologies. Classification schemes taking into account both dimensions can become very complex, e.g. Joyce (2000) or Reeves & Reeves (1998). We will present both simple and more complex attempts but also take into account that pedagogical designs and technologies can be combined in certain ways, e.g., one can integrate activity-oriented courseware like a simulation within an content-oriented LMS.

See also: the educational technologies article for a technology-centered overview.

5.1 Content vs. communication

We distinguish between two big families: (1) content or courseware oriented and (2) communication/activity oriented. This typology reflects 2 fundamentally different stances that can be found as well in research and practice.

  1. Courseware oriented
    1. Contents with low interactivity: computer-based training (CBT), web-based training (WBT), Multimedia, main-stream E-learning including Learning technology systems like LMSs.
    2. Activity oriented: Computer-based learning, Microworlds, Simulations, Hypertext, (some) CSCL, Intelligent tutoring systems
  2. Computer-mediated communication (CMC) oriented
    1. Activity-based and community oriented: C3MS (Community portals), Wikis where students write, social networking platforms, etc.
    2. Activity-based: LMSs like Moodle, Groupware,
    3. Cognitive tools: (some) CSCL, e.g., Writing-to-learn tools like Knowledge forum
    4. Communication tools (often combined with others): Instant messaging, Forums, Videoconferencing

This distinction is similar to Schulmeister's e-learning types A and B.

5.2 According to learning types

Baumgartner & Kalz (2004) distinguished three major teaching forms. This framework was then used to evaluate functionality of technology. It also can be be used to categorize current on-line teaching practice.

Table 1: Three major forms of pedagogies and associated technologies (adapted from Baumgartner & Kalz, 2004).

Dominant Strategy Transfer (teaching I) Tutoring (teaching II) Coaching (teaching III)
Knowledge type Factual knowledge, "know-that" Procedural knowledge, "know-how", problem solving, concepts Social practice, "knowing in action"
Aims of Teaching Transfer of propositional knowledge Presentation of predetermined problems Action in (complex and social) situations
Learning goal to know, to remember to do, to practice, to argue to cope, to master
Assessment Production of correct answers Selection of correct methods and its use Realization of adequate action strategies
Learning content type Verbal knowledge, Memorization Skill, Ability Social Responsibility
Teaching and learning strategies and activities to teach, to explain to observe, to help, to demonstrate to cooperate, to support
Preferred technologies e-instruction using learning management systems (LMS) or learning content management systems (LCMS). Also referred to as web-based training (WBT).

Multimedia presentations
Computer-based training

Computer-based learning: simulations, microworlds, intelligent tutoring systems

e-tutoring combined with e-instruction using LMSs
computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL)

e-moderation: forums, weblogs, groupware including conferencing and application sharing
E-Coaching using Collaborative Content management systems (Portals, Wikis, etc.),
collaborative mobile technology, Cognitive tools such as Knowledge Forums, social software, etc.

On can argue that the Baumgartner and Kalz typology does a good job in relating learning to teaching to technology. However, for a more differentiated view of learning, see the learning types and learning levels discussion. See some further discussion in the learning theory and pedagogic strategy article.

5.3 According to interaction types

Moore (1989) distinguishes three types of interaction in distance education and that also can be useful to categorize educational technologies:

  1. Student-content interaction refers to Courseware oriented activities, e.g., reading texts, working with interactive multimedia, produce assignments.
  2. Student-instructor interaction refers to all things related to tutoring
  3. Student-student interaction refers to all kinds of collaborative learning

According to Lou et al. (2006:141) other more recently introduced categories (first three by Anderson, 2003) are:

  1. instructor-instructor interaction
  2. instructor-content interaction (e.g., authoring systems)
  3. content-content interaction (e.g., automatic retrieval)
  4. learner-interface interaction

6 Design methodologies and research approaches

Researchers in educational technology adopt different stances of what it means to practice academic research. One may initially distinguish a series of levels going from the conceptual to the technical:

  1. Fundamental research: Many researchers in the field choose to adopt a more fundamental research stance focusing on small well-defined problems such as “under which conditions can multimedia animations be effective”.
  2. Technology-supported instructional design applied to various domains of education; major categories are distance teaching, blended teaching, computer-enhanced classroom teaching, industrial training. Other specializations may concern subject matters (e.g. science or language teaching) or approaches (direct instruction vs. project-oriented learning for example).
  3. Research on the design and application of technologies. Researcher may specialize on subjects like the use of computer simulations in education or more technically, how to build authoring and learning environments for simulations.

Some researchers may combine a fundamental research perspective with a particular kind of instructional design and a particular kind of technology. Depending upon these options, research interests and research methodology will not be the same. From the possible combinations there are probably two major strands of thought that can be identified:

  • Educational technology as part of the learning sciences. Research is inspired by and contributes to modern learning theory. This strand includes research communities like computer-supported collaborative learning, intelligent tutoring systems, ubiquitous computing.
  • Educational technology as instructional technology. It is inspired by and contributes to instructional design theory and methodology. This strand includes research communities on e-learning, distance teaching, multimedia design.

Educational technology can be considered as a design science and as such, it has developed some specific research methodology like “Design-based research”. However, since it addresses also all fundamental issues of learning, teaching and social organization, educational technology makes use of the full range of modern social science and life sciences methodology. Globally speaking, research methodology for educational technology relies on general research methodology, in particular on approaches of the social sciences.

Design-related issues
Research-related issues

7 Bibliography and references

  • Alessi, Stephen. M. & Trollop, Stanley. R., (2001) Multimedia for Learning (3rd Edition), Pearson Allyn & Bacon, ISBN 0-205-27691-1. (This is probably the best overall introductory textbook for educational technology, but it is weak regarding CMC, including e-learning. Also it ignores the moder cognitive tools approaches).
  • Anderson, T. (2003). Models of interaction in distance education: Recent developments and research questions. In Michael G. Moore and William G. Anderson, (eds.) Handbook of Distance Education, Mahwah: Erlbaum, ISBN 0805839240
  • Basque, J, & K. Lundgren-Cayrol, K. (2003). Une typologie des usages des TIC en éducation. Document pédagogique du cours TEC 6200 "Technologie de l'information et développement cognitif", Montréal: Télé-université. PDF
  • Baumgartner, P. & Kalz, M. (2004). Content Management Systeme aus bildungstechnologischer Sicht in Baumgartner, Peter; Häfele, Hartmut & Maier-Häfele, Kornelia: Content Management Systeme für e-Education. Auswahl, Potenziale und Einsatzmöglichkeiten, Studienverlag, Innsbruck 2004.
  • Collins, A. (1992). Towards a Design Science of Education In E. Scanlon & T. O'Shea (eds.), New Directions in Educational Technology. Berlin: Springer Verlag.
  • Joyce, B., Weil, M., Calhoun, E. : Models of teaching, 6th edition, Allyn & Bacon, 2000. ISBN 0205389279
  • Joyce, B. & Weil, M., Calhoun, E. (2014). Models of teaching, 9th edition, Person ISBN 0133749304
  • Clark, Richard E. Media Will Never Influence Learning, [4] (retrieved 17:36, 26 June 2006 (MEST)).
  • Cox, M.J. & Webb, M.E. (2004) ICT and Pedagogy: a review of the research literature. Coventry: British Educational Communications and Technology Agency.
  • Gutierrez, K. D., & Penuel, W. R. (2014). Relevance to practice as a criterion for rigor. Educational Researcher, 43(1), 19-23. Abstract
  • Koschmann, T. (1996). Paradigm shifts and instructional technology: An introduction. Chapter 1 in CSCL: Theory and practice, ed. T. Koschmann. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Lachance, B., J.J. Lapointe et P. Marton. (1980). " Le domaine de la technologie éducative ", in La technologie au service de la formation, Québec: Actes du colloque du CIPTE, Ministère de l'Éducation, Gouvernement du Québec, Service général des moyens d'enseignement.
  • Lou, Yiping, Robert M. Bernard and Philip C. Abrami (2006). Media and Pedagogy in Undergrade Distance Education: A Theory-based Meta-Analysis of Empirical Literature. Educational Technology Research and Development 54 (2), 141-176 ISSN 1042-1629
  • Moore, M (1998) Three types of interaction. American Journal of Distance Education 3 (2), 1.6
  • National Educational Technology Standards for Students, Connecting Curriculum and Technology [5]. This is a large and free Handbook
  • Orey, Michael (ed.) (2001-present). Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching and Technology HTML. This is an nice open content e-book reader with many excellent articles.
  • Perkins, R. A., & Lowenthal, P. R. (2016). Open access journals in educational technology: Results of a survey of experienced users. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 32(3), 18-37. doi:
  • Reeves, T.C., Reeves, P.M., Effective Dimensions of Interactive Learning on the World Wide Web, in Web-Based Instruction, Englewood Cliffs N.J. : Educational Technology Publications, 1998
  • Reiser Robert A. and John V. Dempsey (eds). (2006). Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology, 2nd edition. Prentice Hall. ISBN: 0131708058 (probably the best buy if you are looking for a single book covering educational technology, learning theory and instructional design)
  • Seels Barbara B. and Rita C. Richey (1994). Instructional Technology: The Definition and Domains of the Field, Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), ISBN 0892400722
  • Smaldino, S. E. et al, (2005), Instructional Technology and Media for Learning (5th Edition), Sharon E et al, Pearson Education Ltd., ISBN 0-13-113682-8 (outdated regarding technologies, but ok as an introduction to technology use)
  • Webb, Mary and Margaret Cox, A review of pedagogy related to information and communications technology, Technology, Pedagogy and Education, olume 13, Number 3 / October 2004, pp. 235 - 286, DOI: 10.1080/14759390400200183
  • Wilson, Brent, G. (1997). Thoughts On Theory In Educational Technology, Educational Technology, January/February 1997 (pp. 22-27) HTML

8 Links

8.1 Associations

8.2 Other bodies

(e.g. long term projets)

  • eTTnet, A Project Financed By European Commission DG Education And Culture (sign up required)
  • EDUCAUSE is a large US nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology. E.g., they edit the popular EduCause Review
  • European Schoolnet (Global EU gateway to education, but includes EduTech-related things).
  • ARIADNE, a 100 man/years EU Projet that led to set of e-learning tools, in particular a learning-objects repositories (DSchneider doesn know how much of it is still alive today).
  • Edtech incubator. UK national initiative. A new type of organization that attempts to join the world of education and business. Quote: “We are looking to help support new startups but also help to create the national ecosystem and the conditions for educators and entrepreneurs from schools, colleges, universities and from more established companies, to grow and take their ideas to scale.” (March, 2013).

8.3 Jobs

(not complete !)

Job announcement can be found in several types of places: General job portals of universities or national organization, profession and research associations, on-line communities (often sponsored by a consultant).

Examples of general academic job portals.


8.4 Lists of Journals

Learning Sciences is the journal associated with educational technologies that probably gets the best ranking. E.g. see To sort out:

8.5 Some Journals

AACE Journals - Access through (commercial)
ISLS Journals
AECT Journals (consult this page for information about the journals)
  • Educational Technology Research and Development (ETRD)
  • TechTrends - Linking Research and Practice to Improve Learning
  • Journal of Instructional Development
Open access journals
Other closed access journals (there are many more)
  • EduCause Review The magazine takes a broad look at current developments and trends in information technology, what these mean for higher education.

8.6 Degrees

There are many:

We just make a plug for:

8.7 Courses

Courses that have useful syllabus information, e.g. references and links. This is not representative, but shows a spectrum of some examples.

National Louis University
San José State University.

8.8 Portals, repositories and links

(Needs some sorting. In any case, please look at other Wiki entries to find links related to specific subjects)

Paper repositories
Indexes and online bibliographies
  • LESTER, (Learning Science and Technology Repository), an online community and database focused on innovations in learning science and technology (LST), profiles innovative research projects and researchers
Other resources like this Wiki
  • The Encyclopedia of Educational Technology. The Encyclopedia of Educational Technology (EET) is a collection of short multimedia articles on a variety of topics related to the fields of instructional design and education and training. (editor: Bob Hoffman)
  • Focus on ICT, Canadian education association (good hypertext leading to researcher's personal statements and projects, good references).

8.9 Newsletters