The medium is the pedagogy?

Two of my colleagues ( @ms_edstuff and @joshdeanLC ) are currently on a tour studying educational technology and formative assessment in the USA.

I have been reading their blog with interest. The most recent entry is an analysis of the relationship between technology and pedagogy. There is a lot in that post, and I encourage you to read it for yourself, but a key point is that technology is educationally neutral.

…there ought to be and will be no difference between pedagogy in online learning, blended and face-to-face learning.

In simple terms it is not the tools we use, it is the way we teach that matters.

I agree with this 100%. It is obvious that sitting students in front of computers to work doesn’t automatically improve the learning. I am not sure, however, that technology is totally neutral.

To start with I want you to consider this image as a metaphor for educational technology.

horse car


Horses are an effective, if rather out of date, form of transport. Cars are also  an effective form of transport. Combining these, however, doesn’t necessarily give us the best of both worlds.

In a simular way face-to-face teaching has advantages and limitations. Online learning has another set of limitations and advantages. If we take our face-to-face learning program (assignments, activities etc.) and simply move them online, we may end up with something good, but we are also likely to end up with all the limitations of both contexts and none of the advantages. In other words a car being pulled by a horse.

To avoid the “horse and car” situation we need to design our educational activities with the technology in mind. If we do that effectively we can ensure that in applying technology to our educational program we will maximise the advantages. The technology based learning will be an improvement.

Looking at this from another direction. In the 1960’s Marshall McLuhan famously said

The medium is the message.

By this he meant that the medium provides a context which influences how the message is received.

In education examples of media are face-to-face, online, blended, etc., and the medium used to deliver the learning shapes the way the learning is received. So we need to consider the medium when we plan educational programs to ensure they are well received (effective). Technology (the medium) is not totally neutral.

Design for Technology

Putting this philosophy into practice involves redesigning educational programs with the technology based medium as a consideration. There are several design frameworks which could be used, but I would suggest the Learning Design Studio as the basis for a process which could be used to design for technology.


EdTech is not a pedagogy and we need to stop talking about ‘blended learning pedagogy’, ‘online learning pedagogy’ etc. as if they were specific ways of teaching.

On the other hand technology provides new media for delivering educational programs that colour the way students receive the learning . We need to design learning ecologies which take full advantage of the new media.

We are still working that out.



One response

  1. […] In a staff meeting about 12 months ago a teacher at my school presented to the staff. Teachers were impressed by this technology and they could see that it was fun and engaging. As a result classrooms all over the school started doing Kahoot quizes. Kahoot is a nice application and I am in no way critical of it. The point I want to make is that a well written Kahoot is a good educational exercise, while a badly written Kahoot is not. might be fun (until the students get sick of it), but it is not inherently beneficial to educational outcomes. In the words we are hearing more and more lately, it is pedagogically neutral. ( […]

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