Chapter 6: Understanding technology in education

Purpose of this chapter

When you have completed this chapter you should:

  • be able to understand the difference between media and technologies in educational contexts;
  • be able to place different media and technologies, including new and emerging technologies, within an analytical framework.
For a my personal introduction to the next few chapters, please click on the podcast below.

For a my personal introduction to the next few chapters, please click on the podcast below.


What is covered in this chapter

Understanding the nature and role of media and technologies in education, and being able to use media and technologies appropriately, are critical to teaching well in a digital age. This is the first of three chapters that discuss media choice and use.

In this chapter, which focuses on the foundations of educational technology, you will cover the following topics

Also in this chapter you will find the following activities:

  • Activity 6.1 How do you currently make decisions about what technology to use for teaching?
  • Activity 6.2 What does history tell us?
  • Activity 6.3 Media or technology?
  • Activity 6.4 Broadcast or communicative?
  • Activity 6.5 Time and space dimensions of technology
  • Activity 6.6 How rich is your medium?
  • Activity 6.7 Analysing your current use of technology

Key Takeaways

  1. Technologies are merely tools that can be used in a variety of ways. What matters more is how technologies are applied. The same technology can be applied in different ways, even or especially in education. So in judging the value of a technology, we need to look more closely at the ways in which it is being or could be used. In essence this means focusing more on media – which represent the more holistic use of technologies – than on individual tools or technologies themselves, while still recognising that technology is an essential component of almost all media.
  2. By focusing on media rather than technologies, we can then include face-to-face teaching as a medium, enabling comparisons with more technology-based media to be made along a number of dimensions or characteristics.
  3. Recognising that in education media are usually used in combination, the six key building blocks of media are:
    1. face-to-face teaching
    2. text
    3. (still) graphics
    4. audio (including speech)
    5. video
    6. computing (including animation, simulations and virtual reality).
  4. Media differ in terms of their formats, symbols systems, and cultural values. These unique features are increasingly referred to as the affordances of media or technology. Thus different media can be used to assist learners to learn in different ways and achieve different outcomes, thus also individualising learning more.
  5. There are many dimensions along which some technologies are similar and others are different. By focusing on these dimensions, we have a basis for analysing new media and technologies, to see where they ‘fit’ within the existing landscape, and to evaluate their potential benefits or limitations for teaching and learning.
  6. There are probably other characteristics or dimensions of educational media that might also be identified, but three key characteristics or dimensions are particularly important:
    1. broadcast vs communicative
    2. synchronous (live) vs asynchronous (recorded)
    3. single vs rich media
  7. However, the identification of where a particular medium fits along any specific characteristic or dimension will depend in most cases on how that medium is designed.  At the same time, there is usually a limit to how far a technology can be forced along one of these dimensions; there is likely to be a single, ‘natural’ position on each dimension, subject to good design, in terms of exploiting the educational affordances of the medium.
  8. These characteristics or dimensions of media then need to be evaluated against the learning goals and outcomes desired, while recognising that a new educational medium or application might enable goals to be achieved that had not been previously considered possible.
  9. Over time, media have tended to become more communicative, asynchronous, and ‘rich’, thus offering teachers and learners more powerful tools for teaching and learning.
  10. The Internet is an extremely powerful medium because through a combination of tools and media it can encompass all the characteristics and dimensions of educational media.