An Abundance of Options

Mexican Concha Bread. Photo Credit – Tanya Heck

Authors: Tanya Heck and Melem Sharpe


Do you remember lining up at the nearest Tower Records or your local music store, during the days of CDs or vinyl records, to purchase your favorite musician’s newly released album? Those days are long gone now that we can easily download music through iTunes, Amazon, Spotify or any number of online music sources. In his article discussing pedagogies of abundance, Weller (2011) referred to this phenomenon in the music industry as an example of “making a transition from an economics of scarcity to an economics of abundance” (p. 224). In this case, music was limited to its availability for purchase in stores which made it a scarce commodity (Weller, 2011). With the advent of online shopping and digitalization of certain goods, such as music, the scarcity of an item was no longer an issue (Weller, 2011). Weller used this analogy of economics of scarcity and abundance to discuss parallels in the field of education. As a result of digital content and access to free sources in education, Weller pointed out that although the expertise can still be scarce, the access to content is abundant. The question however, is abundant content enough to support learning? My partner, Tanya Heck, and I set out to explore this question and the type of content generated on the Internet while investigating how to create food photography for blogs.

Search Results:

Our initial investigation of our topic through a simple Google search yielded an abundance of results:

  •      Videos on food photography (662,000,000 results)
  •      How to take food pictures for blogging (631,000,000 results)
  •      How to take food pictures using an iPhone (226,000,000 results)
  •      Digital food photography for blogs (73,500,000 results)
  •      Digital food photography for blogs using an iPhone (44,200,000 results)
  •      Videos on digital food photography for blogs using an iPhone (2,620,000 results). Google searches conducted on 9.26.18

Given the immense quantity of results, we decided to identify criteria in the hopes it would narrow our search.

Defined criteria:

  1.    preferred format of presented material (video)
  2.    video length (no more than 10 min)
  3.    specific equipment (iPhone)

By further refining our search, we were able to limit the number of hits, and reduce the results that did not match our criteria. However, even with these modifications and efforts to narrow the search, Google still generated over 2 million results. As a learner, needing to identify what information is most practical and relevant to the skill-level of novice food photographers, it would be helpful to know how to assess the quality of content and define criteria that would narrow searches.


The challenge with an immense quantity of information is not necessarily finding enough content, but how to find quality information and use time effectively to sift through an abundance of content. Weller (2011) suggests that the focus must shift from development of content to the ability to select, compile and interpret existing material (p. 229).  The question then, is what do learners and instructors need to know in order to do this? Based on the findings of Weller (2011) and Anderson (2016), and from our initial investigation of how to create food photography pictures, we identified the following assumptions necessary for the learner to be successful:

  • Ability to critically evaluate sources of information. In the face of an abundance of information, if a learner is unable to discern between what is meaningful or ineffective, the task threatens to overwhelm. Anderson (2016), who wrote on “Theories for Learning with Emerging Technologies”, suggests the ability to judge, compare and evaluate are challenged in the face of an abundance of content, so the focus should be on assisting learners to evaluate content.
  • Ability to build practical parameters around search times, and maximize this time. Weller (2011) argues that with an abundance of content “it is no longer the content that is scarce, but [consumer’s] own time and attention becomes the key scarce resource now” (p. 225). With an abundance of information and availability of choices, it is easy to spend hours investigating a variety of searches, which can easily distract from the given task.

Considering the above points, developing a learner’s ability to evaluate information, define search parameters and maximize their own search, will play an important role in equipping learners with skills to navigate an abundance of information.


Given that we live in the age of information, it seems unlikely that an abundance of content is a passing trend. Google CEO, Eric Schmidt who “claims that society produces more information in two days than was created from the beginning of human history until 2003, stating “the real issue is user-generated content” (as cited in Weller, 2011, p. 231). Therefore, learning how to live with an abundance of content should be a priority in education (Weller, 2011). For instructors this may mean adopting pedagogies of abundance in order to equip their learners with the best skills possible to be successful in their learning. As Weller suggests “Exploring pedagogies of abundance will be essential for educators to meet this challenge and equip their learners with the skills they need in an age of digital abundance” (2011, p. 235). For learners, it may mean examining their interactions with content and learning how to maximize their learning in a digital environment. Ultimately, abundant content may not be enough without the skills and techniques required to make use of it.


Anderson, T. (2016). Chapter 3: Theories for Learning with Emerging Technologies. In Veletsianos, G. (Ed). Emergence and Innovation in Digital Learning: Foundations and Applications, 35-50. Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press.

Weller, M. (2011). A pedagogy of abundance. Revista Espanola de Pedagogia, 69(249), 223–236.


Learning theories: valued added for instructional design

This week’s required readings provided thought-provoking insight into learning theories, their underlying principles and how these principles can inform instructional design. Through examination of 3 learning theories: behaviorism, cognitivism & constructivism, Ertmer and Newby (2013) stressed the importance of learning theories as the foundation from which to inform instructional design. Merrill (2002) focused on 5 underlying principles common to all learning theories to demonstrate that real learning only occurs when these principles are incorporated in instructional design. In reflection of which theoretical position I align within in my own work, I looked to Ertmer and Newby’s detailed discussion on learning theories. The authors do not advocate for one theory over the other, rather they advocate for the flexibility in choosing which model best suits the given learning situation (Ertmer & Newby, 2013).

There is value in being able to pull from multiple learning theories because they guide instructional design decisions. For example, if the learning task is to perform and the emphasis is on outputs, then behaviorism might be better suited as from a behaviorist perspective learning happens when the correct response is elicited in reaction to environmental stimuli (Ertmer & Newby, 2013). In my work as an instructor in language programs, instructional techniques that focus on lower-level language skill development can prove effective for certain tasks. One such technique incorporates language drills, in a limited capacity, to elicit fixed patterns of language, although typically with very little meaning associated to the task (Brown, 1994). The aim of such an approach is to control the learning environment and reinforce the use of structural patterns, language rhythm and pronunciation features for a novice learner (Brown, 1994). In such a context, instructional techniques and learning design match the development of the learner; however, the same conditions would not be of value to an advanced learner who has already mastered this level of language use. This is further supported by Ertmer & Newby who state that “What might be most effective for novice learners encountering a complex body of knowledge for the first time, would not be effective, efficient or stimulating for a learner who is more familiar with the content “(p. 60).

In choosing from different learning theories, such as behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism, a learning theory can then be matched to the learner’s current needs and guide the instructional design (Ertmer & Newby, 2013). This allows for flexibility in choosing approaches that can maximize learning dependent upon the learning context. As evidence of these benefits, Ertmer and Newby (2013) point to differing outcomes resulting from behavioral, cognitive and constructivist approaches:

“That is, a behavioral approach can effectively facilitate mastery of the content of a profession (knowing what); cognitive strategies are useful in teaching problem-solving tactics where defined facts and rules are applied in unfamiliar situations (knowing how); and constructivist strategies are especially suited to dealing with ill-defined problems through reflection-in-action.” (p. 60)

In my experience working with online continuing education programs, our programs strove to effectively employ a wide range of instructional techniques. However, there were instances of wide gaps between the actual knowledge and skill level of the learners and their ability to learn the course content. Industry experts who developed these courses often had very little understanding of learning theories, and repeatedly incorporated high-level tasks and activities in the beginning of course modules that often exceeded learner’s skill levels and familiarity with the content. The learners were left overwhelmed and struggled to complete high-level tasks. With a stronger understanding of learning theories, selection of instructional theories that matched student’s needs and adaptations to the instructional design could have navigated some of these learning challenges.


Brown, H. D. (1994). Teaching by principles: An interactive approach to language pedagogy. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall Regents.

Ertmer, P., & Newby, T. (2013). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspectivePerformance Improvement Quarterly26(2), 43-71.

Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instructionEducational Technology Research and Development50(3), 43-59.

Key Events in the History of Open Education Resources (OER)

In exploring the array of influential contributions to the field of educational technology, I chose to focus on key events in the history of Open Education Resources (OER).

David Wiley (2009), who is one of the many key contributors to the OER movement, commented that writing about history is no easy task because there is no clear starting point when telling the story of ideas, people and events. There is also the issue of bias and how one chooses to tell the story from a specific perspective (Wiley, 2009) which may differ from how others remember. In light of these biases, key events, ideas and people may be overlooked or completely hidden from sight, presenting variations in historical timelines (Watters, 2014). It is therefore not the intention to omit important benchmarks in this timeline, however, for the purposes of this effort, only a very brief snapshot is presented.

A Brief History of Open Education Resources


Bliss, T. J., & Smith, M. (2017). A brief history of open educational resources. In R.S. Jhangiani & R. Biswas-Diener (Eds.), Open: the philosophy and practices that are revolutionizing education and science (pp. 9–27). London: Ubiquity Press. Licensed under the Creative Commons CC-BY 4.0

GNU Operating System

Open Education Timeline 

Understanding Open Educational Resources

The History of Open Educational Resources Infographic

Watters, A. (2014). Un-fathomable: The Hidden History of Ed-Tech, Chapter 2. In The monsters of education technology. Licensed under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA.

Wiley, D. & Gurrell, S. (2009) A decade of development…, Open Learning:
The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 24(1), 11-21, DOI: 10.1080/02680510802627746


EdTech’s history through two different lenses

As part of an assignment for our Foundations of Learning and Technologies course, we were asked to read two articles based on the history of educational technology. While both authors detail educational technology innovations and movements in the field, Weller (2018) focused mostly on EdTech innovations in the past 20-years, whereas Reiser (2001) distinguished the history of instructional technology and design as independent of each other. Although Reiser’s two-part article was published almost 20-years ago, the information still holds value in understanding changes and recurring themes in both the history of educational technology and design up until 1998.

Despite the time gap in publication dates, both Weller (2018) and Reiser (2001) shared the same argument that examining past EdTech innovations and failures can hold value in making decisions to adopt educational technologies for the future. Where their views differed is in the focus of technology itself. Although Weller (2018) proposed that future lists of historical trends in innovative EdTech might “be better balanced with conceptual frameworks, pedagogies, and social movements” (p. 47), technological innovations dominated his article and limited the role of instructional design.

The lessons that both authors extract from the past can inform decisions we make today.  One lesson I was able to take from Weller’s (2018) article is despite the hype which can be created around new technologies, it is important to consider how sustainable that technology may prove to be. This can be seen when Second Life was adopted as a new technology for Higher Education in the early 2000’s (Weller, 2018). As Weller points out, once the hype wore off, the realization came that the technology was simply a lecture in disguise. The technology was challenging to use and didn’t offer much innovation for learners, so interest waned.

However informing as past lessons can be, there are times when they do not necessarily serve current circumstances. In my former position developing and managing online professional development programs, our unit often overlooked the role of learning hierarchies in the design of programs. Time constraints, funding limitations, client involvement and varying levels of instructional design expertise often determined the level of skill development that was thoughtfully incorporated into modules. Reiser (2001) highlighted learning hierarchies and analysis of those hierarchies conducted by Gagné starting in the 1960’s as important to instructional design. In particular, Gagné determined there is a hierarchical relationship between intellectual skills (as cited in Reiser, 2001). To achieve mastery of a skill, Gagné believed a learner would need to demonstrate proficiency of skills subordinate to it (as cited in Reiser, 2001). Given the challenges, as mentioned, in my former work, learning modules were sometimes designed without a deeper understanding of the hierarchy of “learning task analysis or instructional task analysis” (as cited in Reiser, 2001, p. 61). This often resulted in not only challenging and frustrating learning experiences for learners with varying skill levels, but also impacted the instructor’s ability to support a successful online learning experience.


Reiser, R. A. (2001). A history of instructional design and technology: Part I: A history of instructional mediaEducational Technology Research and Development49(1), 53-64.

Reiser, R. A. (2001). A history of instructional design and technology: Part II: A history of instructional designEducational Technology Research and Development49(2), 57-67.

Weller, M. (2018). Twenty years of EdTechEDUCAUSE Review, 53(4).

A Snapshot of the History of Educational Technology

In exploration of the history of Educational Technology, defining this term seemed like a good starting point. Wikipedia defines educational technology as “the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources”. The Association for Educational Communications and Technologies (AECT) expands the definition to include theory and research in the application of best practices to progress learning abilities. What is clear from these two definitions is that educational technology is not limited to one area, rather it includes both the physical means and foundational theories to support learning experiences (Wikipedia). Educational technology also serves as an overarching term encompassing a wide range of terminologies that are not limited to, but include computer-based training, information and communication technology, e-learning, computer mediated communication, and networked learning, just to name a few (Wikipedia).

As robust as its definition, educational technology has a long and rich history documented by its many contributions to the field of education. It can trace its origins back to the first use of tools for communication and learning such as the abacus in 3000 BC to perform mathematical calculations (Englisheasily, 2012). Bates (2014) points out that technology also served as a method to backing up and preserving oral communications through the use of scrolls and slates. With the invention of visual media such as photography, films and slides at the onset of the 19th century (Sandoval, 2008), our access to learning greatly increased. WWII, in which educational technology was used for the training and implementation of weaponry in the US, revolutionized the use of educational technologies (Englisheasily, 2012). Micro-teaching, computer assisted instruction and the use of language laboratories were a few of the instructional approaches and technologies used by the military which served as a national model for innovative technologies and instructional approaches in the US (Englisheasily, 2012; Sandoval, 2008). Fast forward to today’s society, and we can see how much technology has advanced education from the days of the abacus to present day in which mobile learning and how we learn in a digital age take on a renewed focus (Sharples, 2015).



Association for Educational Communications & Technology (AECT) (n.d.). The definition and terminology committee. Retrieved September 8, 2018, from

Bates, T. (2014). A short history of educational technology. Retrieved September 8, 2018, from

Educational Technology. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 8, 2018, from

Englisheasily. (2012, August 7). History of technology in education (module 1) [Video file]. Retrieved from

Sandoval, F. V. (2008, June 17). History of educational technology [PowerPoint presentation]. Retrieved from

Sharples, M. (2015, November 20). A very short introduction to educational technology [PowerPoint presentation]. Retrieved from