Cultural Considerations for Educational Technology and Design

Photo by mnm.all on Unsplash

This posting is in reference to my research on the role of culture and its implications in the development of educational technology and instructional design. Included is a spreadsheet which provides an annotated bibliography of 5 research articles on this topic. I will be writing a synthesis on this topic to be posted at a future time.


An update to this post now includes a synthesis on:

Cultural Considerations for Educational Technology and Design

Almost two decades ago, researchers were already exploring the intersection between culture and technology-enhanced learning in response to globalization. Westernized countries had quickly begun to develop and market educational content and products to other countries (Rogers, Graham, & Mayes, 2007). While globalization resulted in increased cross-cultural awareness for multicultural education, (Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot, 2010), research efforts on the impact of culture on instructional design remained limited (Rogers, Graham, & Mayes, 2007). The lack of historical literature surrounding culture and online education does not diminish its importance, rather it speaks to the challenges of incorporating culture into instructional design and technology.

A review of five research articles published between 1999-2010 discussed studies and design approaches that demonstrated cultural awareness, implemented culture-based frameworks, and made cultural accommodations to instructional design and technology. This paper provides a synthesis of considerations from these research articles that reveal the importance of culture in the development of educational technology and instructional design.

Insight about deeply rooted cultural values, beliefs and attitudes can reveal themselves through a learner’s behavior. If an instructional designer understands the nature of cultural differences, then accommodations to learning environments can be considered. Parrish and Linder-VanBerschot (2010), who addressed challenges in multicultural instruction, suggested that learning behaviors strongly related to cultural values are non-negotiable. If a non-negotiable cultural value, such as individualism or collectivism is challenged, it may impede learning outcomes (Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot, 2010). For example, activities designed to elicit student opinions are more prevalent in Western educational systems that value individual performance. For a student from an Eastern-based culture, such as China, which is generally more collectivistic and group-oriented, an activity that requires a learner to argue or express their opinion may prove challenging. However, the concern with cultural generalizations that are dualistic, such as individualism vs collectivism, is they can result in stereotyping and often overlook the individual learning behaviors of students within a specific culture that can vary from person to person (Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot, 2010; Gunawardena, Wilson, & Nolla, 2003).

Another way to view cultural differences is from a holistic perspective and not just isolated behaviors. Exploratory research conducted by Rogers, Graham, and Mayes (2007) raised questions on how cultural differences could be understood. The researchers suggested that developing awareness of cultural differences should involve exploration of “key differences in the current expectations and abilities of learners from different cultures…and then bridging those gaps through such things as additional support needed to be successful with the instructional experience at hand” (Rogers et al., 2007, p. 211). Although Roger et al.’s study sheds insight on the complexity around culture differences and learning behaviors, findings were based on personal interviews with a small sample of practitioners. Further research would need to inform what type of instructional support could help to bridge culturally oriented learning gaps in an online learning setting. Additionally, the challenge remains, as raised by Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot (2010) in determining which learning behaviors are deeply cultural and which are not so they can be addressed for learning and instructional purposes.

Culturally adaptive models and frameworks serve as an important tool in instructional design, and if employed suitably can be sensitive to cultural differences and provide equitable learning. In developing an online unit for Indigenous Australian learners, a multiple cultures model adopted by McLoughlin (1999) integrated both Indigenous and mainstream Australian cultural values into the subject matter content. By recognizing the importance of cultural differences and Indigenous Australian values, this framework ensured for equitable learning. In another approach, Gunawardena, Wilson, and Nolla (2003) proposed a framework for a web-based course that made the distinction between non-negotiable culturally based factors and negotiable choices within the framework used to design the course. Non-negotiables included “language, beliefs, preferred methodologies and learning styles, knowledge and skill base, and attitudes about learning” (Gunawardena, Wilson, & Nolla, 2003, p. 768). Students were able to navigate around non-negotiable factors through options and still benefit from the content while following course expectations (Gunawardena et al., 2003). In this way, the design honored learner’s backgrounds and provided a means for negotiating their own learning. Although Gunawardena et al.’s proposed framework was based on literature review and their own research, it did not elaborate on implementation for an actual online setting. Whereas in McLoughlin’s research, her findings validated successful use of the multiple cultures framework through online design and technology. McLoughlin’s findings provide evidence that educational technology, if adapted to the cultural needs of the group, can provide an effective learning environment.

Culturally adaptive educational technology, if used appropriately, can enhance learning to support communication. Chen, Mashhadi, Ang, and Harkrider (1999) examined cultural issues in technology-enhanced learning systems for three Singaporean educational contexts. The authors demonstrated that if education technology were appropriately implemented, and with attention to cultural factors, it could support a learning environment conducive to the needs of learners (Chen, Mashhadi, Ang, & Harkrider, 1999). Although Chen et al. attributed the success of these learning systems in part to culturally mediated social interaction, they advised that “the quality and nature of learning are largely determined by the individual’s experience of cultures and technologies” (Chen et al., 1999, p. 228). Given that the instructional designer lived and worked in Singapore, the designer’s cultural familiarity most likely contributed to successful learning outcomes. Although ideal, an instructional designer who is fully proficient in the target language and culture, for which they are designing an online course or program, may not be possible. McLoughlin’s (1999) use of the Web and technology in her course for Indigenous Australian learners supports Chen et al.’s claim that culturally adaptive technology can enhance learning online. She used technology to build an online community of practice “through the application of electronic messaging, communication for forums and asynchronous communication tools” (McLoughlin, 1999, p. 238). As part of the technology, a virtual meeting space was designed to embody Indigenous values that honor community and provide a place where students felt valued and safe in discussing concerns about the unit (McLoughlin, 1999). The thoughtful consideration of cultural variations between Indigenous values and mainstream Australian culture demonstrated in this research study that culture should be a key part of the design process, and not just an add-on. However, the absence of student feedback from surveys or interviews to determine if the course was truly culturally responsive to student learning needs does raise questions about overall design effectiveness.

This synthesis reviewed research on culture and its role in online education. What it has revealed is the inseparable nature of culture and learning. If cultural considerations are appropriately integrated as a core component of educational technology and instructional design, it can be argued that online learning environments are better equipped to meet the needs of learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. Rogers, Graham, and Mayes (2007) posed a series of questions at the end of their research paper for future exploration on culture and online instructional design. One of those questions concerned the influence of Western culture on the educational and training efforts of instructional designers (Rogers, Graham, & Mayes, 2007). Perhaps studying the impact of Western culturally influenced educational technology and instructional design on non-Western cultures may reveal implications that support a “re-envisioning of the role of instructional designers in order to be more culturally responsive and helpful” (Rogers, Graham, & Mayes, 2007, p. 215).


Chen, A-Y., Mashhadi, A., Ang, D., & Harkrider, N. (1999). Cultural issues in the design of technology-enhanced learning systems. British Journal of Educational Technology, 30(3), 217–230.

Gunawardena, C. N., Wilson, P. L., & Nolla, A. C. (2003). Culture and online education. In M. G. Moore & W. G. Anderson (Eds.), Handbook of distance education (pp. 753-775). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

McLoughlin, C. (1999). Culturally responsive technology use: Developing an on-line community of learners. British Journal of Educational Technology, 30(3), 231–243.

Parrish P., & Linder-VanBerschot, J. A. (2010). Cultural dimensions of learning: Addressing the challenges of multicultural instruction. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 11(2), 1492-3831.

Rogers, P.C., Graham, C.R., & Mayes, C.T. (2007). Cultural competence and instructional design: Exploration research into the delivery of online instruction cross-culturally. Educational Technology Research and Development, 55(2), 197-217

The Importance of Media in Learning: Evolving Debate, Kozma vs Clark

Authored By: Dino Hatzigeorgiou, Sue Hawkins, Tanya Heck, Melem Sharpe, Physaun Wilkes

The great media debate between Richard Clark and Robert Kozma was sparked by an article written in 1983 by Clark on “Reconsidering Research on Learning from Media.” The debate continued into the 1990’s with Clark (1994) re-iterating his position that methodology is responsible for learning, not the medium. While Kozma (1994) reframed earlier arguments to emphasize that both the method and medium influence learning. Today the argument still evokes valuable discussion, and the 5 articles presented in this blog provide another perspective in contrast to Clark (1994).

5 Positive effects technology has on learning

A blog post titled 5 Positive Effects Technology Has on Teaching & Learning written by the team at Kurzweil Education (2015) claims that the use of technology has a positive effect on teaching and learning.  Clark (1994) argues that learning gains should be attributed to the method of instruction and not the delivery medium (p. 5). However, Kurzweil (2015) argues that students are more stimulated and motivated to learn when they can interact with hands on learning tools such as educational technology (para. 4).  Kurzweil also notes that technology allows to students to self pace their learning, and when used in a classroom it allows teachers extra time with students that are struggling (para. 5) Kurzweil provides evidence to support their claims using a survey conducted by PBS (2013). “Seven in 10 teachers (69%) surveyed by PBS Learning Media said educational technology allows them to “do much more than ever before” for their students. Including technology in the classroom benefits teachers and students in many ways” (para. 8).  In contrast to Clarks argument, Kurzweil highlights the effectiveness of educational technology on a students ability to learn.

This is how we used technology to improve our school’s reading scores.

Jesse Simpson, a Principal at an elementary school in the United States, implemented StudySync, a literature instruction platform to improve reading related skills in her district. Contrary to Clark’s position that media does not influence learning, this digital ELA program provided a framework for the teachers to design their curriculum.  In the first year, the district state assessment results saw an increase of up to 20 per cent in some schools. As one teacher stated “the students didn’t simply have a good test day – they actually learned the necessary skills” (Simpson, J., 2017, para. 13). Moreover, we can look to Kozma (1994) who described his vision of future technological environments such as StudySync to increase learning:  

How this new technology will be used is not yet clear.  But enabled by its capabilities, liberated by new models of design, and informed by media theory and research, designers may find new ways to engage students in interactions within these technological environments, interactions that may tip the balance in favor of learning (p. 23).

7 ways technology is impacting modern education

Lynch (2017) in his article “7 ways technology is impacting modern education” highlights seven major impacts of using technological tools in classroom learning and instructional practice. He noted that technology enables interaction among students with learning materials, and provides students with the opportunity to use the internet to conduct research which are associated to real life problems. As a result, students are able to differentiate their relations to the curriculum. He acknowledged that technology allows students to create various online groups thus forming virtual communities where they are able to interact and obtain feedback.  Given Lynch’s (2017) perspectives it contradicts Clarke’s argument that media are “mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition” (p.1). It is evident that Clarke’s argument may have had merit in that era but technology and educational practices have evolved and have seen changes in which students currently interact and learn. Students are now able to use simulation technology to “see planetary movements, how a tornado develops”’ (Lynch 2017, para 5) as opposed to “static models used in previous decades” (para 5). This galvanize that technology are more than mere vehicles but rather impacts the learning process for students and educators.

How technology benefits learning

Timothy (2016) argues that how learners process and understand information is a result of technology which has changed how we learn. He suggests that learning is no longer a passive activity; it has become learner-centered as a result of educational technology (Timothy, 2016). Specifically, Timothy notes that increased internet connectivity and the use of mobile devices have amplified how learning is dispersed, enabling self-paced learning. Through augmented and virtual reality, and gamification technologies learner motivation and performance have increased dramatically (Timothy, 2016). Most notably, training has become more effective because of immersive learning through wearable and simulation technologies (Timothy, 2016). If we look at this from Clark’s (1994) perspective which is that learning occurs because of teaching methods, and media serves as a means of delivery. The delivery medium has no significant effect on learning according to Clark, so virtual and augmented realities, and gamification would not have any significant impact on learning according to this perspective. Clark would argue that these technologies may be efficient delivery structures for learning, however, learning would happen irregardless because it is the methodology that matters. This may have been the case in the 1980’s, when such technology had not yet been developed. However, Timothy’s (2016) example of augmented reality or wearable technology in his article is key to deepening learning, especially in simulation training. Augmented and virtual reality technology therefore are  are unique in this case, and afford ‘learning by doing’.

Education and role of media in education system

In his article, Clark (1994)  agrees with Salomon by stating that media are not directly responsible for motivating learning, and references new (at the time) cognitive theories that give no merit to media other than instruction (Clark, 1994, under motivation with media). This argument is extremely outdated because it does not reflect the current reality which places (digital) learning technology, such as social software (also known as Web 2.0), in the center of the modern teaching paradigm. Furthermore, Clark was unaware of modern learning theories such as (social) constructivism, an evolution of cognitivism, which relies in the use of Web 2.0 technologies. According to Preeti (2014), because of the proliferation of media (especially social and mass media) in day-to-day students’ lives, it is natural – if not compulsory – to use media in education not only in the classroom but also throughout the teaching/learning process. In fact, in stark contrast with Clark, Preeti sees social media as a solution to learner disengagement. Preeti (2004) argues that through higher levels of engagement achieved using media, students’ attention is shifted towards learning activities, especially when these activities pertain to real-world objects, enabling learners connect what they learn at school with the application of this knowledge in the outside world. Therefore, without discounting the importance of appropriate teaching and use of media, media in education provide the affordance of richer experiences since media are powerful tools for illustrating scenarios and real-life examples.

Much has changed since Clark wrote his paper in 1994.  Given the advances in technology and the role it plays in all aspects of life, the emphasis has shifted to focus on the benefits of technology in educational design.  Changes in learning theory have prompted a response to recognize Kozma’s (1994) finding that both the medium and the methodology contribute to learning.


Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development VO, 42(2), 21.

Kozma, R. B. (1994).Will media influence learning: Reframing the debate. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 7-19.

Kurzweil. (2015). 5 Positive effects technology has on teaching & learning. Kurzweil Education. Retrieved from

Lynch, M. (2017). 7 Ways technology is impacting modern education. Retrieved from

PBS. (2013, September 30). PBS Survey finds teachers are embracing digital resources to propel student learning [survey]. Retrieved from

Preeti, B. (2014). Education and role of media in education system. International Journal of Scientific Engineering and Research (IJSER). Retrieved from

Simpson, J. (2017, October 6).This is how we used technology to improve our school’s reading scores. [website]. eSchool News. Retrieved from

Timothy, A. (2016, July 30). How technology benefits learning. eLearning Industry [website]. Retrieved from


Dr. Catherine Cronin: An Open Voice

“Openness is not a one-time decision and it is not universally experienced; it is always complex, personal, contextual, and continually negotiated” (Cronin, 2017, p. 18).

Dr. Catherine Cronin is an open educator, open researcher on open educational practices (OEP), digital identity and digital well-being, and an educational developer (Cronin, n.d.). She began her career as a Systems Engineer in the 1980’s, eventually changing paths to pursue a master’s degree in Women’s Studies completing her dissertation in gender and technology (Cronin, 2018; Hayman, 2017). She describes her decision to switch careers, in part because of her experience working in the masculine culture of engineering (Cronin, 2018; Hayman, 2017). This decision not only exposed her to women’s rights, philosophical approaches to gender, and sociology of education, but it also gave her a voice to better understand and articulate her own experiences as a female engineer (Cronin, 2018). Since changing her career, Catherine has achieved over 25 years of teaching, conducting research and working in higher education, and most recently completed her PhD in Open Education Practices (OEP) in Higher Education (Cronin, n.d.).

I chose to write about Catherine because she is a “ground-breaker in open educational practices and research” (Merkley, 2018), and an advocate for open education. Her work and research are significant to the field of educational technology exceeding what is listed here: peer-reviewed publications; multiple keynote presentations; advisory board member for the Open Education Working Group; open education collaborative projects in Ireland and globally; frequent blog postings and tweets (Cronin, n.d.). She serves as a role model for women in education, technology and the sciences, and provides inspiration for career changers like me. However, what stands out the most is Catherine’s commitment to OEP as an effort to reduce inequalities and enhance opportunities for everyone (Hayman, 2017).

Twitter: @catherinecronin


Cronin, C. (2017). Open education, open questions. EDUCAUSE Review, 23 October. Retrieved from

Cronin, C. (n.d.). About – professional bio [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Cronin, C. (2018, August 19). Reflecting before #ALTC: personal  political [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Hayman, J. (2017, July 25). 101 openstories [Video file]. Retrieved from

Merkley, K. (2018, April 13). Uncommon women 2018. Retrieved from


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