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).