Learning from the Past, Looking to the Future

The combined history that Reiser (2001) and Weller (2018) present highlights many advancements in educational technology, along with plenty of dead-ends and failures. However, I believe these failures are necessarily productive ones. To find approaches that work, educators and technologists need to be willing to experiment, and to accept that not all ideas will succeed—or should succeed. The successes, along with the failures, offer many lessons for future endeavours to learn from.

A lesson from the past that struck me as particularly poignant in Reiser’s (2001) article was the importance of not using technology just to teach technology skills. He noted that as computers were introduced, their application was “far from innovative” (p. 60) and often used to perpetuate computer-related skills. In my experience working in a K-12 school, I’ve seen this trend as well. For example, a lesson might focus on teaching Adobe Photoshop skills, rather than aiming to teach broader concepts of colour theory, typography, and aesthetics. Teaching a particular app as the end-point gives students a narrow application of their learning potential. As I design learning activities for my computer science course, I plan to keep this lesson in mind: beyond teaching a specific programming language, which will go in and out of fashion and varies based on the goal, I aim to develop activities that foster problem solving and programmatic thinking skills regardless of the presence or absence of technology.

In Twenty Years of Edtech, Weller (2018) suggests that blogging is “full of potential” (p. 39) and is “an ideal educational technology” (p. 48). This is a lesson I feel still applies to business and higher education, yet it is in conflict with the reality I’ve seen in my day-to-day work in K-12 education. From what I’ve experienced, students are searching and turning to blogs as informational artifacts, but I see them increasingly less interested in authoring their own blog posts. With the prevalence of WeChat and WhatsApp, students are often engaging in closed systems of communication—able to broadcast quickly to a large number of predetermined people, and less often broadcasting their words publicly on the internet. If they do broadcast, it tends to be in a social media format: Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. Is this a shift in the way future generations will communicate online? In my school, an effort was made to create and promote classroom blogs as well as student-authored blogs, yet the endeavour rapidly lost momentum. Was this a systemic failure, or endemic of the users’ dwindling interest? These results lead me to wonder about the age demographic behind the majority of blogs on the internet. Are the upcoming generations as interested in blogging as the generation that came before them? What will the future histories of Edtech say about the importance of blogging in education?

Weller’s closing sentiment for Twenty Years of Edtech was that “nothing much has changed, and many edtech developments have failed to have significant impact” (p. 48). Counter-intuitively, these failed developments make me optimistic about the future of edtech. The more we fail, the more we have tried. The technologies Weller highlighted—failures and otherwise—were both increasing in scope and in diversity. I am sure there will be plenty of missteps and unsuccessful technologies in the future, yet each one of these has the potential to lead to new ideas, or at very least epitomize the lessons we must to continue to learn from the past.



Reiser, R. A. (2001). A history of instructional design and technology: Part I: A history of instructional media. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 49(1), 53-64. Retrieved from https://link-springer-com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/article/10.1007/BF02504506

Weller, M. (2018). Twenty Years of Edtech. EDUCAUSE Review, 53(4), 34–48. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2018/7/twenty-years-of-edtech


Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Learning from the Past, Looking to the Future

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful post, Sandra. I appreciate the optimistic outlook in this statements: “…these failed developments make me optimistic about the future of edtech. The more we fail, the more we have tried. ” One of my concerns though relates to failing over and over without having learned from past failures. We know for instance that providing content without structure or instructional support isn’t going to revolutionize education or how people learn – and we’ve known that for years. Yet, we see many new initiatives embracing this model: the people developing MOOCs should have known that; those developing new learning platforms should know this; people developing AI learning assistants should recognize it, and so on… How do we get to a point where we fail not because we ignored what others have learner, but because we’ve tried something unique and learned something new?

  2. Great post, Sandra. I appreciate your optimism and a real ‘growth mindset’ in terms of embracing ‘the failures and dead-ends’ as productive, and a valuable part of our collective edtech learning experience!

    On the topic of blogs, I, too, have observed students in K-12 schools looking to blogs more as consumers than creators. I would like to be more a part of instilling the motivation and skills for students to engage more in the creator roles — especially in the context of blogs. I also wonder what the future histories of edtech will have to say about the importance of blogging in education. Sometimes I feel like teachers are overwhelmed with the myriad of tools and resources being offered and encouraged. I am wondering how many K-12 educators are confident enough themselves with blogging — to be encouraging and teaching their students how to engage with this awesome learning tool. Do you see a lot of educators that feel confident enough themselves to model and promote students’ use of blogs, as creators versus consumers?

    I appreciate your awareness and commitment to not just teach new programs or use of apps, but to design learning activities that teach broader concepts — teaching beyond a specific programming language.

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