The Great Media Debaters… Based on another true story, that did not make it to film.

The great media debate!

Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, academics Richard E. Clark, and Brian Kozma engaged in a riveting, multi-year debate. The topic in question? “Does (or, more appropriately, can) media positively impact learning?” Clark asserts that Media interventions are only as good as the instructional design and methodology used to create said media. Conversely, Kozma states that Media can aide in the delivery of instruction, and at times, increase the efficacy of learning potential or learner motivation.

Don’t want to read the full debate? Click the image below for a visual depiction.

Karen McMurray and I have been tasked with examining two articles or releases that demonstrate techno-deterministic thinking, and evaluate the solutions through the lenses of Clark and Kozma.

Article 1 – The Great (Chatbot) Debate

This article states that Chatbot’s have infiltrated educational technology, and help to reduce human hours spent answering repetitive tasks, or processing repetitive actions. The article claims that Chatbots, and their built in Artificial Intelligence (AI) mechanisms are able to respond to learner inquiries 24/7, where teachers are not. It claims that AI tutoring programs (such as the discussed Chatbots) are able to fill the void that is created by the absence of continuous teacher presence.

Richard E. Clark may well be flummoxed by this articles claim that Chatbot’s can save teacher time while simultaneously resolving learner concerns. Of particular note in this article is that one Chatbot took over 1000 hours to program. While this initial investment of time would decrease the teacher’s time requirement in the future, it re-hashes the argument that media may be preferable only due to its time and cost savings. Clark would likely claim that the Chatbot technology is only as good as the instructional thought or method that is built in to the design of the tool. Clark would likely assert that while this method of intervention may be more efficient from a time spent/learners assisted perspective, the use of media itself did not increase the opportunity for learning, but merely aided in its expedition.

Kozma, interestingly enough may agree with Clark’s opinion that in this instance, the Media is NOT the message, and rather simply a conduit for increasing the efficiency of delivery. However, where Clark stops, Kozma may continue to discuss potential uses for Chatbot and/or AI technology. Perhaps the media may be programmed to anticipate future questions from the learner, or to draw upon comparative sources of information for context layering from external, unrelated sources that can be found on the internet. In considering the extensions that Kozma may look to, he likely would find opportunity for the media to act as a method. Ultimately, in its present iteration, Kozma would likely see this as an automation of process to reduce costs, and not a well-designed media use which will increase the cognitive and social processes by which knowledge is construction (Kozma).

Article 2 – Open Educational Resources to…. Pay to Pay Resources?

The second article we examined discussed how the internet is not only creating space for Open Education Resources (OER), but also creating a space for teachers to “side hustle” their material in a more “pay to play” approach. This article discusses the resource sharing platform “Teachers Pay Teachers” (TPT), where professionals are able to upload and share (for a cost) their educational resources – read: slide decks, assessments, unit plans, and more. Issues with for profit sharing of educational resources notwithstanding, we investigated (or more appropriately, assumed) how Clark and Kozma would react to the TPT concept in relation to their great debate.

Kozma may look at TPT as a good method of amplifying media assisted instructional methods to classrooms throughout society. Assuming that the resources being shared on the platform are classroom tested and achieving successful learner results, Kozma would assert that the ‘media’ in this situation is creating sharing, peer reviewing, and overall better lessons and learning experiences for students across different facets of society. Additionally, Kozma may reference how the sharing of instructional resources may allow less resourced classrooms or learning environments to take advantage of the resourcefulness of others.

Clark would likely react positively to the ideological concept of TPT, but make mention that it is not in fact media influencing learning, and instead an opportunity for cost and time savings in terms of implementing adequate instructional methodology. He would surely hold strong to his belief that within all media, instructional method is king and media is but vehicle for instructional delivery (Clark, 1991).

The great debate continues… and, 30 years later – there is no apparent winner.


Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learningEducational Technology Research and Development42(2), 21-29.

Kozma, R. B. (1994). Will media influence learning: Reframing the debateEducational Technology Research and Development42(2), 7-19.

3 thoughts on “The Great Media Debaters… Based on another true story, that did not make it to film.”

  1. Thank you for these thoughts Paula and Karen. Great visual by the way! And good question on London’s blog, Paula – i look forward to seeing London’s reply!

    In reading your shared analysis of how Kozma may respond to chatbot technology, I’m reminded of various chapters in Weller’s book where it seemed that each new wave of educational technology relies on hope about the future. For example: web 2.0 as democratizing knoweldge exchange, moocs as eliminating barriers, and so on… Hope is necessary and important. But, are we doing the best we can with these technologies when our response to criticism that they don’t improve learning outcomes is that “they’ll improve and offer better opportunities for teaching/learning in the future”? I’d love to hear your reactions to this.

    Thank you again for this post!

  2. Hi George
    Thanks for this comment. It’s spurring on some interesting critiques of how we “do” education and technology and it seems that we often see it done backwards.
    Many professionals have hope, but what we really need is evidence. Simply saying technology can do things to advance learning is not enough. What we need to have is someone double down and actually put some thought into matching the hopes with the needs (from evidence based findings) rather than waiting in hope with the rest of the observers.

    In Audrey Watters book, Teaching Machines (2021). She talks about how assumptions are often made that as tech advances and creates faster and more efficient computer capabilities we need to apply it to learning solutions and this will result in better learning and teaching (Watters, p. 12). Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it. Even with hopeful ideas about the future reiterations of the technology there needs to be an unfulfilled gap for learners and teachers. It can’t be driven by the tech the driver should be the learning.
    There are proponents of ed tech who we see take the exact opposite stance where they develop something because they can and then try to spin it as a match to the needs of learners and teachers. Just because we can does not mean we should even if we wrap our tech solutions in hopeful ideas about the future of education and technology. We don’t think Kozma or Clark would accept this approach of putting the tech advancement before the learning and teaching needs either.

    Watters, Audrey. (2021) Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  3. Hi Paula and Karen,

    Your post on The Great Media Debate was really enjoyable! I love the two articles you chose as they provide great contrast. The Chatbot technology exemplifies what still seems to be futuristic, science-fiction type media. “Pay to play” resources are a very real, in the moment, almost profiteering venture that has slipped into a crack created by technological progression and regulation in many districts. Ultimately, would Clark or Kozma determine that either has impacted learning in a new and unique way? I arrive at the same conclusion as you: The potential is there, but as yet unachieved; the debate rages on!

    Thanks for sharing,

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