Learning technology through generations – Paper Summary

The following is a summary of Terry Anderson and Jon Dron’s  2012 web article, ‘Learning technology through three generations of technology enhanced distance education pedagogy’. Access to this article can be made using the following link.


This paper updates earlier work in which we defined three generations of distance education pedagogy. We then describe emerging technologies that are most conducive to instructional designs that evolve with each generation. Finally we discuss matching the pedagogies with learning outcomes.


  • Generations of technology enhanced teaching include; cognitive/behaviourist, social constructivist and connectivist
  • Technology enhances educations ‘encapsulates a world view.’
  • ‘Technologies we create and use also come to influence our world.’  ‘We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.’ (Marshall McLuhan)
  • ‘The past century witnessed the fastest and greatest evolution of technical capacity known in human history with profound consequence to all human activity.’
  • ‘Educators have always had profoundly ambiguous and often suspicious relationships with technology.’ ♥ Quotes
  • ‘Modern educational pundits are more likely to disguise deep animosity to technology by putting technology in a more subservient role to that of pedagogy…technology is just (or only) a tool.’
  • ‘We have all seen instances where very powerful technology cannot be used, or is put to ineffective use, because the learning activities, evaluation methods or outcomes expected – the educational pedagogy – neutered than technology.’
  • Love this explanation of how technology and pedagogy together create the dance. ♥

‘Technology is the music setting the tempo, the beat, the timbre and the compelling melodies.  The pedagogy defines the choreography, directing the dancers sweeping motions, graceful extension and enduring embraces.  Together technology and pedagogy reveal and develop our human creativity and responsiveness and allow us to effectively and enjoyably.” (Anderson 2009)

  • Interesting observations regarding the fact that very few technology disappear with the advent of new technologies, rather the possible uses of those technologies coupled with the new can actually create new ways of ultilise both. ‘Not only do technologies no die, but new ones incorporate the old…technologies evolve not through adaptation by by assembly, incorporating pieces of earlier designs.’ (Arthur 2009)
  • Technology can create new ways of doing things that were previous not possible.

Cognitivist/Behaviourist pedagogy

  • Behaviour learning theory is based on the notion that learning occurs when learners adopt new behaviours or demonstrate a change in behaviour as the result of an individual’s response to stimuli…focus is on the individual and the necessity for measuring actual behaviours and not attitudes, intentions or capacities.’
  • Behaviourist theory connected to training.  East of measuring changes in behaviour as skill is mastered.
  • ‘Cognitive learning theories…focus on how processing within the individual brain effects comprehension, understanding, storage and retrieval of information.’
  • Cognitive theory considers individuals motivation and attitudes and how these may or may not impact upon behaviour – ‘effectiveness and efficiency’.
  • ‘Locus of control…is very much the teacher of instructional designer.’

learning activities associated with cognitive-behaviourist models

  • Instructional design models – use a scientific approach  to guide ‘the development, application and assessment of learning.’
  • In this model teacher identifies goals to find out ‘deficiencies in learners’ behaviour that can be rectified by new learning.’
  • Technology can increase the ‘transparency of these activities’ allow for greater analysis in order to ascertain individual behaviours requiring further intervention.
  • Model ‘relied on the use of high quality text and usually multi-media learning content.’
  • Increasing teacher and students are creating and using their own materials/media content to supplement learning.
  • Internet has expanded the capabilities of this model as a means of documenting learning.
  • ‘The internet provides the infrastructure for multiple ways of sharing content that is the key to quality CB pedagogy.’
  • Creative Common licensing has a create capacity to allow sharing of materials whilst ‘retaining copyright’.
  • ‘Contributor problem’ – how do you get people to upload and share their content?
  • Adaptive CB – caters to the individual learning styles and needs of individual students. ‘Open Learning Models’.
  • MOOCS are example of the increase of CB in online instruction.

Social-constructivist pedagogy of distance education

  • Cognitive-constructivist thinking ‘hinges on personal construction of knowledge’ – connected to constructivist model (work of Vygotsky 1978 and Dewey 1897)
  • Social-constructivism – ‘focused on groups of learners, learning together with and from one another.’  (synchronous and asynchronous learning)
  • Context for learning are places “where learners may work together and support each other as they use a variety of tools and information resources in their guided pursuit of learning goals and problem-solving activities.” (Wilson 1996)
  • ‘Teachers do not merely transmit knowledge to be passively consumed by learners; rather, each learner constructs the means by which new knowledge is both create and integrated with existing knowledge.’

Common themes in Social Constructivism

  • New knowledge builds upon the foundations of existing knowledge
  • Context helps to shape learners’ knowledge development.
  • Learning is an active process rather than a passive one
  • Language and other social tools tools are pivotal to knowledge construction.
  • Use ‘metacognition and evaluation as a means to develop learners’ capacity to assess their own learning.’ – self evaluation
  • Is learner-centred and values the multiple perspectives and input of others
  • ‘[S]ocial discussion, validation and application’ of knowledge in real world situations is essential for knowledge acquisition

‘Learning is located in contexts and relationships rather than merely in the minds of individuals.’


Emerging TECHNOLOGIES and constructivist models

  • ‘Social constructive models only became populate in distance educations when ‘the technologies of many-to-many communications became widely available…first by email and bulletin boards, and later through synchronous technologies.’
  • Technologies first used to reflect traditional campus classroom structures.
  • ‘The challenge of synchronous interactions in constructivist-based models generated the need to create rich opportunities for dialogue and collaboration in asynchronous contents.’
  • Model still challenge by issues of time constraints of distance learners and the challenge of different time zones.
  • ‘Data mining and learning analytics are not only used to support independent study based on CB models but are being utilised to support and enhance group work.’ eg: TRAC systems – monitor group logs to identify patterns.
  • ‘Network analysis tools are also emerging as powerful ways for teachers to  monitor learning groups and identify potential or emergent problems among learners.’ eg: LMS
  • ‘Constructivist pedagogies use the diversity of viewpoints, cultural experiences and the potential for divergent opinion that is best realised through interactions with group member from other cultures, languages and geographies.’

 CONNECTivist pedagogy of distance education

  • Connectivism suggests that ‘learning is the process of building networks of information, contact, and resources that are applied to real problems.’
  • Variations on this approach include ‘networks of practice’ (Wasko & Faraj 2005), ‘networked learning’ (De Laat 2006), ’emergent learning’ (Kay & Sims 2006), ‘distributed cognition’ (Pea 1993), ‘constructionism’ (Papert & Harel 1991) and ‘communities of practice’ (Wenger 1998)/
  • ‘Connectivist learning focuses on building and maintaining networked connections that are current and flexible enough to be applied to existing and emergent problems.’
  • ‘Learner’s role is not to memorise or even understanding everything, but to have the capacity to find, filter and apply knowledge when and where is is needed.’
  • ‘Connectivism assumes that much mental processing and problem solving can and show be off-loaded to machines.’
  • Interest point that when it comes to pedagogy and the organisation of learning in the model that there is a need to create ‘networked and personal learning environment that offer appropriate levels of freedom, control and constraint’ (Dron 2007).
  • As and point – ‘The crowd can be a source of wisdom (Surowiecki 2005) but can equally be a source of stupidity’ (Carr 2010). ♥

“Two essential characteristics though define connectivist pedagogies.  The first is the need to gain high levels of skill using personal learning networks that provide ubiquitous and on demand access to resources, individuals and groups of potential information and knowledge servers.  The second is the focus on creation, as opposed to consumption, of information and knowledge resources.’

Connectivist technologies

  • ‘[L]earning experiences demand that learners have the tools and the competencies necessary to effectively find, sort, evaluate, filter, reformat and publish content on the net.’
  • ‘Individual and groups are helped to create and continuously augment, adapt and use a personal learning environment (PLE).’
  • ‘[A] PLE is not just a single application, but rather an environment or content.  It is populated by tools for filtering, sorting, creating, aggregating and publishing.’
  • A ‘PLE is also social, provide means to follow, query and reflect upon topic with significant others as well as the undifferentiated crowd.’
  • ‘[M]ost valuable tool… is the network itself.’

Theory of Emergent Learning (TEL) – Kay & Sims 2006

  • ‘individual learners (in addition to designers) are responsible for defining the own learning objectives and activities’
  • ‘the very uncertainty and lack of predictability of learning outcomes will be the key factor that adds value to a learning community.’
  • ’emergent systems will provide the necessary triggers to enhance knowledge and understanding.’
  • ’emergent learning will be one of critical triggers to unleash individual creativity.’
  • ‘PLE are a place for ‘creating, sharing and publishing learning artefacts.’
  • PLE is a place where learners develop an ‘understanding of the technical and legal means to distribute work, while maintaining appropriate privacy levels and not infringing on the copyright nor plagiarising the working of other.’
  • ‘The only solution to the privacy dilemma is to let each student set the level of access that they feel is most appropriate for them and more explicitly for the nature of the content being distributed.’
  • ‘Connectivist designs also involve the discovery of and contribution to new learning communities.  Learners are encouraged to make themselves, their contributions and they personal learning environment accessible to others.’
  • ‘Constructivist and connectivists see learning as a profoundly social activity (Vygotsky 1978; Wenger 1998) and that social activity is increasingly taking place in networked contexts.’
  • ‘The highly divergent and distributed nature of connectivist modes of learning makes it considerably harder to apply analytics than in the more contained context of CB or social constructivist models.’


aligning pedagogical designs and technologies

  • In considering that the primary goal is of the learning and knowledge in the educational experiences, Bloom’s Taxonomy and Cognitive Domain seems to be applicable to each theory.

Blooms and Cognitive Domain models


Anderson, T. & Dron, J. (2012). Learning technology through three generations of technology enhanced distance education pedagogy. Retrieved July 29, 2014, from http://www.eurodl.org/?p=archives&year=2012&halfyear=2&article=523



2 responses to “Learning technology through generations – Paper Summary

  1. Pingback: Emergence, improvisation and course design | The Weblog of (a) David Jones

  2. Pingback: Identities, communities of practice (CoPs) and knowledge skimming creating rich opportunitis for learning | Networked and Global Learning for Cystic Fibrosis

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