Technology Defined

Albert Ip has changed the name of his blog from Random walk in elearning to Random walk in learning. Albert says that there are no specific learning technologies, just technologies that can be used for learning.

Of course we can talk about how to use a certain technology in a certain way to help some learners learn something. This is the process and context. Technology, information, artifacts, classrooms, chairs, etc are just part of the context. The actual process occurs between the ears of the learners, may be influenced by the process organised by the teacher.

My working definition of technology is similar, in that I see my work as a combination of 1) helping people to learn, 2) helping organisations and people to work better and 3) using information & communication technologies appropriately. Hence the name of this site, “Conversations at the intersection of learning, work and technology”. As far as technology is concerned, I use Harold Stolovitch’s description as my working definition:

Technology is the application of organized and scientific knowledge to solve practical problems.

Perhaps the creation of the “learning technologies” field has done us a disservice in spawning a separate discipline from learning (or education or training). As tool builders and tool users for millennia, we cannot escape our technologies, nor should we give them over to a small priesthood of experts.

6 Responses to “Technology Defined”

  1. Dave Lee

    Hey Harold: I guess I feel somewhat compelled to comment here because of the name of my blog having not one, but two e’s in front of learning. I’ll go into more detail over on eelearning, but I think there a bit of an error in assuming elearning is only about technology and learning and somehow excludes one from talking about learning in general.

    Chalkboards, overhead projectors and desks with chairs are all learning technologies when brought into the classroom. In my mind the e has been about the particular problems that the introduction of the the computer and other electronic devices along with the expansion of the internet and world wide web have introduced into learning environments.

    It’s always been about what learners need to learn, where and how they are going to find or be presented with the appropriate content so that they can learn it, how it might be re-enforced and how they or others might assess their knowledge or skills to determine if learning has occurred.

    That some people may have gotten too focused on the technnology at the expense of good learning is obvious. but I’ve never seen Albert as being among those and really don’t think dropping a letter from the name of a blog is going to change anything.

  2. mark oehelrt

    I will walk carefully so as not to tread on any feelings regarding names of blogs, or careers or anything else. 😉 I also feel fairly safe behind “e-Clippings” since I’m not about to drop the e and start mailing out actual clippings or anything.

    Perhaps too it is the historian in me that looks to Merriam-Webster and sees that the definition of “technologia” is “systematic treatment of an art” that finds some resonance there with my focus on ‘learning as an art’ and is OK with applying a ‘technological’ label to that.

    So all that is preface to say that I don’t really have a problem with the use of ‘technology’ – my problem is actually with the use of the word ‘learning.’ Not in the sense that it can refer to what people inside their heads but instead I object to they way our industry has productized the word and tried to make people believe that ‘learning’ is something that can be bought or sold or designed or managed with an LMS. Can someone please bring me a box of learning?

    So maybe I stayed up too late last night and am posting too early this morning but I think the better debate might be focused on how we misuse ‘learning’ versus how we misplace the “e”

  3. Harold

    Mark, I think you’re right about the misuse of the term learning. Before the first dot com bubble, online learning was more about learning, or at least training & education. Then vendors saw how much money they could make, especially on software that was priced on a per license model. Then the marketing pros got hold of learning and turned it into a commodity. This was followed by the bean counters who talked about cost per hour of instructional development. What the heck is an hour of web-based instruction, anyway?

    Both Stolovitch’s & M-W’s definitions of technology work well for me. I think that everyone in the learning professions has to have some understanding of the effects and uses of various technologies, because we are all immersed in our technologies.

    1. Learning is not a commodity, it is an innate natural ability.
    2. Technologies cannot be treated as separate from pedagogy/androgogy, because they are part of our environment. We have to understand them.

  4. Emma

    Read the post – and the comments – with interest, until I came upon Harold’s point #1: Learning is … an innate natural ability. The truth of the matter is, that as an instructional designer – or e-learning developer; whatever you want to call me/our profession – I have absolutely no control over learning. Learning happens inside/within the learner (whom we used to call student). All I can do is remove obstacles to learning, and present materials in such a way as to make the student want to learn. I can promote understanding, I can present in a multitude of ways to accommodate different learning styles, but what the student learns, or whether she learns at all, is out of my hands. Call me old-fashioned, but I wish we’d all go back to talking about “teaching” or “instructing” or “facilitating” — anything but learning.

  5. graham watt

    In many discussions about technology and learning we place a lot of importance on the latest found technologies. Begging an assumption that these technologies should replace earlier ones, and receive a bye as somehow being better in the sense that they are the latest thinking. Yes, some of us feel all progress is advance.
    Dave Lee, a respondent in Harold’s blog on e-learning technology reminded us that blackboards and erasers are technologies too. Actually, the pencil is a more significant technology than a word processor: Simple, cheap, and an instant hard copy. We are perhaps too impatient in wanting to change the learning scene to fit new technologies which we are certain will improve learning in schools, and we may be dismissing valuable and time-proven technologies. I know the education field is a mess, but we need to remain reasonably objective. In this respect let me comment a bit on some older technologies in a very different context and how the admiration we have for the latest thinking can sometimes fool us in to mistaking newness for better technology. A common conceit in the presentmindedness of our times. The example I give is from Roland Huntford’s book, Scott and Amundsen and examines the 1912 race to the South Pole and the very different aspects of technologies which were used. Robert Falcon Scott, the British Navy Captain and expedition leader was convinced that new technologies, combined with English pluck and hard work were the secrets to a successful South Pole victory. He had nothing but distain for Inuit technologies, especially in their cold weather clothing and referred to the Inuit as “savages”. His answer in the clothing area consisted of tight woven cotton cloth, wool and balaclavas. He believed in manhauling too, seeing the use of dogs and sleds as cheating. At the same time he believed ponies and gasoline tractors would be beneficial. Roald Amundsen, on the other hand, was a great admirer of Inuit technology, and being Norwegian, had perhaps some of this admiration coming from his own proximity to actual arctic weather. John Rae, a Hudson’s Bay surgeon, fur trader and explorer had impressed Amundsen with his knowledge of winter travel in the arctic, and his use of ageless Inuit technologies in clothing and survival. He believed in dogs and fur.
    The point here is that Scott didn’t consider the Inuit had technologies at all, and perhaps, with that arrogance we often possess, confused the latest with the best. The Amundsen expedition made extensive studies of Inuit clothing
    and many other aspects of life in low temperatures, and rather easily succeeded while Scott and his team perished, after arriving second at the pole. Ironically, the enormous poignancy of such a miserable death met with such bravery allowed Scott to ultimately win the public relations race, as the taciturn Amundsen possessed none of the poetic polar chutzpah of Scott. What had happened between Scott and Amundsen was really disparate understandings of what technologies were. Scott believing that the latest technologies were necessarily better; Amundsen delving into the historical aspects of Inuit technology with the greatest of respect, and capitalizing on them. Of course, there were other aspects here other than technology. On Scott’s side here was the English stiff upper lip and a sense of the heroic death. A plunging on in pain and misery to a glorious end. On Amundsen’s side there was a methodical examination of the problem and a meticulous preparation for solving it. The study of Inuit clothing and the use of dogs was supplemented with a ruthless paring down of sledge weight, the brazing shut of kerosene tins to prevent evaporation, and even the importance of recreation (Amundsen’s team, after descending from the 11,000 foot glacial plateau on skis, went back up part of it for another ski run).
    Amundsen’s enterprise sounds much like Harold Stolovitch’s definition of technology as being the application of organized and scientific knowledge to solve practical problems. Of course, the hard question is which technology.
    In the end, very old technologies won out over what was considered the most leading edge thinking. Nothing wrong with technology. Lots wrong with presentmindness dismissing those technologies which may be more senior.


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