How is educational technology defined?

Historically, there have been numerous definitions and statements concerning the nature and function of educational technology, according to Paul Saettler (2004).  Educational technology has been a term including both instructional technologies, which focus on the teacher and the pedagogies they might employ, and learning technologies, which focus on the learner.  Its meaning has been “intertwined with certain historical conceptions and practices or bound to specific philosophical and psychological theory as well as with particular scientific orientations” and clouded by “the tendency in some quarters to equate new information technology with a technology of instruction” (Saettler, 2004, p. 5).  In the 20th century, four paradigm shifts, each with different philosophical and theoretical orientations, affected theory and practice and definitions of educational technology.  Saettler characterized those as “(1) the physical science or media view; (2) the communications and systems concept; (3) the behavioral science-based view . . .; and (4) the cognitive science perspective” (p. 7).

Definitions, and resulting mindset of the educational technologist, have been influenced by the nature of technology of the time and what could be done with it.  In the early and mid-20th century, the focus was on using tools associated with instructional technologies from blackboards to overhead projectors, B. F. Skinner’s learning machines, films and movies, and mainframe computers. However, the advent of computer terminals, personal computers, the Internet, and the growth of broadband communications in the late 20th century enabled mindset shifts toward learning technologies, as those advances enabled greater interactivity and increased possibilities for collaboration among learners. 

Thus in the 21st century, we see definitions reflecting a new mindset leaning toward learning technologies and on how instructional technologies can best serve learning. For example, the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) defines educational technology as “the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources” (Richey, Silber, & Ely, 2008, p. 24).  AECT has also addressed this issue fully in its book: Educatinal Technology: A Definition with Commentary, edited by Alan Januszewski and Michael Molenda (2007).

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