A postcard from the 1900 world's fair depicting a student grinding books in a large grinder, connected by wires to headphones to students in a classroom while the teacher reads at his desk.
En L’An 2000 by Jean-Marc Côté. Public domain.

Throughout my graduate studies, and beyond, I persistently questioned the whole notion of “educational” as a descriptive component of some sub-set of “technology.” In the course of that academic work, I came to understand that there is the hardware-centric discussion of technology in education (our discussion of “tools”) and the software, or process-centric narrative of technology in the design and organization of teaching and learning experiences (or, our becoming a “tool”). Despite the attempts to create “learning machines,” or to specifically construct software applications for various types of learning, there is not, nor is there ever likely to be, a technology specifically devoted to or bound in its definition by what we define as education. There are only technologies that service our use of information (creation, storage and retrieval) and our processes of communication. In the movie “The Matrix,” the character Neo must quickly learn skills necessary for his survival. His existence as an avatar, plugged into a virtual world, allows his controllers to “upload” a program which instantly gives him the knowledge required. We imagine, much like the circa 1900 postcard above, that technology will allow the instant transfer of “knowledge” (information). Indeed, direct neural transfer of information is being pursued in research labs but with no tangible or applicable results in site, yet. Still, we possess the hope that what is imagined will one day come to be. One day, another hundred years hence, we may look back on our instant access to much information through the internet as a rudimentary beginning of a new type of learning technology. Even now though, the overwhelming access to information causes us to question “what is learning?” Is the acquisition of information in greater scope and depth learning, or is learning something more than that?

In my “About-ness” post, I mention my own learning about and subsequent use of the term “information and communications technology (ICT),” an understanding afforded to me by my experiences working along side colleagues from European countries in educational development projects in Africa from 1980 through 1998. Adopting this description allowed me to stop engaging in the hardware-centric discussion of “edtech” and to embrace the more theoretical understanding of instructional design, social pedagogy and androgogy. (I linked out that last one, since I still encounter many people in my work that do not know the difference. A critical one in my opinion for discussions of teaching and learning in higher education especially in our understanding of the shifting demographics of the college/university student population to more adult, “post-traditional” learners.)

It is not “about” the technology, as often happens in our experience here in the US, but the things that we do with the technology. In my doctoral dissertation, I explored the notion that cultural frameworks influence the adoption and utilization of specific technologies (video, in my work) and that by ignoring the cultural framework imported with a technology process, its chances of adoption or adaptation are greatly reduced.

I often emphasize now, when presenting or teaching about online education, that all we ever really do is communicate and engage information in processes that are only ever potentially educational. Further, education is, for me, first a process of knowledge creation and utilization, something which is supported through processes of communication in socially mediated settings. There are technologies available to us to help with that. My main desires these days are finding out how to employ these processes of knowledge creation and utilization in service to improving the world and the lives of all creatures that inhabit it. It is not about the technology, but what we do with the technology.

There is a “potential” educational technology, but mostly we choose not to make it so.