EDTECH 504 Reflection: How are emerging technologies, learning theories, and theories of educational technology connected?

Learning theories try to explain how people learn. They are based on empirical research and assumptions. They include principles about how particular factors affect learning. Teaching and learning strategies are developed based on these principles. Ertmer and Newby (1993) emphasize the importance of learning theory as a source of verified strategies, as the foundation for strategy selection, and as the most reliable way for predicting learning outcomes. When I first began learning about learning theories I felt I had to choose one of them and design all learning exercises following the theory’s principles. I soon learned this was impossible as I teach varied things to varied learners in varied settings. Each major theory has its merits and limitations. Using different strategies based on the learning context is the most prudent strategy. Often strategies from multiple theories are used simultaneously.

Two resources have been instrumental in my understanding of learning theories: chapter four of Larson and Lockee’s Streamlined ID (2014) and a review by Ertmer and Newby (1993). I refer often to the assumptions and design strategies outlined in tables 4.3 through 4.6 in Streamlined ID when designing learning experiences (Larson and Lockee, 2014). The three main learning theories are behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. Some resources separate out sociocultural theory as its own theory while others view it as a subtheory of cognitivism. Similarly, some may consider connectivism as a separate theory while others view it as a subtheory of constructivism.

It is important to realize that when the main learning theories were developed computer-mediated communications (CMC) did not exist. CMC and emerging technologies have changed how we think about learning theories. Once you employ strategies of a traditional learning theory via an emerging technology or a more traditional e-learning technology it becomes a theory of educational technology. One must then make sure that the assumptions that applied to traditional learning environments still apply to e-learning environments. I think there is still much research to be done in this area.

I have begun to teach online over that past two years. My mentor in developing my first online course told me we were going to develop the course based on constructivist principles. So I became a constructivist. I developed video-based authentic clinical scenarios for each module of the course. During each module students resolve the clinical scenario using a clinical research article and along the way learn about research design and epidemiology. An assumption of constructivism is that transfer of knowledge is facilitated when learning experiences are authentic, meaningful, and appropriately contextualized (Larson and Lockee, 2014, p. 85). I think the clinical scenarios I developed meet those criteria but does video of an actual clinical encounter transmit that same authenticity as a real life clinical setting? Probably not, but what and how much effect does this difference have on learning? This is an example of needing to study underlying assumptions of learning theories to see if they are valid in e-learning environments.


Ertmer, P. A., & Newby T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4): 50-72.

Larson, M. B., & Lockee, B. B. (2014). Streamlined ID: A practical guide to instructional design. New York: Routledge.


EDTECH 504 Module 3 Reflection: extend your linkages between theories of learning, theories of educational technology and your own classroom instruction.

During this module I chose to read about learning communities as the extra chapter I had to read (Hill, 2012). This chapter resonates with my own beliefs about learning in that learning is a social endeavor. This is interesting because I didn’t always have this opinion. I went through K-12 in the 1970’s, high school in the early 1980’s, and college in the late 1980’s. Education then was not a social endeavor. I had my notes, textbooks, and a desk in my room where I memorized content for hours on my own. In fact, there were times classmates wanted to get together to “study together” and I refused because I didn’t learn that way. I had to struggle with the material myself to make meaning out of it.

In medical school in the early 1990’s we had a few group learning events. Gross anatomy is traditionally a group event with four to six students assigned to a cadaver but I never liked trying to learn anatomy with others around. I enjoyed the social aspect of cavorting with my tank mates but didn’t feel I learned much from and with them. It was not until my graduate studies in public health (from 1996-1998) that I began to see the benefits of team based learning. Harvard School of Public Health was focused on project-based learning. I was shocked that I never took a single test in any class. We developed artifacts while solving authentic problems. Moreover, we did these projects as a small group. It was an epiphany. I never realized how much I could learn from hearing and debating someone else’s opinion or approach to a problem.

Fast forward to the last few years. I have become a strong believer (and user) of message boards, blogs, and Twitter for education. I enjoy the social nature of learning from others in a dynamic way. I had never tied any learning theory to my use of these tools until this module. When I was forced to redesign a previously taught face-to-face course into an online course I had a couple of challenges that are relevant to this reflection. I needed to design ways for students to have a social presence and ways for me to have a social presence.

While reading the learning communities chapter (Hill, 2012), I especially became interested in social presence theory. I have taken a couple of Coursera MOOCs and never felt any connection to any of my tens of thousands of “classmates”. It was a struggle to find the motivation to finish those courses. When I read about social presence I understood where my feelings of isolation came from. There are multiple definitions of social presence but Picciano’s (2002) definition summarized how I felt: “a student’s sense of being and belonging in a course.” I never felt that.

My medical school has directed learning communities. Students are broken up into groups of six, called ICM groups, that stay together for the first two years of medical school. I felt I could improve perceived social presence by having ICM groups work together to answer the more difficult, applied questions in each module of my online course. I hypothesized that the level of understanding required for these tasks was beyond the cognitive capacity of many of the individual students but within the collective cognitive capacity of the group. I also required that a new leader be chosen for each module such that every student in the ICM group would lead at least one group discussion. I hoped that working together would improve social presence. It might have but it was a failure nonetheless. According to end of the course surveys, all they did was have the group leader do all the work and turn it in for the group. They never had discussions as a group. I have no way to query them further to see why they did this but I suspect three main reasons. First, they are metacognitively too immature or unskilled to understand the benefits of team learning. Second, they are given too many tasks in all their courses and they have to decide how best to spend their limited out of class time. Finally, they commonly work together in their ICM groups and are thus not typical online learners. They see their ICM group mates on a daily basis and didn’t need the interaction so as not to feel isolated in my course.

In this same course I also required students to post two responses per semester on Edmodo.com to threaded module discussions. These discussions were designed to extend their knowledge to concepts that were just beyond what the course materials covered. About one quarter of the students took it seriously and responded with thoughtful comments and challenged each other’s comments. They also used each other’s names when responding thus demonstrating some social presence. The remaining three quarters of the class didn’t respond at all. I was forced to drop this component of the course so that three quarters of the class didn’t fail the course (I required all components of the course to be passed and they were equally weighted). When asked why the majority of students didn’t participate in the Edmodo.com threaded discussions the main responses where that they didn’t feel it added to the course content and was just busy work and that it was an inconvenience to log into another site. Of note, our in-house developed CMS has no discussion board functionality.

Finally, I fostered teacher social presence in several ways. I made a welcome video filmed in my home office wearing casual clothing. I met with students face-to-face for an hour during every module to answer questions and review the most difficult topics. I promptly answered emails, usually within minutes of receiving them. Finally, I used Yahoo Messenger for virtual office hours. Though I didn’t use a validated scale to measure social presence, students indicated they felt a strong teacher presence in the course.

One of the things I have gained from this module is a sense of grounding of my design to learning theory and theories of educational technology. Why my designed failed in the sense that the students refused to participate properly at least I can feel comfort that my design had a basis in theory.


Hill, J. R. (2012). Learning communities: Theoretical foundations for making connections. In D. Jonassesn & S. Land (Eds.), Theoretical foundations of learning environments. New York: Routledge.

Picciano, A. G. (2002). Beyond student perceptions: Issues of interaction, presence, and performance in an online course. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 6(1), 21-40.

EDTECH 504 Reflection 1: Educational technology definition and goals for the course and professional practice

It was interesting to read my classmate’s definitions of educational technology. Despite all of us having taken multiple edtech courses, there was not as much consistency as I thought there would be amongst our definitions. I chose to use the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) definition of educational technology for several reasons. It was the first formal definition I learned about in EDTECH 501. It is the definition proposed by one of the professional bodies of educational technology and it has thoughtfully evolved over the past half century as outlined in chapter 10 (Januszewski and Molenda, 2008). Finally, it has face validity and seems to contain all the important elements it should. The only component that I might add would be the facilitation of teaching. The AECT definition is learning-centered but I also think technology facilitates teaching.

In Discussion one I compared and contrasted the AECT definition to that of Luppicini’s (2005) definition of educational technology in society. I feel they both capture similar elements as I outlined.

We all use technology to teach. I do a fair amount of creation and usage but not a lot of managing of resources and processes. What I use varies as I teach in varied settings (clinical and nonclinical, face-to-face and online, formal and informal) to varied learners (medical students, other health professions students, residents, and faculty) and on varied topics (each patient can have numerous things to teach about). I use cadavers to facilitate a monthly joint injection workshop. I never considered the cadaver a technology but it is. I use a blog platform to facilitate learning about perioperative medicine (uabpreop.com). I recently developed the first online course for the medical school (medicine.uabebm.com). I had limited knowledge and experience in online teaching and learning when I began developing the course. As I learned about mobile learning and using the web for education I became very interested in educational technology. I began to experiment with various tools, for example Prezi and TouchCast, but realized I had no reason for using one tool over another, other than its “coolness factor”. Thus, I decided to pursue a master in educational technology to link theory to practice.

One of the main things I hope to get out of this course (and the whole degree program) is consistent with objective eight on the syllabus. I hope to develop a systematic approach to using technology in my teaching and to be able to express that approach to colleagues. I would also like to have a firmer grasp of how learning theories apply to educational technology and ground more of what I do in theory. In 503 I learned about instructivism, constructivism, and connectivism. I hope to expand on my knowledge of those and how educational technology relates to them. In 503 I learned about aligning objectives, pedagogy, and outcomes. I hope to expand on that by aligning educational theory with educational technology.

There are no other educational technology trained physicians or instructors at my medical school. I plan to be a resource and change agent. The medical school is moving to a more flipped model with less face-to-face instruction. I plan to help guide them through this transition. I also hope to be involved in choosing technologies as the medical school moves forward.


Januszewski, A., & Molenda, M. (2008). Educational Technology: A Definition with Commentary. New York: Routledge.

Luppicini, R. (2005). A systems definition of educational technology in society. Educational Technology & Society, 8(3), 103-109.