Technology can bring the collective wisdom of the global citizenry together to make the world a better place.

I am astounded on a regular basis at how much I get done. I am astounded by how much my job demands of me, how much my learners demand of me, it never seems to end, and yet it all gets done.  Why? Because of technology.

I can do MORE with technology.  I can create MORE easily with technology.  I can teach MORE clearly with technology. I can learn MORE with technology. I can communicate MORE with technology.  But like everything there is a cost.

People expect MORE from me now that technology is ubiquitous.  MORE time, MORE emails, MORE work.  But try imagining productivity levels without it.  You probably can’t, I can’t.  Yes I feel like I’m going at a million miles an hour but would that really change if it was all taken away? I don’t mean being on a holiday without technology, I mean the workplace, school, they are and always will be busy places. Technology hasn’t made them more so, just more productive. We can do more in less time, we can reach more students, teach more effectively, but only if done in the right way.

In my classroom I teach students, presently those students are young boys who will be the men and leaders of tomorrow.  I don’t just teach them Mathematics, I try to connect with them, inspire them, engage them, excite them and model for them how to be an honest, authentic and caring human being.  The world they in which they live, and will work, is changing at an ever-increasing rate, and I feel it is our duty as educators to model best-practice with technology use.  It shouldn’t matter which subject discipline we teach I believe we should be teaching and working with real world technology that allows for skills to be learned in safe environments, where mistakes can be made and learned from, reflected on and more risks taken.  As teachers we need to be risk takers as well and model this for our learners.

In previous posts on this blog I outline my teaching philosophy and experiences.  As a Mathematics educator I know acutely the challenges faced by learners who don’t have fluency with basic maths skills.  “Prerequisite skills must be applied quickly and without conscious effort in order to be most useful.” (Roblyer, 2016). Skills such as times tables and simple mental arithmetic are essential language skills of mathematics that are best learned via direct instruction and the behavioural repetition strategies of Gagne (1982). And this is where Mathematics teachers get a bad wrap – just because we still favour (and inherently know!) that these strategies work – we get labeled obstructionist not just behaviourists. The latest 21st century skills movements which advocate for inquiry based learning or project based learning, the constructivist approaches of Piaget, often see Mathematics educators as dragging the chain. However I would argue we were some of the first adopters of educational technology.  The drill and skill, the online mathematics games of the 80’s and early 90’s, even today online tools like illustrate the staying power of mastery learning concepts in Mathematics.  

But we must do MORE. It is not enough to just demonstrate mastery of a skill or set of skills, we must teach our learners to integrate them and construct new knowledge.  I, like many others I’m sure, teach using multiple learning theories, and don’t espouse that one is better than another.

I aspire to have students graduate from my classrooms with the digital skills and literacy to continue learning for life.  I want them to be creators of new knowledge and digital explorers for the 22nd century. I want them to have the confidence in their abilities and the collective wisdom of the global citizenry together to make the world a better place.


Gagne, R. (1982). Developments in learning psychology: Implications for instructional design. Educational Technology, 22(6), 11-15

Roblyer, M. D.. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching. (7th Ed). Allyn & Bacon


There is a place for everything.

Do you subscribe to or have you even heard of emerging learning theories such as connectivism or transactional distance?

How about more of a learning strategy or framework known as TPCK (or TPACK) or SAMR?


The SAMR framework

Dr. Ruben Puentedura developed the SAMR model as a way for teachers to evaluate how they are incorporating technology into their instructional practice. You can use SAMR to reflect upon how you are integrating technology into your classroom.

You can read more about and from Dr. Ruben Puenedura here on his blog: in particular I’d recommend looking at his latest conference slides from Oct 29, 2014 where he aligns TPACK directly with SAMR.  For a number of years now the two frameworks have been operating in parallel with many educators switching between them or struggling to decide which works best in their area. Apple themselves have openly adopted the SAMR through their network of ADEs.

So what is TPACK? Well for starters their are loads of videos and simple explanations, just google it and you’ll probably find


The TPACK framework

This site explain it nicely as:

Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) is a framework that identifies the knowledge teachers need to teach effectively with technology.The TPACK framework extends Shulman’s idea of Pedagogical Content Knowledge.

At the heart of the TPACK framework, is the complex interplay of three primary forms of knowledge: Content (CK), Pedagogy (PK), and Technology (TK). The TPACK approach goes beyond seeing these three knowledge bases in isolation. TPACK also emphasizes the new kinds of knowledge that lie at the intersections between them, representing four more knowledge bases teachers applicable to teaching with technology: Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK), Technological Content Knowledge (TCK), Technological Pedagogical Knowledge (TPK), and the intersection of all three circles, Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK).

Effective technology integration for pedagogy around specific subject matter requires developing sensitivity to the dynamic, transactional relationship between these components of knowledge situated in unique contexts. Individual teachers, grade-level, school-specific factors, demographics, culture, and other factors ensure that every situation is unique, and no single combination of content, technology, and pedagogy will apply for every teacher, every course, or every view of teaching.

The framework was developed by Mishra & Koehler back in 2006 as they searched for a way to integrate technology with Lee Shulman’s Pedagogical Content knowledge approach.

I personally have used both in my classrooms over the past decade and continue to find them both useful as separate frameworks.   I often find the SAMR model more applicable when looking specifically at a new tool or device.  It allows you to ask the question – why am I using this? Or what does it allow me to do that I couldn’t do before? How can it “redefine” the learning task? All great reflective questions we should be asking when we approach the classroom with something we’ve done before.  For more great reflection on TPACK check out this blog here:

So what learning theories do you use in the classroom of today? When technology is ever present, how do you incorporate the best of what you know with new advances or the emerging consequences of these advances (eg. the answer to what you used to ask can be answer by Siri on your phone in 3 seconds!)?

The challenge for educators is not to throw the baby out with bathwater.


IMHO I would argue there is a place for all accepted learning theories in our classrooms.  I for one would be the first to admit I’ve had students who have not responded well to “independent”, “21st C” or “constructivist” style lessons.  We all know these students, they are most often the really bright ones who have figured out the “game” of education and they just want you to tell them what they need to know for the test, so they can write it down and forget it later.  Any other process of discovery takes too long.  It can also be the behaviourally challenged students who simply respond well to structure and routine and in some ways need to outsource their self-control to your behaviour management strategy because they have not yet learned how to do it themselves.

Now I’m not saying either of these options is “best” for the learner in those situations they simply are facts of school and the students you come across.  In some ways you could see them as classic examples of behaviourism at work because they have learned those behaviours from some where, the game of schooling probably from their previous teachers year in year out who did the same thing and it worked for that learner OR the behaviourally challenged child who has never had firm boundaries at home perhaps and hence is crying out for some structure and guidelines from their teacher at school.
We live in a messy world and mostly the mess in our kids is created by us somewhere along the way.

So how can we begin to fix things? … take what works for you but never rest on your laurels. As I’ve heard my Headmaster say many times already in 2014 “too good not to be better”, it’s kind of like a motto.

Hence my reflection on learning theories this week and how I see it fitting in with the status quo was to design a hierarchy and “predict” some potential future position. What do you think? Does it have any merit?

Hierarchy of Learning theories

What I really think is interesting is how the learning theories align reasonable well with Bloom’s taxonomy. In addition I’ve hypothesised what might be next – artificial intelligence? To me that is what connectivism is indicating, that knowledge is already out there and that we just need to connect to it or find the connecting node.  Hence once we design a computer with the ability to do this then essentially we’ve taught a computer via “connectivism” and it now has “artificial intelligence”. It’s mode of then passing that information on or providing it to other AI beings would then become the next learning theory.

I’ve also discovered a great blog by Amy Eko Morgan a fellow classmate at BSU who came up with her own mashup of learning theories and called it Legoism.  I don’t like her chances of trademarking that name though.

Check it out here:

And lastly just since I’m a nerd I came across this great use of Lego in an instructional video from an online statistics course at Udacity.  Just beautiful don’t you think?

Theory of education on technology; or Educational technology theory?

Here’s a question to ponder — Do educators in your field propose a theory of learning and then use that on/with technology OR do they have technology and are then looking for an educational technology theory to apply?

Which happens more often in your school or educational institution?  Is it a case of the cart before the horse?

Picture of the cart before the horse.

In the past few weeks I have been challenged by a number of readings in both educational technology (or ICT – information and communication technologies outside of America) and theories on learning.

I realise that over the past 5 years I have adopted personas and even thought it was the pinnacle of an educators ICT expertise to become a “miracle worker”, an Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE),  a Google Certified Teacher or an Adobe Education Leader.  A “miracle worker” is what De Castell, Bryson, and Jenson (2002) describe as someone who has formed “partnerships” with businesses, and helped the “corporatisation” of educational institutions:

Miracle workers are often located in universities, and take the form of ‘high-­flyer’ academics with branded and quasi entrepreneurial mega­-projects and high­-profile revenue­-generating products (e.g., Canada’s TeleLearning Network of Centres of Excellence), whose impressive resources open doors to schools and/or communities caught up in the frenzy to “Leverage technology to transform the educational experience ” (WebCT, 2001). (para 4)

Having friends and colleagues reach all of these levels I have also had insight in to how true the above label can be.  Often through an educators passion to transform learning and be at the forefront of change, an early adopter, the big corporates attract and suck them in with promises of international trips, speaking events and “free” products that of course lead you to promote their product and hopefully drive sales.  It is a catch 22, principals and administrators also value these educators as they are put up on a pedestal by these companies as the best of the best 21st Century educators.

But my question still stands – are they approaching technology with a learning or educational theory or are they sprouting some corporate created theory of educational technology and what it “can do” for learners?  Who or what is driving the cart here?

For me and my classroom, and even my staff the focus is on “appropriate use” of technology for learning.  This is not just appropriate is terms of behaviour by the learners but appropriate use for the context of the learning task at hand.  I find myself constantly reflecting and asking myself, would technology help here? If so, how, in what way? So it was heartening to see that Wilson (1997), Day and Llyod (2007) put forward the notion that education technology is a “design science of education” and that we must consider the context of the learning environment it is being used in before a learning theory can be applied. Perhaps controversially they also believe that “there are no current accepted norms for the use of theories in educational technology”.  So whether you are are inherently a cognitivist, behaviourist, or constructivist who has moved to more postmodern educational theoretical positions, you still must ask the “big questions”. Where can technology help learning? When should it help and when shouldn’t it?

Inappropriate use of a megaphone

Are you using technology appropriately?

For me this process has been incredibly rewarding.  As an avid ICT user I have also struggled with many of the negatives or downsides surrounding inappropriate use of technology. As a proponent and enthusiast , you are often presented as the pioneer out conquering the frontier so if you don’t show complete confidence in the mission at hand then you’re at risk of loosing followers. But what is more important than the glitz and glam of being a “miracle worker” is the learning.  The learning needs to be front and centre of every conversation which is why it is important for people like Clay Shirky to stand up and say that all is not right in the world of ICT.  Only last month he wrote online:

… this year, I moved from recommending setting aside laptops and phones to requiring it, adding this to the class rules: “Stay focused. (No devices in class, unless the assignment requires it.)” Here’s why I finally switched from ‘allowed unless by request’ to ‘banned unless required’.

We’ve known for some time that multi-tasking is bad for the quality of cognitive work, and is especially punishing of the kind of cognitive work we ask of college students.

This effect takes place over more than one time frame — even when multi-tasking doesn’t significantly degrade immediate performance, it can have negative long-term effects on “declarative memory”, the kind of focused recall that lets people characterize and use what they learned from earlier studying. (Multi-tasking thus makes the famous “learned it the day before the test, forgot it the day after” effect even more pernicious.)

Now if this kind of observation is being seen in the classrooms of NYU surely it is happening elsewhere.  Shirky references a number of studies to support his concerns about the impact of multi-tasking on learning and the learners themselves.  So the simple question is – does “it” need to be always on? The obvious answer in your classroom should be a resounding – no! – unless it is required for the task at hand.  This is certainly how I have approached my lessons in the past year, how about you?

Note: For further reading on my inspiration for writing this post you can find my annotated bibliography on selected research for the appropriate pedagogical affordances of technology in education here: Vass_Annotated_Bibliography and references below.


Day, D., & Lloyd, M. M. (2007). Affordances of online technologies: More than the properties of the technology. Australian Educational Computing, 22(2), 17­21.

De Castell, S., Bryson, M., & Jenson, J. (2002). Object lessons: Towards an educational theory of technology. First Monday, 7(1).

Issroff, K., & Scanlon, E. (2002). Educational technology: The influence of theory. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2002(1).

Wilson, B. G. (1997). Thoughts on theory in educational technology. Educational Technology, Saddle Brook NJ­, 37, 22­-26.

What is your epistemology (or TOK)?

What do you believe?

This is a big one.  Yes it sure is, for starters I bet you’re wondering what is epistemology right? Well if you’re a teacher in an IB (International Baccalaureate) Diploma world school then you would commonly know it as TOK (theory of knowledge).  It is a central part of the diploma programme for senior study and arguably one of the pillars of the diploma.  Students who study TOK have a greater appreciation for learning, the complexities of the world and the human condition… well in my humble opinion that is, but that is why I’m the one writing the blog!

So what is your epistemology in terms of learning, that is what learning theory do you subscribe to personally?
If you’ve never thought about it then may I be so rude as to ask – “why are you trying to teach a dog new tricks”?

Perhaps you’re a behaviourist and subscribe to Pavlov and his dogs?

Perhaps you’re a cognitivist and formally believe that Piaget has had it right all along?

Or perhaps you’re a constructivist and believe the best knowledge a learner can gain is the one they construct themselves?



Or.. I could go on.  This list is endless and you can read more about most of them here

So what do I believe?

Personally I am a theoretical believer in constructivism.  However I also see a place and purpose for some of the pedagogical approaches that can be used and are often confused with the other two main epistemologies – behaviourism and cognitivism.

Yes I have inconsistencies, being a Mathematics teacher this may come as a surprise but don’t forget that Maths teachers are humans too even though we “impart perfect universal truths”..

No caption needed. 😉


And what do I do?

The first thing I do is that I don’t bag out “traditional” methods or approaches.  These approaches to teaching and learning where developed based on sound theories for their time.  Certainly many of them developed around similar times but philosophically didn’t take hold because the philosophical field of education is just awash with every person and their dog wanting to push a political agenda, a new product to revolutionise learning (and make them a millionaire) or just think that the way they were taught must work best because “hey I turned out okay didn’t I?”.

However I am not prepared to put up with teachers, myself included, who are not willing to change and try out new approaches.  The key to doing this is to reflect. Reflect reflect and reflect again.  In fact I think I’ve harped on about this before and it had to do with blogging – yes here.  But you don’t have to blog, you could just write a journal, or spend 15 minutes at the end of every day filling in a table of what worked, what didn’t or what was interesting about your lessons.

I am a behaviourist when it comes to a final examination like a yearly exam, there is no better practice (once summaries and other revision has been done by the learner) than to sit and write multiple past papers under exam conditions.  I often use the sporting analogy of training for a race.  You practice your take off, you log your progress and you review how you went, all for the purpose of beating your personal best (PB) time at the next event.

I am also very much a cognitivist when it comes to how I believe the knowledge in your brain is filed away and organised (your mind).  Ask any of my students and I’m sure they’d agree that I harp on and on about being able to “speak” their mathematics.  You have to have words and labels for the processes of Mathematics to enable your brain to make connections.  I explain them as labels within folders in a filing cabinet where your mind is the cabinet.  If I was to come to your house and ask you to find a file with your tax papers in it you would probably go to your filing cabinet and put your hand straight on it (okay perhaps not everybody could do this .. but stay with me here).  Your mind works the same way, according to Piaget’s schemata epistemology, where you accommodate new knowledge by assimilating it with the old, and IMHO that means having logical links and labels for your mind to find them quickly and link it to prior learning.

Lastly I try to allow students to construct.  By this I mean I continually try to allow them to self discover, to work through problems on their own or in small groups.  To discuss and bring to the table approaches from their prior learning and test them out in new examples.  To integrate topics and apply them to big interesting questions like – how many cars drive across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in a day? I like to focus on the method, the thinking, the problem solving and less on the final answer.  Why do I do this? Because this is what the world needs and it is what the world is like.  It is full of fascinating, unsolved problems with answers so vast that we can only ever hope to solve them by standing on the shoulders of the giants who went before us.

As Issaac Newton once wrote in 1676,

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

For further interest on constructivism you can read the paper I wrote for Edtech504 here: LearningTheoriespaper-DougVass

Defining educational technology in 2014

Firstly welcome back to my blog if you haven’t been here in a while then you haven’t missed much because I haven’t been here either! Having a semester or four off studying, changing schools, changing jobs, and now learning in a new role managing and leading almost 20 teachers takes up a bit of your time… and headspace. 

But I’m back and what did I notice first? Change. WordPress now has an “easier way to post”, google docs is now “google drive” but still has a special “docs” viewer within it.  Moodle has even changed and improved the way you interface with course material.. I particularly like the checklists in modules.. very nice, very nice indeed.  But I digress…

loose change

Yes change, just like the loose change in your pocket at the end of a day is a sign you’ve spent some money, or interacted in the consumer world that we live in, so is change ever present in Educational technology.  It’s not just the tools but also the processes that change, as we refine, learn, and redefine what we can and cannot still do with Educational technology.  All educators are on their own journey with Edtech and are at different stages, with each stage having its own rate of change, possibly in proportion to how much you already know.

But underpinning this weeks reflection is the question that was posed to me in our first module – how do you define Educational Technology?

I couldn’t help but think back to my first subject in this Masters, ET501, and the fact that I think I’ve pondered this question before… and here it is: a post from January 2011.
What struck me as fascinating is that the school I now work in has “appropriate technology” as a key guiding principle its Learning and Teaching philosophy.  So without much ado I’ve ended up in a school that is cutting edge in so many ways and has essentially subscribed to the AECT’s defintion of educational technology “the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.”


Yet as I started up this process of further study again I found myself approaching discussion forums within Moodle in my traditional frame of mind… “devil’s advocate”.  I like to ask challenging questions even when I disagree with the proposition of the question, I like to be provocative and I wonder where that comes from? I could easily sit back and just do the readings and just post some quotes and do “what is expected”… but that is just it …is that really what is expected? Online learning is really still in it’s infancy and we’re subscribing to this process of creating learning communities within courses of digital profiles where we introduce ourselves and share a little personal info in order to feel safe sharing our intellectual opinions. It works, well it seems too but I’ve also never seen it “not work”.  What does that look like? Where is the “naughty class” online? Just my thoughts..


But back to this module reflection, and after reading all the posts in our class discussion I feel there has been none better written than that of a peer, Carrie Day: 

“Educational Technology or Instructional Technology is defined by Roblyer and Doering (2005) as,  “a combination of the process and tools involved in addressing educational needs and problems” (p. 6). This definition sifts through the decades of Educational Technology struggling as a field to define itself. “The process includes the systematic approach for utilizing tools, techniques, theories of learning, and methods from multiple knowledge domains”  (Luppicini, 2005). The tools, ever changing, support teaching and learning to facilitate all aspects of learning. However, Valdez, McNabb, Anderson, Hawkes & Raack (2000) state “the success or failure of technology is more dependent on human and contextual factors than on hardware and software” (p. 6). Seemingly placing the tools secondary to the goal-oriented process.”

She just absolutely nails it.  Just as Luppicini (2005) wrote in his abstract where he quoted the 1977 preface of the AECT definition “I firmly believe that the future of Educational Technology is now in the hands of the thinkers. What is needed is a handful of experienced people who have thought widely and deeply, and who are literally obsessed by the problems posed. These people must have the ability to analyze and synthesize, and, in effect, to invent whole new conceptual frameworks. If they do not have this latter ability, they will soon be reduced merely to improving what is (AECT, 1977).”  I believe Ms Day is one of these thinkers and that as a digital librarian leading over 700 young minds we’re in good hands.

Image source:

Image source:

I also believe that with minds like Koehler, Matthew and Mishra (2009) and the TPACK framework finally Educational Technology is starting to be linked to pedagogical frameworks and concepts like Lee Shulman’s 1986 construct, and hence it no longer stands alone.  I think the term Educational Technology comes laden with all the baggage of unsuccessful applications of “tech” in schools globally.  Of course where there has been success there was always a pedagogical focus first and the process and tools second but rarely is the pedagogy given the kudos for these successes.  Newsletters and word of mouth in parents and communities around these success stories always focus on the tangible “tech tools”.

Finally I wanted to leave you with a little experiment.  Hopefully it shows both sides of this issue of defining educational technology.  Behind technology is just data, binary data and this is computationally powerful but lacking in judgement. I’ve taken all the “data” from our discussion module on this topic and dumped the text into a word cloud creator, in theory it should highlight the key words, the common themes, the strength and common elements to our class’s views on the topic… does it? Or is some form of synthesis still required? 

I leave that thought up to you. The learner.



Koehler, Matthew, and Punya Mishra. “What is technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK)?.” Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education 9.1 (2009): 60-70.

Luppicini, Rocci. “A systems definition of educational technology in society.” Educational Technology & Society 8.3 (2005): 103-109.

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching. Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon Publishers.

Valdez G, McNabb M, North Central Regional Educational Lab. O, et al. Computer-Based technology and learning: Evolving uses and expectations. Revised Edition. [serial online]. May 1, 2000;Available from: ERIC, Ipswich, MA. Accessed August 30, 2014.

Flipping the classroom via pencasts

Pencasting lessons and tutorials anytime, anywhere.

Source: (click on picture for direct link)

Source: (click on picture for direct link)

Okay so firstly let me begin by warning you this may read and look like a sales pitch. And I should be transparent and tell you that whilst I have given Professional Learning presentations about the Livescribe Smartpen before I have never received or been paid for this promotion.  I simply believe it is an awesome and incredibly accessible tool for both teachers and students to use in Education.  It is used widely outside of the Educational field as well but that’s not the focus of this post today.

Like my other recent posts this is aimed at my #DLDG2013 students at UTS.  Hopefully this will spark an idea that you get to explore further whilst on your first teaching placement or for your upcoming inquiry project.

So check out this short little stimulus video and let me know what you think in the comments below the blog, or on Twitter @dougvass using the #DLDG2013.

And because I didn’t demo the pen in my video I thought I’d share this as well.  It’s essentially an advertisement but it does give more of an idea how it works.

Further information on Livescribe smartpens in Australia can be found at

For the iPad apps mentioned checkout the Apple App store and look up one or more of

  • Explain Everything
  • ShowMe
  • Educreations

Lastly for more ideas of Flipping check out Edudemic.

Some ideas for using Evernote in education

Graduating from UTS Kuring-gai - thanks Dr  Anne Prescott!

Graduating from UTS Kuring-gai – thanks Dr Anne Prescott!

Like most educators I’ve been flat out keeping on top of reports, marking, inspiring and getting through the syllabus.  But when I’m not doing that I’m being a learner myself.  That’s right I’m a student, a learner, and an educator all in one.

This semester instead of completing another subject in my Masters of Educational Technology at Boise State I’m giving casual lecturing a go at my alma mater, the University of Technology in Sydney. It is where I completed my Diploma of Education back in 2005, can you believe it?  ==>

So to my #DLDG2013 students reading this post – thanks for tuning in, this post really is for you.

This is one of the many short stimulus sessions that your lecturers will create over the coming weeks to help you think “outside of the box” in ways that you could use technology in your KLA area to meet your inquiry project (Assignment 2).

So does that give you some ideas? Or do you disagree with something I’ve proposed?

Leave a comment below this post, and we’ll continue the discussion.  If you need to register or sign up for WordPress to do so then go right ahead as we’ll be using it later in the semester.

Homemade or packet cake mix? How do you eat your Instructional Design cake?

This is a short reflective synthesis paper I recently wrote from my Instructional Design subject (Edtech503) as part of my Masters in Educational Technology. Like all of my blog entries I’m not claiming to be correct, I’m just sharing and reflecting on my thoughts for my own benefit and perhaps the benefit of others. Please share this with your PLN and leave your comments or feedback below.

A mixing bowl with cake ingredients.

Making it “homemade”.

Learning the difference between how we learn and how we think as humans is perhaps the most critical element a student can discover from this course. According to R. Gagne (1985) there are two primary kinds of cognitive strategies, those for learning, and those for thinking.

Cognitive strategies for learning are mental tactics for attending to, organising, elaborating, manipulating, and retrieving knowledge. Cognitive strategies for thinking are mental tactics that lead to discovery, invention, or creativity.” (Smith & Ragan, 2005)

It is these differences that truly inform how all instructional design is created. At the very heart of instructional design is the desire to teach somebody something. Whether it be how to pass a football, ride a bike, write a sonnet or solve a mathematical equation, the ultimate goal is to teach. The proof of success is whether the learner can complete the task themselves after being taught. Hence one could say the rest of instructional design and the systems related to it, such as ADDIE, are just ways of “scaling up” a one-to-one batch process. When the instructor knows the learner on a one-to-one basis they most likely know that person’s interests, their motivations, their ability and can therefore create and tailor instructional materials specific to their needs. This is what is meant by a one-to-one batch process, consider it like baking a cake from scratch or “a homemade cake”. In your kitchen at home you have the raw ingredients of flour, sugar, eggs, butter and so on to make a single batch of batter to then place in the oven and bake. Variations in this batch are up to the expertise of the baker and the recipe they follow, essentially allowing them to bake the cake to order. However, as anyone who has baked knows, every oven is different, and once the batter is mixed and placed in the oven there is still an element of surprise as to the result, much like a learner’s brain.

The systematic process of instructional design most commonly referred to using the ADDIE (Anaylsis, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate) framework takes this

A box of cake mixture.

A more systematic way is “Cake Mix”.

one-to-one batch process of ID and places it in a system so that it can be applied on a much larger scale. It is an industrialised model, with origins in the military complex of training and teaching individuals en mass (Clark, 2004). In terms of the baking a cake metaphor it is the “packaged cake mix”. The system takes the common ingredients of baking a cake and tries to remove the variability of human error out of the system. By packaging the key steps in the process with “just add water” the result is another cake. This evokes some interesting questions, is it a better cake than the homemade variety? Does the baker truly know how to make a cake if they used the cake mix, as opposed to making it from scratch?

This metaphor, in some respects, summarises what has challenged me this semester and what I have learned about Instructional Design (ID). In an initial task of comparing ID to teaching I was faced with the realisation that I performed the ADDIE process and the role of an instructional designer on a daily basis. However because of my role as the subject matter expert (SME) and time restraints on the curriculum, teaching timetable, shortcuts were taken in the process. Early in the course the process of ID inspired me and reminded me of why I became a teacher and how critical my role is in making engaging, effective instructional material. It expanded my thinking around ID in the corporate world, away from teenagers and classrooms. It made me think about my skill set as an educator and how that could be transferred in to other professional realms, an incredibly encouraging reminder.

On reflection of my prior knowledge and appreciation of ID, this course has highlighted, some of the stark differences between the three core instructional formats, classroom face-to-face instruction, blended/hybrid learning, and online learning. In most classrooms the teacher is usually the SME and the instructor. They may or may not have written the curriculum or objectives that have to be taught but they more than likely adapted them and the learning materials for their students. They, as the instructor, are in control of what their learners see, hear and do, and the time at which they do it. They also have the ability to motivate extrinsically through verbal praise, rewards and encouragement at critical junctures in the learning experience. Hence the instructor themselves is the major component of the instructional system design process. Via time constraints and a myriad of other competing priorities classroom teachers, as instructors, can survive without ADDIE per se. However the same instructors who are now beginning to shift, via acceptance of Educational Technology, to the blended/hybrid or online learning environments are not granted such luxuries. When your instructional content becomes lodged forever in the text of a webpage or framed in a tutorial video hosted online it is accessible by all and becomes an extension of your professional profile. This is why ID is important to any future work in the field of Educational Technology. It is why any educators, myself included, who are pursuing professional positions in the Educational Technology space must be well versed in ID, its theories, its pitfalls, and its future.

My personal process and experience of ID links well with Educational Technology. This is because not long after beginning teaching eight years ago I quickly began investigating how I could host my learning materials online. This in turn led to making better presentations via powerpoint, making podcasts, making videos and then structuring these resources on a website that enabled the learners to access them quickly and easily. Without high quality ID, Educational Technology would be a failure. My experience has also taught me that when you take traditional paper based ID materials and transfer them to a digital or e-Learning format they actually require more ID. That is they require a systematic process such as ADDIE to ensure a certain level of professionalism. It seems that every time you remove the aspect of a physical “person” (i.e. the teacher or instructor) from the ID process your ID requirements increase exponentially. For example if it took you 5 hours to design a classroom unit of instruction then the work required to transform all the learning materials from that unit to put online for a hybrid or solely online course could be something like 1.7 to the power of 5 which equates to fourteen hours of work!

Using the previous metaphor, it is no longer a one-to-one batch process of a “homemade” cake. One has to consider the research and development that would be required to create a “cake mix” that could be packaged. Hence the same can be said when taking a unit of instruction developed for the traditional classroom and transferring it online. It requires a systematic process such as ADDIE to ensure a certain level of professionalism.

In conclusion this re-discovery of ID has been an awakening. A reminder of processes that work in some situations but perhaps not in others. With the current educational trend of student-centred learning, 21st century skills, and problem based learning, a whole new way of looking at ID will be required. Students are now being invited in to the process of, and direction of, their own learning. Technology is advancing so rapidly that yesterday’s subject matter experts may not be tomorrow’s. It’s an exciting time, as Dansereau (1985) and McCombs (1981-2) stated, to be learning how to learn.


Clark, D. R. (2004).The Art and Science of Leadership. Retrieved Apr 26, 2013 from

Dansereau, D. (1985). Learning strategy research. In J. W. Segal, S. F. Chipman, and R. Glaser (Eds.), Thinking and learning skills, Vol. 1 (pp. 209-239). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Gagne, E. (1985). Cognitive psychology and school learning. Boston: Little, Brown & Company.

McCombs, B. L. (1981-82). Transitioning learning strategies research into practice: Focus on the student in technical training. Journal of Instructional Development, 5(2), 10-21.

Smith, P. L. & Ragan, T. J. (2005). Instructional design (3rd Ed.). Danvers, MA: John Wiley & Sons.

What makes a great Education system?

This should get you thinking thanks to AITSL.

Professional standards for teachers are still quite new but many fail to see they have been something that other professions have had for many decades.

Whilst I must admit the processes around achieving and having your standards measured is cumbersome and ridiculously painful the end goal is what is most important. I’ve tried to do my bit by breaking down the “formulaic” paper-based system of accreditation. Check it out here at

Let me know what you think.