The Field of Educational Technology: A Dozen Frequently Asked Questions

By Ely, Donald | Teacher Librarian, January 1999 | Go to article overview

The Field of Educational Technology: A Dozen Frequently Asked Questions


Ely, Donald, Teacher Librarian


Educational technology is a term widely used in the field of education (and other areas), but it is often used with different meanings. The word technology is used by some to mean hardware -- the devices that deliver information and serve as tools to accomplish a task -- but those working in the field use technology to refer to a systematic process of solving problems by scientific means. Hence, educational technology properly refers to a particular approach to achieving educational ends. Instructional technology refers to the use of such technological processes specifically for teaching and learning.

Other terms, such as instructional development or educational media, which refer to particular parts of the field, are sometimes used to refer to the field as a whole.

This digest provides background information and sources that help one to understand the concept of educational technology. It should serve as a "pathfinder" to relevant and timely publications that view the field from a variety of perspectives.

1. What Is Educational Technology?

The most recent definition of the field (which uses the term, instructional technology) has been published by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT):

Instructional Technology is the theory and practice of design, development, utilization, management and evaluation of processes and resources for learning.

The complete definition, with its rationale, is presented in the AECT publication:

Seels, B.B. & Richey, R.C. (1994). Instructional technology: The definition and domains of the field. Washington, DC: AECT.

An overview of the field can be found in:

Gagne, R. M. (Ed.). (1987). Instructional technology: Foundations. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Anglin, G. J. (Ed.). (1995). Instructional technology: Past, present, & future. 2nd ed. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

2. What Are The Roots Of Educational Technology?

The field is essentially a 20th century movement with the major developments occurring during and immediately after World War II. An emphasis on audiovisual communications media gradually became focused on the systematic development of teaching and learning procedures which were based in behavioral psychology. Currently, major contributing fields are cognitive psychology, social psychology, psychometrics, perception psychology and management. The basic history of the field was written by Paul Saettler:

Saettler, P.E. (1990). The evolution of American educational technology. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

A brief history may be found in:

Reiser, R. (1987). Instructional technology: A history. In R. M. Gagne (Ed.), Instructional technology: Foundations. (pp. 11-48). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

3. What Is A Good Source Of Research Findings?

Thompson, A., Simonson, M., & Hargrave, C. (1996). Educational technology: A review of the research. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: AECT.

Kozma, R. (1991). Learning with media. Review of Education Research, 61(2), 179-211.

4. What Do Educational Technologist Do?

Most educational technologists carry out one or a few of the functions performed in the field. For example, some design instruction, some produce instructional materials, and others manage instructional computing services or learning resources collections. The competencies for instructional development specialists and material design and production specialists are published in:

Hutchison, C. (1993). Instructor competencies: The standards. Vol. 1. Batavia, IL: International Board of Standards for Training Performance and Instruction.

A comprehensive description of the functions of education technology personnel is given in:

Silber, K. (Ed.) (1979). The definition of educational technology (pp. 55-79). Washington, DC: AECT. …

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The Field of Educational Technology: A Dozen Frequently Asked Questions
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