Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Technology in education: The track record

The following bit of pseudo-code is from van Dam (1999) and strongly matches my experience with educational technology, especially within universities.

for each new technology
   euphoria and hype

   struggle to produce material for the new medium

   mature judgement

   disappointment and cynicism

   wait for the next technology that will be the answer

Though I must admit that I’m finding it harder not to immediately jump to disappointment and cynicism.

And the author – Andries van Dam – has a bit of history with educational technology. Though the struggle to produce material for the new medium step does seem to suggest a certain type of perspective of education/teaching.


And don’t forget Birnbaum’s fad life-cycle and the Gartner Hype Cycle.


van Dam, A. (1999). Education: the unfinished revolution. ACM Computing Surveys, 31(4es).


Learning analytics: Anything more than just another fad?


Moving beyond a fashion: likely paths and pitfalls for learning analytics


  1. I’m going to use this for my paper on technology-mediated learning. Thanks David. I reciprocate with this Keynote from a conference I recently attended in Vancouver.

  2. I say ‘spot on’ because it matches my personal views (and don’t we all like our choices confirmed a bit …). Not a cynic, at least to my deluded self.

    Interesting point about the “struggle to produce material…” and implied educational view to go with it. The ‘Con’ Brigade (constructivist, constructionist, connectivist … ) would certainly jump at that, with some good reasons. Producing the material is not the problem (anymore), the problem is the quality and accreditation. I want to know that the surgeon that cuts me up is not a self-taught Dr Nick Riviera (“Hi everybody!”) with a bunch of MOOCs under his belt. But then – is this The Change? The One? The cycle of history does not suggest so …

    Another thing that strikes me is that just like every crisis, fear or novelty, every five of those steps is a commercial opportunity. Want new and shiny? There. Not sure what you want? We have it. Want someone to solve your problems and offer crying shoulder? No problem. Want someone to make sense for you? There you go.

    Wonder why we go around in circles?

    • As for the circles. Here’s my current thought.

      We – especially our organisations and their leadership – can’t, or perhaps aren’t allowed to, admit that they don’t know the solution. Consequently the organisational processes and structures in which they work have to be based on that assumption. We know the solution or the direction we’re going.

      The problem is that given the type of problems we face and the type of context we must solve them in, I don’t think there is any way they can know the solution. Since they don’t they have to rely on those confident and comforting folk who come with the answer. i.e. the snake oil salesmen with the technology to sell.

      @cj13 pointed to to this last week – “What can’t we solve big problems?”. The first paragraph of the concluding section claims

      It’s not true that we can’t solve big problems through technology; we can. We must. But all these elements must be present: political leaders and the public must care to solve a problem, our institutions must support its solution, it must really be a technological problem, and we must understand it.

      Mmm, must get back to writing that paper. There’s more here I think.

  3. Good point. However, as long as humans are wrestling with it, arguably there is no such thing as solely a technological problem.

    Admit? “I don’t know …” is seen as an “electoral gaffe”, “weak leadership”, “lack of vision” etc yet it is a precondition for learning, research and solutions of any kind which those very leaders and organisations call for. Don’t get me started on performativity, I’m a hammer with nails to look for 😉

    Paradox of our times. Look forward to that paper.

  4. I think you may be interested in something I just wrote about the this topic but focuses on five technologies that will impact the learning communities of the future. Check it out at


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