The EdTech Debate Within Our Progressive Community

Scale, efficiency, policy, and the role of educators.

September 17, 2015

Our edtech community is having a debate with itself. I’ve come to believe that this debate is taking place among progressively minded academics who would agree on most things political.

On one side of the debate are those who see great potential for learning technologies to make non-incremental (very big) improvements in postsecondary access, costs, and quality. These folks are excited about the possibility of open online courses and adaptive learning platforms to drive large-scale improvements in enrollment and degree completion.

Those on the other side of the debate believe that authentic learning best occurs in the context of a relationship between a student and a highly skilled and experienced educator. This group is worried about the corporatization and commodification of education, and rejects the idea that the goal for postsecondary innovation should be improved efficiency. Educational technology, for these folks, is best utilized when it enables educators to achieve the relational model of teaching, one where learner and professor together co-construct knowledge and create meaning.

Can these two visions of the potential of learning technologies ever be compatible with one another?

Can those who are thinking about the potential of learning technology to drive improvements in access and costs at scale find common ground with those skeptical about technology driven solutions to social and policy challenges?

It may be useful to enumerate some of overlap between these two groups, as the gap between the positions may not be as wide as it appears.

First, I think that most educators working at the intersection of learning and technology are deeply worried about public disinvestment in postsecondary education. All of us believe that it is imperative to make the case for the benefits of long-term public investments in our colleges and universities.

Second, both groups are very concerned about issues of access and costs (and student debt).

Third, both of these groups speak the same language around student learning. Everyone believes that blended learning is the way to go. Everyone thinks that higher education needs to move to an active learning and student-centered model of instruction. Everyone wants to use data to inform pedagogy.

Finally, neither group believes that the current higher ed organizational structures or dominant academic cultures are conducive for positive innovation and change. Neither group is a defender of the postsecondary status quo.

Why is it then that educators who share so many core beliefs can be on such a different page when it comes technology?

Is the vision of educational technology that is about scale truly incompatible with an educational philosophy that puts the relationship between the learner and the educator at its core?

Is it possible to stipulate that there may be different edtech strategies for different institutions depending on their missions, and that there is room for both visions of the effective use of learning technologies?

How do you see the beliefs and arguments of our edtech discipline lining up?


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