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  • Writer's pictureMichelle D Rogers

Evolution of an Ed Tech Definition

The definition of educational technology has evolved greatly over the years, and various participants in the process debate what it ought and ought not to include. In a field that is changing so rapidly, is it possible for the definition to ever keep up?

Defining It

In 1977 The Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) defined educational technology as "a complex, integrated process involving people, procedures, ideas, devices, and organization, for analyzing problems and devising, implementing, evaluating, and managing solutions to those problems, involved in all aspects of human learning" (Ely & Plomp, 1996, p. 3). They included 16 main components in the definition, and went on to say that while instructional technology could easily be covered by educational technology's parameters the reverse is not true (Ely & Plomp, 1996, p. 3). A key element of this definition was control. It was founded on a behaviorist philosophy of learning popular at the time.

A more recent revision of this complex AECT defines educational technology as "the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources" (Januszewski & Molenda, 2008, p. 1).

Januszewski & Molenda (2008) outline the main key terms in this more recent definition:

Study: (different from the previous definition which used research) that is to say that the field should have continual theory and research towards better understanding and improving practice. It is emphasized that this process should not rest only within this field, but also include a cross-discipline look at the theories and research in sister fields that should be integrated. Ethical practice: ethics is a cornerstone of any professionalized and respected field. This definition encourages constant critical assessment of all methods so that the learners can benefit from the most practical and appropriate best practices. AECT's code is organized into three main categories, 1) commitment to the individual, 2) commitment to society, and 3) commitment to the profession. Facilitating (constructivist): (different from the previous definition which talked about controlling learning (behaviorist)) in the past the view on teaching and learning was more behaviorist and linear. Now research has shifted this view to an understanding that students construct their own knowledge about the world. Instructional technology can help provide tools that help engage learners and support their critical thinking and learning. Learning: this term has evolved dramatically over the years, and new research and understanding about how the brain functions continue to morph it. As knowledge about learning, and how it occurs, expand then so should instructional design and instructional technology change their best practices to reflect that knowledge.

Improving: to maintain peak performance a field must always be working to improve best practices and effectiveness. Better, for less money, and quicker, are all goals worth pursuing so long as quality is not comprimised.

Performance: this pertains to the student being able to apply new learning, as application of knowledge is the highest proof of learning.

Creating: through integration of theory, research, and experience, excellence in instructional materials can be created, though this process will vary depending on the approach being followed.

Using: this refers to the connection between the learners, the learning conditions, and the learning resources. Evaluation of use is important to ensure that diffusion and integration is occurring.

Managing: it is important to manage the many complicated facets of the field in any given context, and to stay abreast of changes and new research so that best practices in all areas are being followed.

Appropriate: the tools being used must make sense, be sustainable, be usable, and be as simple as possible, all within the context that it must also yield the needed results.

Technological: this term refers to human activity that applies current knowledge and research to practical tasks.

Processes: are quite simply the steps or methods used to achieve specific ends or results.

Resources: these can be many things, all necessary to learner success, such as (but not limited to): people, tools, technologies, and materials.

In conclusion, this revised definition "presents a definition of the field of study and practice known as 'educational technology' or 'instructional technology.' While recognizing that educational and instructional have different connotations, the authors intend that this definition encompass both terms" (Januszewski & Molenda, 2008, preface).

This definition is meant to be more holistic and representative, including more elements within it, and meant to better cover the various aspects of the field. A clear change since the previous definition is that instructional technology is not a subset of educational technology, but rather both of them could be seen as "discrete elements within performance technology, the holistic approach to improving performance in the workplace through many different means, including training" (Januszewski & Molenda, 2008, p. 13). Another key difference between this definition and the older one is the focus on learning and student-centered educational theories. It is about facilitating rather than controlling. This clearly shows the evolution from behaviorist philosophical groundings to current constructivist ones.

Some concerns with the current definition would be two fold, in my view. First, it does not clearly take into account the importance of diversity and addressing multicultural learning needs, though it could be argued that such is included under 'ethics' or 'appropriate'. AECT does have an international division, and clearly does work to include multi-cultural perspectives, so perhaps it is implied. Second, the definition does not include the idea of systems theory and design, which is a strong foundation in most instructional/educational technology projects and programs now.

All in all, AECT is trying to have a very holistic definition that covers a lot of ground in trying to attend to so many different aspects of the field, but is its evolution finished? Some would say it never quits changing if a field is to remain truly professionalized and up-to-date. Even so, this author would say it doesn't yet cover all the facets of the field that it should in today's world, regardless of future changes. To include aspects of multiculturalism and systems views is necessary before the definition can truly encompass the field today, particularly in a pluralistic globalized world where systems views are becoming ubiquitous.


Ely, D. P., and Plomp T. (1996). Classic writings on instructional technology. Westport, Connecticut: Libraries Unlimited.

Januszewski, A. and Molenda, M. (2008). Educational technology: A definition with commentary. NY: Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

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