J. Michael Spector · M. David Merrill
Jan Elen · M.J. Bishop Editors
Handbook of Research
Handbook of Research on Educational
Communications and Technology
J. Michael Spector • M. David Merrill
Jan Elen • M.J. Bishop
Handbook of Research on
J. Michael Spector
Department of Learning Technologies, C
University of North Texas
Denton, TX, USA
University of Leuven
M. David Merrill
Utah State University
Logan, UT, USA
Bethlehem, PA, USA
ISBN 978-1-4614-3185-5 (eBook)
Springer New York Heidelberg Dordrecht London
Library of Congress Control Number: 2013940063
First edition © published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates in 1996
Second edition © published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates in 2004
Third edition © published by Routledge in 2008; published in Chinese by East China Normal University Press in 2011
Fourth Edition © Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014
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A well-known issue of Educational Technology Research & Development in
1994 addressed the question of whether and to what extent media influence
learning. Two opposing perspectives were presented in that issue by
Richard Clark and Robert Kozma, both of whom have also contributed to this
Handbook. One way to think about this Handbook, along with the three
previous editions, is to recall that media debate and think about how research
and practice have since evolved. We dedicate this Handbook to all the
scholars who have contributed so much to explorations and investigations of
how technology has and continues to influence the practice of learning and
instruction. Many of those who have contributed so much to our
understanding of educational technology have since passed away, including
such luminaries as Robert Gagné, Robert Glaser, and William Winn among a
list much too long to include here. We are deeply indebted to the contributions
that so many have made to what we know and have yet to learn about how
best to support and facilitate learning.
Information and Communication Technologies in Education
In Learning with Personal Computers Alfred Bork (1987) promised a revolution in schooling
due to the increasing availability of microcomputers. Twenty-five years later, on average,
almost every person in economically developed countries is now blessed with one or more
computers. However, the revolution that Bork imagined does not yet show definite signs of
materializing soon. Upon reflection, we can say that most of us were, in the 1980s, perhaps a
bit too optimistic about what information and communications technologies (ICT) could do to
promote and improve education. Many are now trying to discern what added value ICT can
contribute to the education enterprise, in addition to increasing the convenience of instruction
and to motivating students to engage with activities that all too often are trivial. Skeptics have
expressed doubts about the utility of technology in the classroom; some argue in favor of maintaining the traditional model of instruction that is exclusively reliant on teachers, print-based
textbooks, and blackboards (perhaps a dry-erase whiteboard for the more progressive
Increasing numbers of educators and scholars recognize that no technology can automatically benefit education in any significant way. Many realize that it is not about the technology
after all—it is about what is done with technology to promote students’ learning. When a new
technology emerges, what really counts is the educational potential or learning opportunities
provided to students, which are often obscured by the novelty of an innovative device. Scholars
and teachers have the responsibility to discover and then to reveal those learning opportunities
along with the associated potential to transform educational practice.
There is a growing and significant body of research that explores in detail and in depth the
impact of new technologies on students’ learning. Much of this new research is covered in this
Handbook, which reviews research about the ways in which technology can significantly
impact learning and create profound interactions between and among learners, teachers, and
resources. This work is only a small part of a larger picture of ICT in the twenty-first century.
The work reviewed in this Handbook provides one small glimpse of the revolution that is
unfolding (albeit much later than Bork imagined).
There are many kinds of technologies used in present-day schools, some of which were
developed specifically for the school context. Examples of commonly used educational technologies include classroom response systems, search engines, word processors, projectors, and
interactive whiteboards. All of these and other technologies serve a wide variety of other nonschool-based purposes. Most of these technologies were not invented for learning or teaching;
however, their application to non-school settings, for which many of them were developed, is
different from their use in school settings. For example, consider the word processor. Word
processing facilitates the productive work of business by creating the correspondence necessary to conduct affairs. Specific features of the word processor were designed to make such
business use both easy and effective. However, when one places a word processor in a classroom context, the use and purpose are not the same at all. Preparing teachers to help primary
and secondary school students to make effective use of a word processor is quite different from
training an administrator to help clerks and office assistants make effective use of the word
processor in a particular office setting.
How shall we treat different uses of the same technology? How can we realize the educational potential of technologies taken for granted in the workplace? A definition of educational
technology might emphasize the significant pedagogical or learning uses that technology
serves; such a definition acknowledges the principle that uses and training for use should fit the
specific purpose. This Handbook focuses on these educational uses and purposes.
Of the millions of teachers, educators, and scholars around the world, only a small number
are engaged in research concerning the use of ICT in education. One result of this trend is a
contrast between developers and educators who may ultimately use the new technologies.
Developers create and laud the features of emerging devices and innovative technologies,
while educators who want to teach with those technologies may become confused and frustrated with new technologies. It is rare that the two groups exchange views and experiences,
and learn from each other. For many teachers, new educational technologies and facilities can
cause some discomfort or even feel threatening due to their lack of adequate preparation in
effective pedagogical use and integration into teaching and learning. There has been much
research on the application of technology in education, as is evident in this Handbook. The
chapter on TPACK (technological pedagogical and content knowledge) is a case in point.
There is almost always initial resistance to a new technology, and the cost effectiveness of new
technologies remains controversial (see Chapter 9 in this Handbook). Suggestions by technologists for educational application can be general and too distant from actual classroom use;
thus these recommendations all too often fall short of the actual needs of teachers. As a result,
too many teachers fail to embrace and use the new technologies in constructive ways with their
An encouraging indication of change is this fourth edition of the Handbook, which includes
a new section that is subject-specific and explores technologies in different disciplines. The
first and last sections of the Handbook also offer a range of perspectives on technology integration that are aimed at practical use and widespread application.
Educational Communication Technology (ICT for Education)
Educational communication technology is a very dynamic area of research and application;
new products can become out of date within a matter of months. The popular press often disseminates stories that dwell on the novelty rather than on the practicality of a new technology.
Decision makers and those responsible for procurement are presented with a dilemma regarding acquisition of newer, forward-looking but riskier technologies as opposed to the reliable,
older but more mature technologies. As is shown by the many chapters pertaining to emerging
technologies, innovations ranging from cloud-based technologies to tablet applications are
undoubtedly worthy of our attention due to their educational potential. However, the maturity
of a technology and its connection and compatibility with existing technologies and expertise
present significant challenges. When venturing to deploy a new technology, there are usually
many unknown factors and some risk (Spector, 2012). When a new technology is profoundly
different from previous technologies, or when the application of the technology dramatically
changes practices, there are bound to be a multitude of unexpected problems.
In addition to the constant change of educational technologies, there is another challenge—
namely differences between theory and practice, along with differences between the natural
sciences and the humanities. A new educational technology that works well in support of
learning physics may not work as well in support of learning philosophy, and vice versa.
Moreover, the relevant learning theories and paradigms might be quite different in different
areas of application. Effective technology integration requires sensitivity to the potential of
various technologies as well as a profound understanding of specific disciplines and associated
pedagogical practices. In too many cases, educators adopt without hesitation a new technology
only to see it fail in practical use. As a community of professional practitioners, we are slowly
coming to the realization that new tools need to be tested in the real and somewhat uncontrolled and chaotic circumstances in which everyday learning and instruction occur. Educational
technology researchers and developers should carefully observe, assess, and identify the adaptability and success of the new technologies in light of actual teaching and learning; furthermore, all must keep in mind the opportunities, the benefits, the constraints, and the risks.
Compulsive and hasty adoption of a new technology will very likely result in another cycle of
sweet expectation followed by bitter disappointment.
Another important issue is the boundary between the two academic disciplines of educational technology and computer science. They are distinct from each other; however, a typical
program of educational technology often offers many courses that are also found in a computer
science curriculum. A closer scrutiny, however, reveals that educational technology courses
are quite different from apparently similar courses in a computer science department. A recent
IEEE-sponsored report recommends a very specific, cross-disciplinary curriculum for advanced
learning technologists that could, if adopted, reduce the tensions between computer science
and educational technology as separate and competing disciplines (Hartley, Kinshuk, Koper,
Okamoto, & Spector, 2010). As things now stand, educational technology graduates find themselves at a disadvantage in the job market in comparison with a computer science graduate who
appears equally well qualified. This state of affairs affects the growth of the discipline adversely.
To avoid this waste of resources and dashed expectations, the discipline of educational technology needs to enhance its own reputation as a separate and credible area of expertise, which
is what Hartley and colleagues (2010) encourage. That is to say, advanced learning technology
graduates need to command abilities and skills that neither computer scientists nor education
degree holders possess. However, they should be able to communicate and collaborate with
both computer scientists and professional educators. In short, there is a need for a careful scrutiny of the field and a re-delineation of its academic scope and theoretical systems, along the
lines of the Hartley et al. (2010) report, which identified the following domains of competence
for educational technologists:
1. Knowledge competence—includes those competences concerned with demonstrating
knowledge and understanding of learning theories, of different types of advanced learning
technologies, technology-based pedagogies, and associated research and development.
2. Process competence—focuses on skills in making effective use of tools and technologies to
promote learning in the twenty-first century; a variety of tools ranging from those which
support virtual learning environments to those which pertain to simulation and gaming are
3. Application process—concerns the application of advanced learning technologies in practice and actual educational settings, including the full range of life-cycle issues from analysis and planning to implementation and evaluation.
4. Personal and social competence—emphasizes the need to support and develop social and
collaboration skills while developing autonomous and independent learning skills vital to
lifelong learning in the information age.
5. Innovative and creative competence—recognizes that technologies will continue to change
and that there is a need to be flexible and creative in making effective use of new technologies; becoming effective change agents within the education system is an important competence domain for instructional technologists and information scientists.
Growth of the Discipline
Since its establishment, the discipline of educational technology has been through several
paradigm shifts and grown remarkably. Informed by theories and concepts from many other
disciplines, including education, computer science, psychology, cognitive science, and communications, educational technology has acquired academic respectability. However, some
have expressed doubts about the field, raising the issue of educational technology borrowing
from other disciplines without creating a coherent and unique discipline of its own. In rebuttal,
educational technologists argue that adoption and integration are not merely effortless borrowing tasks; rather, technology integration is a dynamic, innovative, and productive process—a
transdisciplinary process, as Hideaki Koizumi (2004) put it. According to that Japanese
scholar, educational neuroscience is a product of such a transdisciplinary process. The growth
of the discipline of educational technology has been a product of a similar transdisciplinary
process (see Richey, Klein, & Tracey, 2010). It is through this transdisciplinary process that the
discipline of educational technology has made many unique contributions to both theory and
practice. The work on cognitive load theory is a recent example of the transdisciplinary nature
of educational technology (see, for example, van Merriënboer & Ayres, 2005).
There is a need to reconstruct the theoretical framework for educational technology, and
there is an associated need to reconceptualize its academic scope and purpose. Supporting
learners and the learning process with appropriate technologies is the fundamental belief of
educational technology. Therefore, the design, development and application of technologies
capable of such a role should be within the sphere of this discipline, where learning and technology intersect, and numerous other disciplines mingle in creative ways. In this theater of
interaction and hybridization, there is both chemistry and synergy, and participants from
diverse academic backgrounds and researchers of various segments of educational technology
cooperate productively. However, due to their differences in training, skills, and values, these
experts view technologies with different lens and may study problems from different perspectives and interest themselves in different dimensions of the same problem. How can they work
No doubt, their cooperation needs to be based on the common ground designated by the
shared ultimate goal of assisting learning. More is needed; however, mechanisms should be
created and deployed to merge horizons and promote synergy among experts from different
disciplines, thus removing academic biases, increasing their appreciation of each other’s paradigms and interests, and locating the possible points for connection and cooperation. The
fourth edition of this AECT (Association for Educational Communications and Technology)
Handbook represents a creative realization of such an effort.
In addition to overcoming the aforementioned problems, we, as professional practitioners,
need to do more if we want the desired educational technology revolution to unfold on a large,
global scale. We have yet to scale the formidable barriers created by global differences, which
are seen in both economic development as well as in social-cultural interests and habits.
First, economic inequalities have caused disparities in educational investment between
countries and regions. Even within one country, especially some large and diverse ones, there
can also be seen the full spectrum of differences in educational investment and accrued educational benefits. Underdeveloped countries and regions may acquire educational equipment and
facilities by virtue of inter-governmental assistance, NGO (non-governmental organizations)
donations and aid, and so on, addressing part of the significant physical digital divide.
Nevertheless, these facilities are not usually updated and upgraded in a regular and timely
manner as they would be in developed economies. More disconcerting is the ga ...
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