Technological determinism

Overview of the article

According to Oliver (2011) the influence of technology is often over-emphasised when research is done on the ways in which technology is used in education.

Technological determinism is “the belief that technology shapes society in some way” (Jones, 2001) Oliver (2011) looks at technological determinism as one of three positions: causal of change, technicist or socially constructed.

He questions Conole and Dyke’s (2004) idea of technologies having specific “affordances”. He says that the focus on affordances as the way in which technology “makes certain actions natural” ignores how people learn to use (or misuse) technology. (Oliver, 2005)

Cuban (2002) contrasts determinist assumptions that can be found in policies with the experiences of teachers in classrooms. According to him policy has led to the extensive buying of technology “on the assumption that it will cause improvements in learning outcomes and teaching efficiency.”

Oliver briefly looks at four theoretical perspectives that could be alternatives to determinism, namely:

  • Activity theory
  • Communities of practice
  • Actor-network theory
  • The social constructivism of technology



 What is my problem?

My research/evaluation problem seems to change by the day. At first I thought that it was PD of teachers in the use of mobile technology, specifically tablets. Then it changed to the evaluation of the PD courseware to ensure that the courses themselves are relevant, agile, pedagogically sound, of the correct scope and level for the target audience.

My beliefs and practices

computer-823609I can freely admit that I have, at times, been technologically determinist in my passionate desire to convince teachers that they shouldn’t be scared of using technology as part of their teaching and learning.

It might be called the “Book Fair fervour” and happens to anyone who mans an all-tech educational display at a National Book Fair which is 99% all-print. The uptake of ICT at school level (and in the school content publishing industry as a whole) is still very limited and I have often found myself focusing on the affordances of specific devices to such a degree that I nearly believe myself that technology is more than a tool for teachers – it takes on nearly messianic proportions at times. Because the trouble is that tech does excite me. But so does great teaching. And some of the greatest teachers I know are not techhies. But man … if they could just give tech a chance … imagine what they could have done then!

In terms of my own belief: I actually don’t believe that the mere use of technology causes change or is essential for change to take place. I do believe that once it is used correctly, it can transform teaching and learning – simply because it speaks easily and creatively in sound and images – and that is a language that is being “spoken” more and more these days.

I also believe that technology can be used as a means of crisis intervention in our country – it can literally stand in for absent teachers and bridge knowledge gaps. It cannot replace a teacher, but if there is no teacher or if the teacher isn’t academically sound, then technology can most certainly change the playing field for the learners might otherwise not stand a chance.


  1. Conole G. & Dyke M. (2004) What are the affordances of information and communication technologies? ALT-J:Research in Learning Technology 12, 113–124.
  2. Cuban L. (2002) Oversold and Underused: Computers in theClassroom. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
  3. Oliver M. (2005) The problem with affordance. The E-Learning Journal 2, 402–413.
  4. Oliver, M. (2011). Technological determinism in educational technology research: some alternative ways of thinking about the relationship between learning and technology.
  5. Jones C. (2001) Do technologies have politics? The new paradigm and pedagogy in networked learning. Technology Pedagogy and Politics – What next? Mount Royal College, Calgary, AB, Canada, May 4–5, 2001.

One comment

  1. Yes Lalien, ….agree with you on so many points here! I agree that my “research/evaluation problem seems to change by the day”. All this information that we are investigating and reading about surely does provide a lot of input, but it has not helped me to clarify anything, it has, instead, sparked a whole lot of new questions. In a way, I suppose, this is good, because it is getting us thinking and offering new perspectives on issues, but in another way, with all these new options opened up to us, it does not help to carve out a clear definitive path when one has to deliver a clearly thought out assignment in a few weeks’ time!! “Book Fair Fervour”……….really had a chuckle with that concept!! 🙂 I agree with you about the impact of using technology in the classroom….. that “once it is used correctly, it can transform teaching and learning”…… but it is not the be all and end all…… it needs to be used strategically and with careful consideration.


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