What Is Technology For Learning?

Understanding Technology Terms Used In Education
Summary: People are confused about the many synonymous technology terms heard in education circles. Definitions are given with a review of evidence regarding use in supporting learning differently. The 2020 pandemic has brought technology to the fore for continuing learning in lockdown situations.

Understanding Technology Terms Used In Education

This article unpicks the terms circulating about learning that uses technology and describes models employed to assist students. Since there are several expressions describing the same phenomena, people are understandably confused! Their advantages and disadvantages are discussed, with the review stressing how important it is to integrate traditional face-to-face approaches with technology tools to give students more control over their studies. This enables teachers to focus on the individuals needing more specific help. Blended learning engages participants and so improves their performance. Intelligent machines are working alongside humans so it is vital that students are comfortable and adept at using them.

Understanding Learning Style Terms (A General View From Definitions)

Asynchronous Learning

Asynchronous learning is an online teaching style. Instruction occurs at different times and in various spaces to suit the learners. In this approach, teachers set the direction, with students following at their own pace. The 2020 pandemic has accelerated this way to learn.

Synchronous Learning

Synchronous learning refers to all learning types when students and their teachers are in the same place at the same time. It includes classes and live online meets, when the whole class or smaller groups are together.  In synchronous learning, students typically all follow the same learning route, with the teacher giving ongoing support and encouragement.

Most online teaching happens asynchronously, with synchronous learning used for live discussion or interaction, or as a means to build group relations. Social connections for group learning, can develop through asynchronous communication, but take time and effort, following the 5 stages set out by Waltonen-Moore et al., (2006) as below:

  1. Introductions
    Questions are encouraged to get to know each other and find shared aims. Group participants talk about themselves in order to get acquainted.
  2. Group identity
    Participants discuss aims and form norms for cooperation. If the identity of the group is not established, personal interest and involvement rapidly decline.
  3. Interaction
    Participants relate in line with group goals and share information. If this is an online learning program, they will discuss this and exchange ideas.
  4. Group cohesion and individual reflection
    Individuals accept each other's views in order to collaborate and personally reflect on thoughts for taking actions.
  5. Extended questioning
    ...with links made, everyone can relax and focus on the course content. Respecting other views, participants post thoughts and ideas, cooperating and collaborating in order to explore and make meaning of learning experiences.

Remote Learning

Remote learning is the general term for education outside a classroom, with the teacher/lecturer not physically present with students. During the pandemic lockdown, this has become the main way to learn and study, organizations like OECD 1, EDEN 2, and eLearning Industry suggest that this blend of activities will become the "new normal."

Blended Learning

Blended learning is also called hybrid learning, technology-mediated, web-enhanced, or mixed-mode instruction. This approach combines online materials and traditional class methods. It requires the physical presence of both teacher and students, with the latter having some control over time, place, direction, and pace elements. Learners still attend classes with a teacher, but direct practices integrate with computer ones for content and delivery. This method is also used in professional training and development, depending on the context, so standard practice is impossible to describe. Some say that no agreed definition makes research problematic.

Seimens and others (2015) reviewed blended learning studies and found similarities in defining it as both traditional face-to-face and online instruction, with participants apart for some tasks. This report found that student achievement was higher with blended learning when compared to either fully online or direct instruction. Blended learning is also referred to as personalized learning or differentiated instruction in educational institutions.

Flipped Classroom

A flipped classroom is a type of blended learning, which increases student engagement by letting them complete activities at home, with work on live problem-solving during class time. It shifts tasks, like those considered homework, into the class. In a flipped model, learners watch online lectures and interact through discussions or research at home and develop ideas in class with teacher support (see Matteucci, 2019 for effective classroom ideas).

When Did Technology Arrive In Education?

Technology-based education became an alternative to the teacher transmission style in the 1960s, using mainframes and mini-computers to complement instruction. This blended learning has the advantage of scale, as one teacher can only manage a limited audience. Today’s blended learning is delivered online, including webcasting (synchronous and asynchronous) and video (live and recorded) in several ways as detailed below:

  • Face-to-face driver: when a teacher leads instruction and uses digital tools to support
  • Rotation: students have independent online study and face-to-face classes
  • Flex: curricula are delivered via a digital platform with teachers giving direct help/support
  • Labs: curricula are delivered via a digital platform but in a consistent space; students take traditional classes in this model as well
  • Self-blend: students choose traditional learning with online course work to suit needs
  • Online driver: students complete the course online, with teacher checks; face-to-face meetings are arranged when required

Blended learning types may be used together and are varied to suit a specific plan. There are many components, including person-delivered content, eLearning, webinars, conference calls as well as live/online meets with course mates and teachers. Other media, like blogs, email, chatrooms, Facebook, podcasting, Skype, Twitter, web boards, WhatsApp, and YouTube are also used.

Blended Learning Benefits

Data collection, tailored instruction, and broader assessments are blended learning benefits. Software can automatically collect student data and measure performance. Costs reduce by putting classes online. Student electronic devices access e-texts to make conventional ones less necessary. Talented learners can use technology for courses not offered by their institution and those with special needs receive online programs devised for them by experts. Therefore, blended learning provides personal instruction to replace a teacher transmitting information and expecting a class to all work at the same pace. It requires greater independence and self-management and students must be able to communicate with themselves and others for success. Teachers should introduce blended learning with explanation and discussion, to help students use systems confidently with increasing autonomy.

This method is judged more effective than just face-to-face or online classes and results in higher student achievement. Combining digital instruction and face-time, students can work with new ideas alone. This frees teachers to support students needing specific attention. Thus, they can deliver education to help all students reach potential. Asynchronous technology boosts independent and collaborative learning. It contributes to student satisfaction and success, whilst improving learning attitudes (see Matteucci, 2019, for effective uses as evidence).

Students, via web conferences, connect with teachers in a digital classroom. Academic criteria are met with automatic online assessment, for easier monitoring of required national standards. Learning Management Systems (LMS) develop online communities through discussions, without teachers and students being physically present. Many schools use this tool, but benefits depend on quality programs—shown by improved student interest and engagement; accurate processing and production of ideas; efficient organization; respect for others; and broader, fairer assessments that suit all students.

Blended Learning Challenges

Unless planned and implemented, blended learning has the disadvantage of being dependent on technical tools. These must be easy to use, up-to-date and reliable to improve learning. Technology can be challenging when trying to access materials, so ongoing technical support is vital. Another difficulty is the complex management of group online settings (Chatterton, 2021).

Students may fall behind from using recording technologies. Gosper et al., (2008) studied 4 universities and found only 50% viewed lecture videos regularly and 40% watched several weeks’ of these in one sitting. Students interviewed about learning suggested it did not matter if they failed to engage as they would pass courses anyway. "No one fails these days was said with a laugh!" (Sage, 2020). This means attention must be given to how online resources at the right level are made available to students.

Effective electronic feedback is time-consuming and expensive when compared to paper methods. Using eLearning platforms can be more onerous than traditional modes and have new costs, like service provider fees. Some students do not have regular access to the internet, resulting in a digital divide. Institutions must ensure working WiFi and that suitable devices are supplied to students not owning them in order to complete work.

21st-Century Literates

21st-century literacies describe the social nature of learning and the ability to collaborate using digital technologies (Sage, 2020). These "new literacies" are competencies students need for work. They are underpinned by effective communication and collaboration, including expertise in technology, creative thinking, and problem-solving. Dynamic literacies are linked and integrated through language and communicative competence. 21st-century citizens must:

  • Communicate, cooperate and collaborate;
  • Develop proficiency and fluency with technology tools;
  • Build cross-cultural contacts and relationships to pose and solve problems while strengthening independent thought;
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet many purposes;
  • Manage, evaluate, and synthesize  information;
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts; and,
  • Follow the ethics required by these complex environments.

Efficient asynchronous communities share at least 3 common attributes (Chatterton, 2021):

  1. An organizer who guides, encourages, and monitors discourse. Undirected communities have difficulty progressing, as participants can be distracted from the aims and purpose.
  2. Knowledge is an individual construct developing from group interaction. Facilitators of successful communities do not just transmit information but also provide constant support.
  3. Effective asynchronous communities allow some freedom. Inflexible rules preventing social growth impact negatively on group identity and satisfaction to decrease involvement and destroy inspiring discourse.

Teacher And Learner Roles

Online education shifts a teacher to a student-centered model with new roles. Asynchronous learning means educators are not just information transmitters but designers, facilitators, and assessors of student performance as well as teaching effectiveness. Designers create the curricula, methods, and media to deliver content. Once designed and applied, the teacher facilitates communication and manages learning. They need technology competence, as asynchronous courses rely on email and discussion boards, with instruction using graphics, audio files, and e-documents/texts. Community spirit is vital but time-consuming to create, as a teacher must read, assess, reinforce and encourage collaborative learning. Student-centered online learning requires participants to be actively involved and take more responsibility. This depends on high levels of narrative thinking and language that many students, at all levels, lack. Students must: (Chatterton, 2021)

  • Become proficient with the course technology;
  • Use new ways of communicating with both peers and instructors; and
  • Strengthen inter-dependency through peer collaboration.

Asynchronous learning benefit is the freedom for students to access course materials at any time they choose from any place with an internet connection. This brings accessibility for campus students, working professionals, and international participants. Such learning connects people separated geographically and temporally, bringing many social benefits of face-to-face communication. Students can express thoughts with more time to reflect and respond to peers and tasks than in traditional classes.

The time required to design an asynchronous course is similar to a traditional one, but with the advantage of reaching more students. Course updates or modifications can be made more quickly and efficiently than traditional lecture programs. The extra workload is seen as a barrier for distance education but can be helped through training and experience of teaching in this mode (Chatterton, 2021). Another plus of asynchronous learning is efficient recording. Materials, correspondence, and interactions are electronically stored. Participants may review materials, presentations, and correspondence at a convenient time.


Asynchronous learning is challenging for everyone involved. Initial setup and development are expensive. Institutions must provide a computer network infrastructure, including servers, audio/visual equipment, software, and technical support to develop and sustain learning. Technical support involves initial training and formatting, user management, data storage, and recovery, as well as updates and repairs. Research suggests that educators are reluctant because of a lack of technical support (Chatterton, 2021). Those teaching asynchronous learning must be familiar with tools and adept in their use. Students need access to computers and the internet to participate and have technical skills for asynchronous learning programs. The following issues have emerged during this discussion:

  • Streaming video and online connections use a lot of data and need fast internet with some students not having access. Even with high-speed internet and connection, breakdowns or audio/video issues affect experiences.
  • Audio and video troubleshooting takes up time. Microphones fail, webcams darken or files disappear. Teachers must check tools before student access. An effective meeting means everyone logs in on time, has few technical issues, controls learning spaces, and ensures the dog does not bark, doors do not bang, and personal contexts do not distract.
  • While synchronous check-ins, regular hours, questions and answer sessions are useful, most content study can be done asynchronously if everyone has the skills needed. Live meetings should be short—to answer queries and deal with difficult issues. Hour-long lectures or web meetings are exhausting and could be dealt with by email. Keep meetings brief and enable interaction.

Top Hat is an organization with the mantra "Let’s Make Education Better. " The founders, Mike Silagadze and Mohsen Shahani are engineers who love fixing things. They agree that the classroom needs fixing. Their research found the graduation rate among American university students was less than 50%. Why? The educational experience is out of touch for modern students, with many disengaged and not succeeding. Graduates may have achieved impractical degrees and massive debts. Employer reports moan about their limited ability to apply knowledge and communicate at the levels required for today’s intelligent machine age (Sage, 2020). During the COVID-19 crisis, robots have monitored patients, cleaned amenities, and delivered medicines, with these experiences accelerating their use. Boston Dynamics have a dog-like robot, Spot, which powers up and is controlled and reprogrammed via the internet to be more autonomous. Hanson Robotics, in Hong Kong, has 4 humanoid models. Sophia is the world’s first robot citizen and a United Nations Innovation Ambassador, regularly appearing on television and presenting at world conferences on global development. There is now a huge demand for robots that can engage with humans. They will soon be knocking on doors delivering papers and pizzas! It is urgent for us to be adept and comfortable at working with technology, as job roles now involve machines to a greater or lesser extent.


  1. OECD is the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and an international organization working to build better lives. The goal is to shape policies that foster prosperity, equality, opportunity, and well-being for all.
  2. EDEN was established in 1991 as an international educational association and not-for-profit organization. It is a digital education network open to institutions and individuals dealing with eLearning and open and distance education.

Terms To Learn

  • Digital badge: given for acquiring a competence
  • Education technology: technology use in education to improve learning and teaching
  • Flipped classes: instructional strategy delivering instructional content outside of the classroom and other related activities into the classroom
  • Teacher-led instruction: that has a transmissive lecture style
  • mLearning: distance education using mobile device technology
  • Media psychology: focuses on the interaction of human behavior with media ad technology
  • Mixed reality: Merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new contexts
  • Network learning: a process of developing and maintaining connections with people and information to support other people
  • Synchronous learning: is online/distance education happening in real time, often with a set schedule and required login times
  • Virtual university: providing higher education by electronic media, typically the internet


  • Chatterton, P. (2021) Chapter 17: The Rise and Rise of Digital Learning in Higher Education. How World Events are Changing Education. (in press)
  • Gosper; M., Green, D.; McNeil, M.; Phillips, R., Preston; G. & Woo, K (2008). Report: The Impact of Web-based Lecture Technologies on Current and Future Practices in Learning and Teaching.  (PDF). Australian Learning and Teaching Council, Sydney.
  • Matteucci, R. (2019) What is Technology? Chapter 2. The Robots are Here: Learning to Live with Them. Eds. R, Sage & R. Matteucci. Buckingham: Buckingham University Press
  • Sage, R. (2020) Speechless: Understanding Education. Buckingham: Buckingham University Press
  • Siemens, G., Gašević, D. & Dawson, S. (2015). Preparing for the Digital University: A review of the history and current state of distance, blended, and online learning. Pg. 62. Athabasca University. Retrieved from http://linkresearchlab.org/PreparingDigitalUniversity.pdf. 6 Feb 2021
  • Siemens, G., Gašević, D. & Dawson, S. (2015). Preparing for the Digital University: A review of the history and current state of distance, blended, and online learning. Pg. 71. Athabasca University. Retrieved from http://linkresearchlab.org/PreparingDigitalUniversity.pdf 6 Feb 2021
  • Waltonen-Moore, S.; Stuart, D.; Newton, E.; Oswald, R., Varonis, E. (2006), From Virtual Strangers to a Cohesive Online Learning Community: the evolution of online group development in a professional development Course. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 14 (2)