How much can an organisation’s digital education strategy be based (consciously or unconsciously) on a pedagogical model?

“Pedagogy is the driver, technology is the accelerator,” Michael Fullan.

In his foreword for 2015 OECD’s report “Students, Computers and Learning”, Andreas Schleicher states that “technology can amplify great teaching, but technology cannot replace poor teaching”, and there in lies the rub. Technology is not some panacea that brings clarity and purpose to an educational paradigm seeking direction. Covid has highlighted and accelerated the debate revolving around how to make optimum use of the learning support systems our digital era has delivered, but the jury is still out on how best to move forward.

In her paper on ‘Digital pivot, rethinking higher education,’ Valerie Anderson makes the case that traditional educational institutions are slow to adapt to dynamic extraneous variables such as lock downs and the move to online learning, what she calls the digital pivot. She makes the case that because of the present environment, dramatic fast paced change is of paramount importance. Being an educational manager myself, it’s hard to understate how much this sentiment resonates.

I agree with Anderson that it’s important to define what we mean by pedagogy, a term loosely thrown around with varying degrees of consensual exegesis. She refers to Kreber (2010), who defines it as the values and assumptions that guide how learning and teaching occur. We can judge good pedagogy on its effectiveness to equip learners for a successful future appropriate to the learner’s chosen path. That means being able to call on structures from previous situated experiences to navigate successfully future social, emotional and cultural challenges the learner will encounter as they go through life. An effective pedagogy uses formative and summative assessment to track progress whilst developing effective habits that promote autonomy and informal lifelong learning.

With this in mind, it is clear that the tail does not wag the dog. For those who are enchanted by a technology and determined to fit the pedagogy around the tool, an expensive cul-de-sac awaits. The more sagacious will turn to such models as the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), put forward by Fred Davies in 1989. This measures the perceived ease of use of a technology with its perceived usefulness, delivering metrics that can lend to the acquisition process. However, first and foremost, this entire process is determined by the pedagogy. Anderson reinforces this point when stating that a successful digital strategy requires “a clearly communicated pedagogic framework” (Anderson, 2020).

There are many EdTech models that help educators to see how and where technology can be leveraged best. This is the TPACK model, but there are others like SAMR and PICK-RAT.

For the successful merging of pedagogy and technology to occur, academics need to integrate several nodes together, such as knowledge of technology, pedagogy and content. Here, we can use various models that help educators to reflect on their strategies and desired outcomes. These models come under such acronyms as SAMR, TPACK and PIC-RAT. The model’s role is to ask the course designer to think about what is the relationship between technology and the learner.

There is a general consensu that educators should base digital education strategy on some form of pedagogy. What that form should look like depends on the vision of the institution and their USP. However, the belief that pedagogy forms the foundation of any successful technology strategy is ubiquitous.

Whilst I do not disagree with this viewpoint, I do not see it as so black and white. Hamilton and Friesen come to mind in how they defined technology either as a force with inalienable qualities (essentialism) that by its very nature leads educators toward particular progressive pedagogical methodologies or a tool (instrumentalism), a neutral means for realising goals defined by their users (Hamilton and Friesen, 2013). I see educational technologies as both, although not mutually exclusive.