Technology-Mediated Individual Learning


Educational Technology


Integrating emergent technologies into individuals’ formal educations

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … rapidly expanding space of the possible
  • Knowing is … scope of personal competence
  • Learner is … a technology-enhanced agent
  • Learning is … expanding possibilities
  • Teaching is … facilitating; supporting




Technology-Mediated Individual Learning encompasses all activities associated with the principled use of technologies to enhance education. Typically, in discussions of Technology-Mediated Individual Learning,  emergent technologies are positioned as integral aspects of current existence – that is, not as tools that one might use, but as elements of one’s being. These discourses are thus focused on seamlessly incorporating such technologies into formal learning experiences, and associated discourses thus tend to perceive themselves as blending hardware, software, and educational theory. This a goal can entail profound challenges to traditional curriculum content and pedagogical strategies. Associated discourses, constructs, and practices include:
  • Asynchronous Learning, Bichronous Learning, and Synchronous Learning:
    • Asynchronous Learning – a descriptive term, applied to formal educational events in which the teaching and the learning don’t happen in the same place or at the same time (
    • Bichronous Learning – a combination of Asynchronous Learning (see above) and Synchronous Learning
    • Synchronous Learning (Real-Time Learning; Sync Teaching) – a general term that can be applied to any type of formal education through which learning is intended to happen at the same time, but not in the same place
  • Automated Learning – 1. a synonym for Technology-Mediated Individual Learning. 2. a synonym for Machine Learning
  • Correspondence Education – a precursor to Distance Learning, by which students used the technologies of print text, handwriting, and mail service to access lessons, submit assignments, and receive feedback
  • Digital Pedagogy – most broadly, all intentional educational activity that’s mediated by digital technologies. In some contexts, Digital Pedagogy refers to research into the effective use of digital technologies for educational purposes.
  • Distance Learning (Distance Education; Remote Education; Remote Learning) – as the title suggests, a means of accessing educational services at a location remote from the teaching. It thus encompasses Correspondence Learning (see above) and many modes of Technology-Mediated Individual Learning. Varieties include:
    • Modular Distance Learning (Edrian Gonzalez, 2010s) – a type of Distance Learning structured around teacher-developed, but learner-self-paced modules that are typically made available in a range of formats and through a variety of media
  • Distributed Learning (Distributed Education) – a generic term that can be applied to to any educational model that makes it possible for teacher and students to be in different places and to engage at different times (Note: should not be confused with Distributed Learning of Practice)
  • Learning Technologies – an umbrella term that has been used to refer to any application of emergent technology to human learning
  • Media Psychology (Mediacology)  (1980s) – a branch of Psychology focused on human interactions with “media,” which is understood to include communication technologies, information technologies, and media content
  • Media Richness Theory (Information Richness Theory) (Richard Daft, Robert Lengel, 1980s) – a framework for describing and assessing the capacity of a communication medium (e.g., telephone, email, text, video conferencing) to relay the fullness of information – including, e.g., meanings that might be relayed through tone, pauses, gestures, facial expressions, and body language. Associated discourses include:
    • Media Naturalness Theory (Compensatory Adaptation Theory) (Ned Kock, 2000s) – an alternative to Media Richness Theory founded on the joint premises that (1) evolutionary pressures have led to human brains that are fitted to face-to-face communication, and (2) advances in communication technologies have been too rapid for brains to have adapted to them through natural evolutionary processes. Consequently, Media Naturalness Theory recommends designing communication tools to mimic natural communication.
  • MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) (2000s) – An online closed-licence course that resembles traditional courses (e.g., recorded lections, assigned readings, paid tuition) – but that is, in principle, aimed at unlimited participation
    • cMOOC (Connectivist MOOC) (2000s) – an early form of MOOC, typically embracing an Open Education (see below) attitude
    • xMOOC (Extended MOOC) – a form of MOOC that embraces closed licensing but that offers free access
    • SPOC (Small Private Online Course) (2010s) – a form of MOOC with a well-defined student- and or location-base (e.g., on-campus students)
  • Open Education (1950s, with aspects dating back to the 1700s) – an educational movement committed to inclusivity and participation. Although most often associated with Distance Learning (see above) and E-Learning, the modifier “open” is more intended to signal the removal of barrier to entry and engagement.
    • Open Educational Practices (Open Pedagogy; Open Practices) – an umbrella phrase that is applied to any teaching technique or emphasis that aligns with the Open Education movement. Most often, Open Educational Practices involve the use of digital technologies.
    • Open Educational Resources (UNESCO, 2000s) – textbooks and other (usually digital) resources that are free, adaptable, easily accessible, and openly licensed
  • Video Learning (On-Demand Video Learning; Video-Based Learning) – the use of recorded images and audio to structure learning experiences, typically in a manner that affords the learner significant control over pacing, repetition, practice, and sequencing
A number of phrases have been used to refer to Technology-Mediated Individual Learning, including:
  • Computer-Assisted Instruction – a term introduced in the 1970s to refer to a self-learning technique, but that has since been applied to virtually every use of digital technologies to support learning through varied types of engagement (e.g., drill-and-practice, one-on-one tutorials, online lectures, complex simulations) and administrative supports (e.g., online resources, record keeping). Approximate synonyms (or discourses focused more narrowly on some aspect or nuance of Computer-Assisted Instruction) include:
  • Computer-Aided Instruction
  • Computer-Assisted Learning
  • Computer-Based Education
  • Computer-Based Instruction
  • Computer-Enriched Instruction
  • Computer-Managed Instruction
  • Education 3.0 (Jeff Borden, 2010s) – an umbrella term that can be applied to any use of digital technology to support learning. Education 3.0 is typically associated with research in Cognitive Science.
  • Web-Based Instruction
  • Web-Based Learning
  • Web-Based Training
  • Tele-Learning (TelElearning; Tele-Education) – a generic term that can be applied to any use of digital and other communication technologies for purposes related to formal learning
Constructs associated with Technology-Mediated Individual Learning, include: 
  • Adaptive Technology – any type of Assistive Technology that is specifically designed to improve or extend the actions and activities of persons with identified impairments or limitations
  • Assistive Technology – any technology that can be used to improve or extend the actions and activities of persons with identified impairments or limitations
  • Audiovisual Learning (Bi-Sensory Learning; Media Learning; Multimedia Learning)– a notion that emerged in the latter half of the 20th century, with the proliferation of overhead projectors, television monitors, video recordings, slide shows, and other means to engage multiple senses simultaneously
  • Cyberloafing (Cyberbludging; Cyberslacking) – engaging off-task online activity while appearing to be on-task. Some educational researchers assert Cyberloafing can be supportive of learner productivity.
  • Immersive Learning – experiences that are deliberately situated in settings or environments that are intended to afford multisensory and multidimensional encounters with the topic of learning. Those settings can be “real” (e.g., a forest when studying ecosystems, or a cultural community when studying a language) or “artificial.” Examples of the latter include:
    • Extended Reality (XR) (various, 2000s) – the use of interactive, computer-generated simulations that create an illusion of being immersed in a viable alternative world. While still evolving, major advantages of Extended Reality are posited to include minimization of distracting information, mitigation of physical dangers, ease of tailoring experiences to individuals, and engagement with/in otherwise impossible situations. Categories include:
      • Augmented Reality Learning Environments (various, 2000s) – a learning experience in which additional information is layered in though, e.g., a smartphone or earbuds
      • Virtual Reality Learning Environments (various, 2000s) – learning experiences set in totally virtual worlds, most often involving virtual-reality headsets
      • Mixed Reality Learning Environments (various, 2000s) – learning experiences in which dynamic aspects of a Virtual Reality are layered into the physical world
  • Intelligent Tutoring System (ITS; Tutor-Based Software) – a computer-based system that’s designed to provide immediate, tailored, and responsive instructional support to learners, typically without the presence or assistance of a human teacher and often in a manner that mimics one-on-one interactions
  • Online School (Cyber-School; e-School; Virtual School) (2010s) – any formal organization that offers educational programming entirely (or principally) online. Online Schools are sometimes defined more broadly to include any educational activity that involves some sort of technology to enable communications between a teacher who is physically separated from students.
  • Vanishing Cues Methodology – a computer-assisted training technique that was first developed to support the learning individuals with impaired memory. Vanishing Cues Methodology initially provides as much information as necessary to prompt desired responses and gradually weans the learner off supporting cues.
Subdiscourses that have emerged to describe and inform the incorporation of new technologies (listed chronologically) include the following:
  • Visual Instruction (various, 1920s) – a sub-movement of Educational Technology (i.e., Technology-Mediated Individual Learning) that arose as educators began to make notable use of filmstrips, movies, and other visual media. Its foci include research into the effective use of such media alongside critiques of the text-heavy focus of traditional schooling.
  • Diffusion of Innovation Theory (E.M. Rogers, 1960s) – descriptive model of how perceived innovations – including ideas, actions, or artefacts – are adopted by and diffuse through a population. It distinguishes types of adoptors, stages of innovation, and principal factors that influence adoption.
  • Resource-Based Learning (RBL) (Nuffield Foundation, 1960s) – an approach to teaching that places particular attention on how learners interact with available resources – in the process, incorporating considerations of learner diversities, inviting collaborations among educators and resource providers, and turning attentions to effective use of information technologies
  • Technology Adoption Lifecycle (E.M. Rogers, 1960s) – an element of Diffusion of Innovation Theory, this model offers profiles of different sorts of adoptors of an innovation. It distinguishes among innovators, early adoptors, early majority adoptors, late majority adoptors, and laggards/phobics, asserting a normal distribution across types and offering demographic and psychological characteristics that are prevalent across groups.
  • Theory of Reasoned Action (Martin Fishbein, Icek Ajzen, 1960s) – a theory of human action the focuses on the relationship between pre-existing attitudes and behavioral intentions.
  • Learning Management System (Course Management System; E-Learning Platform; Pedagogical Platform) (1970s) – an online software system that provides both of the following:
  • Courseware (1970s) – computer-based software that typically supports both teaching activities (e.g., posting lesson materials and managing grades) and learning activities (e.g., allowing for self-teaching and/or self-paced learning)
  • E-Tutoring (Online Tutoring) (1970s) – enabling a student to learn effectively in an online environment, typically spanning some levels of technical, managerial, social, and pedagogical support
  • Technology Integration (1970s) – an umbrella term applicable to any effort to incorporate digital technologies into educational processes
  • Collaboratory (William Wulf, 1980s) – originally coined to name a virtual (vs. actual) center, in which geographically dispersed researchers could work together – sharing data, instruments, and other resources digitally. The term has more recently been taken up to refer to any space – actual or virtual – designed to support collaboration on complex problems.
  • Theory of Planned Behavior (Icek Ajzen, 1980s) – based on the Theory of Reasoned Action, this theory interprets one’s actions by looking across attitude, subjective norms, intentions, and perceived behavioral control.
  • Transactional Distance Theory (Michael G. Moore, 1980s) – a model to guide and assess course designs for Distance Learning, based on three sets of elements: the structure of what is to be learned; the dialog between teacher and learners; the traits of and variations among learners
  • Domestication Theory (Roger Silverstone, 1990s) – a four-step model describing the appropriation of technology by users, involving (1) adaptation of new technology everyday practices; (2) adaptation of user and environment to technology; (3) iterative loops of development, prompted by feedback of those adaptations; and (4) conversion, involving both integration of technology and transformation of previous habits. 
  • Educational Data Mining (1990s) – both the techniques and the field of study designed to tap the increasingly vast repositories of Big Data (see below) derived from (or related to) people’s educational activities, with the intention of affecting learning and/or the experience of learning in some positive way.
    • Big Data (2000s) – vast data sets that are too large and/or too complex to be analyzed using traditional techniques. Such data sets are growing exponentially across almost all quantifiable aspects of human life – including formal education, where the focus is usually on identifying patterns, trends, and associations for individuals, identifiable subpopulations, institutions, and organizations.
  • Information Design (Information Architecture) (1990s) – a discipline concerned with representing information in manners that render it early to access, understand, and use
  • Materials-Based Learning (Derek Rowntree, 1990s) – an umbrella term intended to collect most of the modes of engagement presented above and below on this page – with particular emphasis on technologies and resources that seem to support more focused and intensive engagements than are typically afforded in face-to-face settings
  • Technology Acceptance Model (Fred Davis, 1990s) – models how users come to embrace a new technology by assessing the influence of relevant factors, such as: behavioral intention, attitude, perceived usefulness, perceived ease-of-use, and social influence.
  • Critical Digital Literacy (Digital Literacy; Critical Media Literacy) (2000s) – the skills and understandings deemed necessary for a competent user and/or creator of digital media tools
  • Lazy User Model (Franck Tetart & Mikael Collan, 2000s) – closely related to the Technology Acceptance Model, this model seeks to explain how one chooses a solution from a set of alternatives by managing the trade-offs of effort (aiming for the least) and effect (aiming for the greatest). 
  • SAMR Model (Ruben Puentedura, 2000s) – interprets the adoption of educational technology as a four-step progression, involving Substitution (new technology replaces previous one with no functional change), Augmentation (still no functional change, but benefits and possibilities of new technology are noticed and exploited), Modification (new technology is utilized to enhance and transform learning experiences), and Redefinition (previously unthinkable learning tasks are designed and engaged).
  • Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology (Viswanath Venkatesh, 2000s) – an effort to combine most of the above models, The UTAUT focuses of four core elements: (1) performance expectancy, (2) effort expectancy, (3) social influence, and (4) facilitating conditions.


Formal education has not demonstrated itself to be especially flexible and adaptive. For that reason, discussions of Technology-Mediated Individual Learning often come across more as criticisms of schooling than the possibility-seeking discourses they are intended to be. It’s impossible to engage with them meaningfully without being open to the possibility that current versions of schooling might be entirely out of synch with a rapidly changing world. On these points, the embrace of technology in formal education has not been without its detractors. For example:
  • Edupunk (Jim Groom, 2000s) – a critical response to the commercialization of formal learning (especially as influenced by technologies with limited adaptability), coupled to a “think for yourself” attitude
  • TikTok Brain (2020s) – a popular term that refers to problems with attention, focus, short-term memory, self-control, and mental health associated with addiction-like habits that can form with excessive online activity. TikTok Brain is named after an app but is not specific to that app.


  • Adaptive Technology
  • Assistive Technology
  • Asynchronous Learning
  • Audiovisual Learning (Bi-Sensory Learning; Media Learning)
  • Augmented Reality Learning Environments
  • Automated Learning
  • Bichronous Learning
  • Big Data
  • cMOOC (Connectivist MOOC)
  • Collaboratory
  • Computer-Assisted Instruction (Computer-Aided Instruction; Computer-Assisted Learning; Computer-Based Education; Computer-Based Instruction; Computer-Enriched Instruction; Computer-Managed Instruction; Web-Based Training; Web-Based Learning; Web-Based Instruction)
  • Correspondence Education
  • Critical Digital Literacy (Digital Literacy; Critical Media Literacy)
  • Courseware
  • Cyberloafing (Cyberbludging; Cyberslacking)
  • Digital Learning
  • Digital Pedagogy
  • Distance Learning (Distance Education; Remote Education; Remote Learning)
  • Distributed Learning (Distributed Education)
  • Domestication Theory
  • E-Tivity
  • E-Tutoring (Online Tutoring)
  • Education 3.0
  • Educational Data Mining
  • Edupunk
  • Extended Reality (XR)
  • Immersive Learning
  • Information Design
  • Intelligent Tutoring System (ITS)
  • Lazy User Model
  • Learning Management System (Course Management System; E-Learning Platform; Pedagogical Platform)
  • Learning Technologies
  • Materials-Based Learning
  • Media Naturalness Theory (Compensatory Adaptation Theory)
  • Media Psychology (Mediacology)
  • Media Richness Theory (Information Richness Theory)
  • Mixed Reality Learning Environments (Interactive Virtual Reality Learning Environments)
  • Modular Distance Learning
  • MOOC (Massive Online Open Course)
  • Online School (Cyber-School; e-School; Virtual School)
  • Open Educational Practices (Open Pedagogy; Open Practices)
  • Open Educational Resources
  • Resource-Based Learning
  • SAMR Model
  • SPOC (Small Private Online Course)
  • Synchronous Learning (Real-Time Learning; Sync Learning)
  • Technology Acceptance Model
  • Technology Adoption Lifecycle
  • Technology Integration
  • Tele-Learning (TelElearning; Tele-Education)
  • Theory of Planned Behavior
  • Theory of Reasoned Action
  • TikTok Brain
  • Transactional Distance Theory
  • Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology
  • Vanishing Cues Methodology
  • Video Learning (On-Demand Video Learning; Video-Based Learning)
  • Virtual Reality Learning Environments
  • Visual Instruction
  • xMOOC (extended MOOC)

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Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2024). “Technology-Mediated Individual Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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