Categorization of Learning Technologies

categoriesGrouping learning technologies into categories is a useful way to make sense out of the many tools available. This page suggests several taxonomies for categorizing learning technologies. In just about any taxonomy for instructional technology, tools may likely show up under multiple categories depending on how they are used. For example, a tool such as an iPhone can be used to view static learning content or can be used to collaborate with other learners. In the first case it might be categorized with a media player (like QuickTime or Windows Media Player) while in the second case it might be categorized with tools like Google Docs or Wikipedia.

Caution: When classifying technologies, it can be tempting to mix apples and oranges by confusing tools (ie. iPhone, Wikipedia, Blackboard) with types of tools (ie. handheld computers, wikis, LMS) with concepts (ie. mobile learning, social learning, distance education). Whatever taxonomy you use, make sure you are comparing like concepts with each other.


Classification by Interaction

Classification by interaction is a taxonomy for grouping learning technologies based on the type of interaction that they afford. This taxonomy was first presented by Richard Culatta at the Wisconsin Distance Learning Conference in 2009. It is based on the types of learning interactions suggested by Michael Moore. The advantage of this taxonomy is that it keeps the focus on the learning experience.

Learner >< Expert
Technologies when they are used to connect learners to experts (web conferencing, discussion forums). Subcategories may be "synchronous" or "asynchronous".

Learner >< Learner
Technologies when they are used to connect learners to learners (wikis, discussion forums, microblogging). Subcategories may be "synchronous" or "asynchronous"

Learner >< Content
Technologies that make content available to learners (WBTs, streaming video, podcasts). Subcategories may be "static" or "dynamic" (ie. does the tool or media adjust to the learner)

Learner >< Context
Tools that are used to connect users to their environment (augmented reality tools, alternate reality games).


Classification Based on Similar Functionality

Classification of learning technologies by similar function by Richard Culatta and Matt Leavitt


Classification by Technical Affordances

One of the most comprehensive ways to categorize types of technology-based learning is by using the Four Dimensions of Interaction as presented by Charles Graham in The Blended Learning Handbook. It is important to note that, similar to the Classification by Interaction model, this model is rerally describing the learning activitoes enabled by the technologies rather than the technologies themselves. Graham astutely points out that most types of technology-based learning activities cannot be easlity put into bins, but rather fall somewhere on scale of a particular variable. Thus this categorization method is perhaps the most effective, albeit perhaps a bit more complicated than is necessary for less experienced users.

blended learning


Classification by Educational Function

This classification comes from Bostock (1996), based on a critique of Laurillard, 1st edition. Bostock, S. J. 1996 A critical review of Laurillard’s classification of educational media Instructional Science, 24 71-88

  1. Information Resources (content but no processing, user control) - text, video, images
  2. Information Processing Tools (processing but no content, user control) - wikis, concept mappers, social bookmarks
  3. Simulations (content and processing, user control) - games, models, virtual environments
  4. Computer Aided Instruction (content and instructional processing, software control) - WBTs, online tests, tutorials
  5. Computer Mediated Communications (content-free, processing-free, user control) - e-mail, discussion boards, web conferencing


Kemmis' 4 Paradigms

Kemmis (1977 in Rushby 1984) four “paradigms”: (Rushby, N. 1984 Styles of computer based learning, in Using Micro-computers in
Schools ed. C. Terry, London: Croom Helm)

social media


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