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Technology-mediated learning theory: A holistic and field-specific referent for the analysis of technology-enhanced learning

Matt Bower

The recent 50th anniversary special section of the British Journal of Educational Technology (BJET) on ‘Developing Critical and Theoretical Approaches to Educational Technology Research and Practice’, so expertly guest-edited by Professor Jill Jameson, was a timely opportunity for the technology-enhanced learning field to reflect upon its theoretical foundations. The truth is that educational technology research has historically been theoretically eclectic – or, less euphemistically, disjointed – in the theoretical approaches adopted throughout its thousands of studies. Just some of the theoretical perspectives that have been used to examine the use of technology in education include activity theory, social-cognitive theory, affordances, multimodal and multimedia learning, actor network theory, community of inquiry and communities of practice, to name just a few. However, many of these have been borrowed from fields outside technology-enhanced learning and so lack contextual specificity, while others focus attention on specific aspects of technology-enhanced learning at the expense of other important influences.

In my recent contribution to the aforementioned special section of BJET, entitled ‘Technology-mediated learning theory’ (Bower, 2019), I outline an integrated approach to conceptualising theory in situations in which technology is mediating learning. In the paper, ‘mediated’ refers to situations in which technology is the means by which information is conveyed and people are linked together. This covers a wide variety of educational technology contexts such the use of wikis, blogs, social media, mobile applications, virtual worlds, learning management systems and so on. The integrated theorisation is based on a fundamental ‘assumption’ of technology-mediated learning, namely that,

in technology-mediated learning contexts, agentic intentions reside with humans, and not with technology.

That is to say, it is people who ultimately control the content that is represented and shared using technology – the technology is not an intentioned actor in most learning technology contexts. This assumption is important to specify, because it places responsibility for technology-mediated learning decisions entirely with people (most notably, teachers and students).

Based on this assumption, and an integrated review of theory and research in the learning technology field, several premises of technology-mediated learning naturally follow. These are as follows.

  • Premise 1: digital technologies can perform a mediating role for participants in their attempts to achieve learning goals.

  • Premise 2:in technology-mediated learning contexts, participant beliefs, knowledge, practices and the environment all mutually influence one another.

  • Premise 3: in technology-mediated learning settings, the role of teachers is to help optimise student learning outcomes and experiences through the purposeful deployment of learning technologies.

  • Premise 4: the affordances of technologies, including their recognition and use, influences the sorts of representation, interaction, production and learning that can take place.

  • Premise 5: the way in which modalities are used and combined influences the way in which meaning is processed, interpreted, created, and interrelated.

  • Premise 6: The way in which technology is used to mediate interaction patterns and possibilities between networks of participants influences the learning that takes place.

  • Premise 7: Arrangements of technologies and the way they are used can influence the sense of presence and community that are experienced.

These premises are encapsulated in figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Schematic representation of technology-mediated learning theory

Image credits: image of person, CC-BY-SA 4.0 Don Clark.

The relationship between the various elements of the theorisation, as well as their nuances, are unpacked in the paper, though with the qualification that it is not possible to fully interrelate all of the various informing theories, some of which, in and of themselves, have several volumes dedicated to their analysis. The paper also provides critical reflection on the bounds of the applicability of technology-mediated learning theory – for instance, in contexts in which learning is blended, informal, individual or driven by artificial intelligence.

The implications of technology-mediated learning theory are, then, discussed in terms of the conduct of future learning technology research and what we as a field need to focus on as a consequence of the proposed premises. Finally, the paper calls for critical rather than simplistic or deterministic application of technology-mediated learning theory and educational technology research in general. This means moving beyond the idea that technology will enhance learning, to critically characterise and examine the ways in which technology mediates learning.

This blog post is based on the article ‘Technology‐mediated learning theory’ by Matt Bower.

It is is published in the British Journal of Educational Technology, and is free-to-view for a limited period, courtesy of the journal’s publisher, Wiley.


Bower, M. (2019). Technology‐mediated learning theory. British Journal of Educational Technology, 50(3), 1035–1048.

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