EdTech = Assessment Tech

Education is an active, not a passive, process. But choosing and watching a video, or answering a multiple choice question, or regurgitating memorized ‘information’ are not active processes. They are ‘active’ only in the sense that a rock rolling downhill is ‘active’.

One thing that people promoting ‘educational technologies’ seem to find difficult to understand — or at least easy to ignore — is that education, learning, and instruction are very different things. ‘Education’, for example, seems to sometimes be thought of as the broader category with ‘instruction’ being the active aspect and ‘learning’ being the passive aspect. Alternatively, the three are used almost interchangeably. But learning, instruction, and education have no necessary relationships to one another.

Instruction can happen without any learning resulting, for any number of reasons having to do with nearly any component of the interactional situation. On the other hand, learning happens all the time without any specific efforts at instruction. Learning new skills or ‘information’, however, does not necessarily lead to ‘education’ in the sense of understanding the broader contextual relations of the information or skills acquired. And people have a tendency to become ‘educated’ about the worlds they live in through experience of those worlds, which doesn’t always depend or rely exclusively upon the acquisition of discretely parse-able information or the learning of new articulable skills.

Learning, instruction, and education are, of course, closely related and often do build upon one another. But their relations are not necessarily direct, linear, or hierarchical. For this reason, building better ‘instructional systems’ or ‘learning platforms’ will not necessarily lead to or improve ‘education’ any more than to more efficient instruction or learning.

Nevertheless, educational (or instructional) technologies and those who promote them have the broad tendency to conflate these three things as if they did have linear relations. In doing so, the products that result have far less to do with learning, instruction, or education than with assessment. The assessment of learning or instruction is not an educational function at all — it’s an administrative function. Administration is necessary to authorization and certification, but not to education or learning or even instruction.

In this sense, ‘educational technologies’ should really be referred to as what they are: assessment technologies. And as long as the primary function of EdTech is assessment, the products and processes it produces will continue to frustrate efforts at actual ‘education’ in an overweening emphasis on the authorized ‘delivery’ of ‘instruction’ serving to certify ‘learning’ (which is not in any way the same thing as actually accomplishing learning).

Truly ‘educational’ technologies would be designed to serve the interactions in which instruction and learning take place, and (hopefully, eventually) upon which education is built. What would that look like?

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