The Three Uses of Educational Technology: Instrumental, Informational, and Instructional

One way to analyze the field of Educational Technology is to consider these three main uses: instrumental, informational, and instructional.

  1. Instrumental uses of technology.

This category would cover “instrumental” software applications that are used both within the context of some educational context and outside of that context. They are instrumental in that they are used to visualize and transform data. For example, when one takes an accounting course it may be that the students will use a spread sheet application such as Excel. Likewise, mechanical engineering students may use a CAD package. These software applications are used “in education,” but they are also used in other contexts.

  1. Informational uses of technology.

This category would cover “informational” software applications that are used both within the context of some educational context and outside of that context. Email would be a straight forward example. Here, information in the form of email messages is being exchanged between people playing various different roles. In the context of education, you have someone playing the role of “teacher” exchanging email with one or more people playing the role of “students.” Of course, email is also used outside of the context of education where you have people playing different roles (e.g. “manager” and “worker”).

  1. Instructional uses of technology.

This category would cover “instructional” software applications that are primarily used in the context of training or education. An online testing system would be a good example of software in this category. Likewise, Computer Aided Instruction would be another example. Here a student is presented with information and then asked one or more questions to see if they understand the information that has been provided. If they do, then the CAI system moves on to the next lesson. If not, then remedial information is provided. Another example would be software and data related to learning analytics. Here, student data is collected across many lessons (and perhaps many courses) and stored in a database of learner information profiles. These learner information profiles can then be used to fashion learning experiences (aka lesson plans) and instructional content that would be appropriate for individual students or, perhaps, groups of students.

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