Can digital technologies be of, for and as learning?

Many higher education providers are currently casting their educational strategies and resources toward the return to more in person teaching supported by the use of digital technology. The near future is about delivering digitally enhanced learning, teaching and assessment where online learning and digital tools support the best in person teaching experiences. Universities UK recent blog summarised this succinctly.

As educational developers we work with teaching staff (often alongside learning technologists) to develop staff’ digital capabilities, to offer curriculum design consultancy, and to inform institutional debates about the critical digital skills that students need to develop. In this blog I’m suggesting that these three areas of activity could be construed as the use of digital technologies ‘of, for and as learning’ and that could be a useful construct for developers to consider their activity in this important area of work.

The focus on of, for and as learning is not new. It is used commonly when talking about assessment. So, what is digital technology of, for and as learning and why might it be a useful way of framing the work of educational developers in supporting digital technology uses in higher education?

Digital technology of learning can be envisaged as the available digital tools and environments for teaching. It includes the centrally managed and maintained resources, like the virtual learning environment and the online classroom, as well as specialist software and hardware used by subject areas – for example VR in the digital humanities and simulation tools in healthcare professions. Educational developers and learning technologists play an important role when they support teaching staff to develop their digital capabilities and to become confident and open to test and evaluate new tools or features. They also support university managers and leaders to make decisions about which digital tools to purchase or adopt.

Digital technology for learning is the relationship between digital teaching tools and course design. Curriculum and learning design, led by educational developers and learning technologists, is an area of increasing focus and growth in institutions. Working with programme teams, students and other stakeholders, educational developers need to be adept at facilitating conversations that consider the affordances of the digital tools and relate those to the curriculum purposes (exemplified by universities’ strategies and curriculum frameworks) and the mode of study (in person, online or blended).

Finally, there is digital technology as learning. Here, in designing courses for learners, explicit attention is focused on developing students’ digital competencies. Digital technology as learning ensures teaching staff, and other curriculum designers articulate how the digital tools and the ways they are used inform students’ personal growth and professional development as current and future critical users of digital technology. The intention is to develop digitally confident graduates, citizens, employees and entrepreneurs who are willing and equipped to critique and further develop digital practice for the future.

Educational developers are in the thick of the action working alongside others to enable individual staff capability, course design and to set student learning priorities. As we all adjust to the expectation of digital capability and digital fluency underpinning the working lives of higher education staff and the study experiences of students, focusing on digital technology of, for and as learning could be a useful framework to differentiate the areas of our activity.

I’d love to hear from any readers about whether this resonates with you.


Jackie Potter is Dean of Academic Innovation at the University of Chester and Professor of Higher Education Learning and Development. She is the current Chair of the Heads of Educational Development and a member of the Staff and Educational Development Association.
@Jac_Potter @uochester @HEDG_UK @SEDA_UK_
She can be contacted at jackie.potter@chester.ac.uk

1 thought on “Can digital technologies be of, for and as learning?

  1. You and readers may find this interesting re Can digital technologies be of, for and as learning?

    Derounian, J.G. (2017) ‘Mobiles in class?’ Active Learning in Higher Education [online]. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/James_Derounian/publication/321878791_Mobiles_in_class/links/5a735fb4458515512077c344/Mobiles-in-class.pdf?origin=publication_detail [accessed 27.7.2022]

    Brief context: key societal influences on the UK, HE and CD during 2017 included a minority Conservative Government which was kept in office through an agreement with the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist party. From 2016 to 2019, the EU referendum and aftermath dominated UK political discourse and activity. Prime Minister May (2017) introduced her idea for a Shared Society, to promote individual rights and responsibilities towards each other.

    This article centred on innovation and creativity: the ‘study presents a review of the pros and cons of students using mobile phones, smartphones, laptops and tablets in contact sessions’. In particular, there was (and arguably still is) a need to evaluate the incidence and effect of the use of mobile devices in class…given the newness and rapidly changing nature of the technologies’ (Derounian, 2017: 1). The article utilised secondary and primary research in order ‘to determine how the potential of mobile devices for learning may be realised, and negatives minimised’ (Derounian, 2017: 1).

    I concluded in the article: ‘In line with literature and student feedback informing this article, the technologies augment face-to-face interactions, including teaching and learning…our humanity remains central to learning and teaching. Someone to incite curiosity and feed creativity and imagination continues centre stage’ (Jobs, 1995 cited in Derounian, 2017: 10). In summary, this research article drew together contested views on the use of new technologies in student-staff contact sessions. Given this emphasis it connects back to selected publication 1 on page 36 (regarding use of new technologies – that is Virtual Learning Environments – for HE teaching).

    Skinner, E. and Derounian, J. (2008) ‘Building community through online discussion’. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (2) pp. 57-70 [online]. Available at: http://eprints.glos.ac.uk/3727/1/Lathe_2_Skinner_Derounian.pdf [accessed 27.7.2022]

    Regards James

    Dr James Derounian National Teaching Fellow

    Dr James Derounian National Teaching Fellow Direct: 0781 351 6883 Web: http://www.slcc.co.uk 🌲 Consider the environment. Do you really need to print this email? The Society of Local Council Clerks is a company limited by guarantee and registered in England and Wales with company registration number 10566132. Registered office: Collar Factory, Suite 2.01, 112 St. Augustine Street, Taunton, Somerset TA1 1QN

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