An Overview of Information Technologies for Education and Training

Betty Collis

Abstract: This chapter gives an overview of the general topic of this handbook: Technologies and their applications for education and training. Technologies can be classified in many different ways, and described with many different labels, often varying between country to country or author to author. Categorisations will be introduced in this chapter as an overview of technology-related terminology relevant for this Handbook. However the Handbook is not about technologies in themselves, but as applied in learning-related contexts. Thus this opening chapter also gives an overview of three learning-related perspectives on technology: Micro, meso, and macro. Micro relates to issues directly related to a particular technology product itself, such as its design, its user interface, and its available functionalities, and the design processes used to develop the product. Meso relates to the learning context in which the technology product is put into practice. Macro involves broader issues relating to technology application in education and training, such as the effect on the organisation. The chapter concludes with a comment on convergence as the defining characteristic of both technology types and technology perspectives in the near future.


Information technology can be described in terms of a process, the processing of information by computer(s) based on instructions given to the computer(s) via software. It can also relate to products as well as processes: the technologies related to hardware, software, data communication, database management, and information systems. It is the product orientation more that the processing orientation that forms a common theme of chapters in this Handbook

In this chapter and this Handbook, we will restrict ourselves to computer-based applications, tools, and resources. These software entities do not have to be specifically developed for an educational purpose, as long as they are being applied for learning-related tasks. For example, they can include applications such as word processors or spreadsheets. For convenience, we will refer to the entities discussed in this chapter as technologies or computer-related products, although this may sometimes mean using the terms in a technically non-precise way. The categorisations used in this chapter will be mapped to the chapters in the Handbook at the conclusion of the chapter.

This Handbook is not about technologies in themselves but about their application in learning-related situations. A learning-related situation involves not only a technology product, but also a learner and/or many others. Thus another sort of overview of information technologies for education and training is also given in the chapter: an overview based on what are called perspectives. The micro-level perspective refers to a technology product in itself, the meso level to the product as it is part of a usage situation, and the macro level to the product in terms of its implications in a larger context. These distinctions will be discussed further in this chapter. The perspectives discussed in this chapter will also be mapped to the chapters in this Handbook.

Finally, a major current characteristic of information technologies is convergence. At the micro level, one aspect of convergence is the fact that data involving a variety of signal types, such as text, audio, and video, are now handled as digital signals within the same application. But at the meso level, the convergence between information-processing technologies and curriculum is also an important object of study. At the macro level, the convergence of services offered by traditional universities and distance universities is another example. This chapter concludes with some comments about convergence with relation to information technology in education and training, and also maps these comments onto chapters in the Handbook.

Categories relating to technologies

In this chapter we provide a chronological categorisation of computer-related educational products before moving to a categorisation by application type.

By chronological development


The evolution in computer-based educational products relates to the distinction between stand-alone and networked (or interconnected) computers. In the initial days of computer-based learning, the 1960s and 1970s and before microcomputers, all activity took place on mainframe systems, with user access via terminals connected to the central mainframe. Initially, the terminals had no processing power on their own. Sophisticated mainframe-based systems were developed in several university environments (a pioneer was Suppes at Stanford University in the US, with his logic courses in the mid 1960s) to support the authoring and provision of computer-based study materials as well as the management of student data relative to learners‘ use of the systems (see O’Neil, 1981). Some of these mainframe-based systems, such as PLATO, are discussed further in Chapter 5 of this Handbook. However, few instructors had knowledge of the possibilities of using mainframe systems for educational purposes or had access to the systems for such purposes.

Microcomputers and programming

In the late 1970s, the introduction of the personal microcomputer brought a new impetus to computer-related learning. Suddenly, the individual, independent of a central computing infrastructure, could make use of his own computer at home, at work, and in the classroom. The astounding potential of this flexibility and accessibility stimulated an enormous creativity in computer applications for learning in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Not only did individual instructors and learners have control over their access to a computer, but they also could control the computer itself, via the tactic of writing their own software. Programming became a major interest in educational circles. Students and teachers alike learned languages such as LOGO and BASIC, for two different reasons. One was to create software that would serve a certain learning task. The second, more widespread reason, was that programming was seen as a necessary and valuable skill in itself. Of particular interest in education was the combination of these two reasons. The LOGO language, and to a lesser extent, BASIC, were vehicles not only to create useful (small) programs, but also to learn how to program, to control the computer, to be ready for the information age. Robert Taylor, in 1981, edited a seminal book on the computer as tutor, tool, and tutee, where programming the computer was the skill needed to put the computer in tutee mode. LOGO in particular was fueled by an educational philosophy and vision triggered by Seymour Papert’s 1980 book Mindstorms that mixed LOGO programming with educational reform and new paradigms for teaching and learning. Also, LOGO led the way in terms of the idea of intertwining technology and a curriculum area: LOGO programming was primarily used in the context of exploring mathematical ideas.

Professional software development

While interest in programming for learning-related purposes still exists in pockets in 2000 (for example, there is still a yearly international LOGO conference, held in 1999 in Bulgaria), a shift developed in the mid 1980s. There was less and less interest in individuals writing their own programs (or in the idea of teachers making use of authoring systems to create programs), and more and more attention given to larger, professionally made software packages with features beyond what an individual instructor, student, or software designer could produce on his own. An „industrial approach" to educational software development emerged, integrating teams of paricipants and steered by cost- and management considerations (Moonen, 1987; see also Chapters 11 and 12). Often national ministries or regional agencies commissioned such software development, adding variables to the production process relating to the need to include many different players (such as educational publishers) in the overall process. Because of these complex development processes, educational software became expensive and complex itself. The complexity meant that local institutions needed support staff to select, license, and install the software packages and train the teachers how to use such packages. In some cases, the systems became more-or-less self-contained environments (learning-management systems or integrated learning systems (ILS)) involving major policy and financial decisions at the institutional or regional level, external support for the maintenance of the system, and minimal possibilities for local instructional staff to make adaptations to the the system as a classroom tool. Although some of these systems used stand-alone computers, others moved to a networked system within the school. Within a decade, the idea of the creative individual using the computer as a learning tool guided by his or her own ideas had faded, and the concept of professionally produced products which were black boxes to the users and which made decisions for the users was gaining ground.


But there was a parallel line of computers in education that began early in the 1980s, and that kept the idea of creativity and personal decision making alive even as educational software became more and more complex. This was the line of using the computer as a tool (one of Taylor’s roles in his 1981 book). The idea of using application software that was not specifically developed for education as a tool in education grew in the 1980s. Word-processing software was the first major example (although for several years in the 1980s, controversy arose around the question of whether students should use ordinary word processing software or special word processors developed for educational use). There was also controversy as to the appropriate age for students to be expected to use a keyboard and how they should learn keyboarding. Word processing software was seen as a curriculum resource: in the early 1980s: a major theme at computers-in-education conferences was how to use word processing to support the writing process. Parallel to this, word-processing skills became a standard part of computer literacy courses, also internationally popular in the 1980s.

While word processing became the first major software tool to be regularly used in education, it was not the only one. Spreadsheet software gained a niche among some mathematics and science teachers; database management software also regularly triggered creative classroom projects, reported on in 1980s conferences. The major stimulus for the interest in database development was the release of Hypercard by Apple in 1987. Hypercard offered users a way to create their own databases, or stacks, and to integrate images and later animation, sound, and even video in these databases. More importantly, Hypercard brought the idea of hyperlinking into the educational setting, even for young children, and stimulated another round of interest in self-created educational resources. The process of creating a Hypercard stack (and later, of creating a multimedia, hyperlinked database using other products such as HyperStudio) was a major reason for the use of the software. It was the process, not so much the product in itself that mattered. Children being self-expressive with computers came into another iteration, following the earlier rounds of self-expressiveness with LOGO and BASIC.


Hyperlinking also became important in educational computer use within the context of the development of multimedia during the 1980s. Multimedia came to mean the integration of text, images, and some amount of sound and video (from none to some), usually via a single CD-ROM disk. Hyperlinking of resources on such a disk became a common design approach. Programs such as Microsoft’s Encarta (a multimedia, hyperlinked, digital encyclopedia) became standard educational resources (at least in the home); Encarta is probably the most successful educational software product of all time. But as multimedia became more popular, another iteration of the need for professional development teams also emerged; very few if any individuals had the resources or skills in the 1980s and early 1990s to make their own multimedia CD-ROMS for learning-related purposes. A major practical result of the emergence of educational CD-ROMs in the 1990s was the need for institutions and individuals to have more powerful computers; to handle multimedia, computers needed speed, memory, and disk storage capacity beyond the capacity of most computers available in schools and homes in the 1980s and early 1990s. CD-ROMs became associated with powerful stand-alone computers.

The Internet and the World Wide Web

The next major breakthrough in computer use in education came with the emergence of the Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW) as technologies available to individuals during the early 1990s. Although the Internet, and computer-mediated communication, had been used for learning-related purposes (not very much by learners themselves, but by educational professionals or for occasional research projects) since the 1970s, it was only with the public breakthrough of the Internet and particularly the WWW in the early 1990s that a new phase of computer use began. In this phase, users still make use of their stand-alone computers, but more and more in between sessions of contact with other computers, other persons, and with networked resources, all via data communications. This has had powerful implications for information technology in education. One implication has been a new iteration of the creative individual, producing his own resources. Where this individual may have circulated floppy disks with her BASIC creations in the 1980s, in the 1990s she posts it on the WWW, accessible to uncountable others. A major new wave of self-expression, for learning-related purposes or otherwise, via the WWW is in full operation in the late 1990s and 2000. The new topic of interest at international educational computing conferences is the use of the WWW (see Collis & Oliver, 1999; also Chapter 2).

But as before, users of the WWW for learning-related purposes are quickly moving into two parallel streams: those who utilise the technology in a self-determined and self-produced way, making their own WWW resources or course sites; and those who are producing professionally made and maintained WWW environments or resources for others to access and use. Similar to the cycle of interest in authoring systems in the 1980s, there is now a major international market for Web-based course-management systems (Landon, 2000; Robson, 1999; see also Chapters 4 and 5). But unlike authoring systems, Web-based systems are exploding in use and possibilities. Within such systems, any type of computer use can be supported, from drill and practice to group collaboration (see Integrated Resources, later in this chapter).


A convergence between stand-alone and networked resources is becoming the norm for the early 2000s. Users use their stand-alone computers still, but more and more often to prepare something for dissemination via a network or to process resources obtained via a network. CD-ROMs are programmed to launch WWW browsers and an associated WWW site, so that up-to-date information as well as communication possibilities can be added to the static resources on the CD-ROM. As was the case in the 1960s and 1970s, users are again dependent on those specialists who maintain central resources, although the focus is now on WWW servers , highspeed networks, and routers rather than mainframes. Internet service providers and Web system masters are necessary for the educational use of computers in the 2000s.

The implications for educational software are profound. Rapidly there is a shift away from educational software of the complex sorts produced in the 1980s by industrial methods of software development, toward two types of entities: (a) large Web-based systems associated with a database, and (b) small, flexible programs (such as applets) and re-usable resources that can be made available by the users themselves or selected (often via the Internet), and used as the individuals wish within their Websites or systems. Those who control these re-usable resources and make them available, via the Internet and (usually) for a price, are one group of the new educational software suppliers of the 2000s. Those who make and sell the large systems into which such resources can be integrated are another group of the new educational software suppliers. Those who design stand-alone complex products distributed via CD-ROM are becoming marginalised, catering to niche markets such as some in-house training situations. Increasingly, even they must find ways to integrate their complex products with other resources and with communication possibilities via the WWW.

Thus the distinction between stand-alone and networked computers is a major framework for understanding the evolution of computers in education. However, users in 2000 may be less interested in chronological developments than in familiar categories of applications. We discuss a number of these in the next section.

By application type

The distinctions between stand-alone and networked-access products discussed in the previous section are historically important as well as important for understanding current and future developments with educational uses of information technology. However, there are other ways to organise a discussion of information technology in education. In this section we illustrate one of these other approaches. This approach focuses on the software products themselves in terms of categories relating to their educational use. We can describe eight major categories: for knowledge transfer and conceptual development, for communication support, for collaborative learning, for conceptual manipulation, involving educational databases, as tools, as integrated WWW-based resources, and as integrated systems more generally. For each of these categories, we will give a brief overview of recent, current, and future developments.

Software for knowledge transfer and conceptual development:

In this category we include exemplars as diverse as tutorials, drill and practice, integrated learning-mangement systems, some simulations, Java applets, Web-based course-support sites, and video-on-demand lecture presentations. The first four of these are well established as general types, but are supporting new manifestations. The last three are examples of new manifestions.

Tutorial software, usually including drill-and-practice elements, is probably the earliest category of computer software used for learning-related purposes. It is the type of software that has suggested the idea that students could learn with the computer, rather than a human teacher, as tutor. Tutorial software attempts to teach, and thus requires an extensive analysis of both content and learner. A long line of research activity has focused on this analysis process, with a particular interest in intelligent tutoring systems and expert systems. User modelling, inference engines, and more recently, intelligent agents, reflect this line. As one current example, Cristea and Okamoto, at the Laboratory of AI & Knowledge Computing of the University of Electro-Communications in Japan, are building (to the prototype level) a "system capable of functioning autonomously, without human interference, …embedding the necessary tutoring functions within a set of intelligent, collaborating agents that will serve the student" (2000, p. 1). Much of the instructional-design methodology in the literature relating to computer-related resources is based on the assumption that it is this sort of teacher-free, computer-steered teaching system which is being designed (see also Chapter 6).

In practice, such systems have had little dissemination in practice beyond some specialised niche situations, and these situations are usually related to the research or project activity that generated the systems. The task of teaching is so complex, and user modeling even more so, that most attempts to capture these dynamics in more than simple systems have not been satisfying in widescale practice. Usually, when an attempt is made to analyse why a tutorial package is not used in practice, reasons are (a) the not-made-here reaction, the feeling that the package does not fit local circumstances; (b) costs and problems with acquisition, maintenance, and updating; and (c) lack of time and facilities for the instructor to integrate the package into sustainable use. Even the additional of tools for self-adaptation of packages (to deal with Problem a) does not override Problems b and c. (For more discussion, see the Meso Perspective, below, and also Chapters 4, 5, 11, 12, and 21 in the Handbook). However, tutorial and drill-and-practice software are moving through a new iteration, with their expression within resources such as applets that can be integrated within WWW-based sites and systems. Many small, self-contained, tutorial or drill programmes can be seen within collections of resources found in discipline-specific portal sites on the Internet. The line between tutorials, informational resources, discussion resources, and other sorts of resources found in Web sites is blurring rapidly, another example of convergence (see also Chapter 2).

As noted earlier, there have been systems since the start of computer-supported learning that combined tutorial and drill-and-practice resources with a management system so that individual students followed a more-or-less individualised progress through the system. The individualisation may have been primarily related to pace, in that faster students move more quickly and weaker students more slowly, but also related to content branching. In general, such systems focused on well-defined learning materials, such as elementary mathematics. The costs as well as the difficulty in maintaining a commitment to the system over a period of time because of changing conditions in the institutional or technological context or in the learners and instructors involved (see the discussion related to the stand-alone computer above) reduced the appearance of such integrated systems. However, the concept of an integrated system to support tutorial and drill applications is having a new iteration in the late 1990s and early 2000s via Web-based sites and systems. Within such sites and systems, many sorts of learning resources can be included, or linked to, including tutorials and drills (see Integrated Resources, below).

One new type of tutorial product is emerging, parallel to technical advances in multimedia data communication. This is the capture of a lecture or demonstration by an instructor, which is made available on demand, in whatever combination of segments the students choose, via streaming video technologies to students who were not at the original event or for students who wish to review portions of the lecture as study materials (Collis & Peters, 1999, and Chapter 9, this Handbook). In this way, a new form of computer-available tutorial is emerging, one based on the re-use of the teaching via the lecturing of the instructor rather than on materials written by teams of courseware producers and instructional designers. The strengths of this approach include: (a) local acceptability; (b) instructor designed but without expecting the instructor to become a software developer; (c) integration of the lecture segments with other forms of interactive study materials via a course WWW site; (d) instructor generated, reflecting the personality and style of the instructor; and (e) easy and immediate acquisition of resources (avoiding the high costs and timelines of traditional multimedia development). Weaknesses include the lack of technique for video capture, the perpetuation of poor-quality lectures, and the problems of access for students with low-bandwidth network connections or non-multimedia computers.

Applications for communication support:

In this category are programs that support communication in different forms, such as word processing software, email tools and systems, computer-conferencing applications, WWW boards, chat and MOO tools, and audio and video conferencing applications. A typical differentiation between such applications relates to the time aspect of the communication that is occurring. If the communication is occurring at the same time for all communicants, then the terms real-time or synchronous are used. When the communication message is read and replied to at times different from when it was initiated, the term asynchronous communication is used.

In the early 1990s, the term computer-mediated communication (CMC) became popular, but tended to mean email, bulletin boards, and text-based computer conferencing, all asynchronous applications. Those with an interest in the educational applications of word processing did not see this so much as communication but as support for the writing process. However, word processing produces many of the products that are sent as communication messages (as attachments or as cut-and-paste segments), and thus can be also seen as an application for communication support. There is a decade of experience with video conferencing, not using information technologies but rather proprietary technologies for compression, decompression, and transmission of analogue signals. Only recently are technological advances in data networks making it more and more feasible to participate in real-time audio and video conferencing via the Internet, using tools that can be integrated within Websites.

With respect to asynchronous communication, there has been considerable interest in the early 1990s in the design of application software to support learning-related CMC. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, CMC packages custom-built for education were being tried out, primarily in universities supporting distance learners. Most of these packages are no longer on the market, or have evolved into Web-based systems (probably the most successful of the latter is the system First Class) that support more than communication. However, the tendency is now for the use of standard email systems and Web boards to support educational CMC. Email and Web-board tools are often integrated within WWW sites, to faciliate discussion among persons associated with the sites, such as students in a particular course or learners making connections with remote experts or fellow-learners.

While the functionalities of tools for asynchronous communication have become more or less standard, the skill to use such tools well in a learning setting is still being defined. Paulsen compiled a variety of pedagogical scenarios for CMC in 1995, before the days of common use of the WWW for communication support; this list is still a valid stimulus for the instructor in 2000. The skill and discipline needed to integrate asynchronous computer-supported communication into a learning setting is significant (see Chapter 37). Software functionalities can help this process, such as for example, with ease of archiving and retrieval of previous messages, re-organisation of messages, forwarding and sharing of (parts of) messages, maintaining addresses and mailing lists for communication partners, and filtering messages into different categories of subsequent attention. But the educational use of applications for asynchronous communication, including word processing, depends on the context and the users more than the application itself.

All of the above points are also valid for tools to support real-time communication, with the added burden of having to add mechanisms for turn-taking, for idenfication of attendees, for camera control, and other logistic aspects (including arranging so that participants are present and technically able to communicate at the same time). There has been a certain amount of educational interest in chat and MOO resources. MOO is term used to describe a situation, supported by a networked software environment, in which participants interact at the same time, generally by text and currently also with animated figures, within a contrived sort of (software) environment, designed to represent a metaphoric setting such as a house with many rooms (see Chapters 3 and 8). In a typical structure for a MOO, participants take on different roles, and communicate among each other via the roles. This communication takes place in different visualised rooms or areas, in which different tasks or types of communication occur.

MOO use and real-time communication more generally, are still fringe activities in education partly because of timing and scheduling problems and network-access and support problems (particularly for audio and video communication) but more so because of the lack of ideas or time that instructors have in traditional settings to make use of such technologies. Because of the continued technological development of multimedia data communications, however, there is a new iteration of interest in video communication, but via the Internet, such as in the technique of capturing a presentation or lectures for re-use and re-view asynchronously via the WWW (see the above section). The latter represents another example of convergence: convergence of a real-time event occurring by videoconferencing with the revisiting of that event on demand via asynchronous streaming video.

Applications for collaborative learning:

Applications in this category include shared workspaces, specially-made systems to support collaborative work, and tools such as workflow. In addition, all the communication applications listed in the above section can also be used to support collaboration. The interest in computer-supported collaborative learning has a long background. Sometimes the focus has been more on the organisation of the collaborative learning from a pedagogical and conceptual view than on the software tools to support the collaboration. Long-running research projects such as those making use of the CSILE database environment (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994) integrate both a specialised software environment with a conceptual orientation.

As with tutorial software, a distinction can be made between software tools to support collaborative learning which do not require use of a network and those which presuppose a network. Among those that do not require a network are environments such as those studied for many years by researchers such as Snyder (1986), in which the collaboration took place among students in the same classroom interacting at the same time, and using the computer as a stimulus or communal data-entry environment. However, the majority of development in terms of technological support for collaborative work involves support for collaborators who are at different locations from one another (support for real-time collaboration, such as shared writing tools) or who wish to access shared resources at a variety of times (via shared workspaces). As before, the integration of tools for collaborative work into Websites allows the combination of communication support, resource-development support, and links to other learning resources in ways that are opening up new dimensions for collaborative learning (see Chapter 14).

One particular focus in collaborative learning relates to the management of such activities, by both learners and instructors. A variety of different software tools, operating as single resources or integrated within a Website, are available or being developed. These include: (Van der Veen, Collis, & Jones, 1998):

Software for conceptual manipulation:

Software categories that give the user tools to manipulate representations of concepts in order to come to a deeper understanding of the concept include simulations, Virtual Reality systems, microworlds, concept mapping tools, and workbenches. Simulations are the oldest of these types in terms of the history of computer-related learning (Jong & Joolingen, 1998). Software-supported simulations can be based on well defined mathematical models or can support role playing in social situations. Simulations differ on the amount of openness for the learner in terms of self-exploration of a conceptual domain; the number of variables that can be manipulated; the detail and fidelity of the simulation; the sort of representations that are used in the simulation (animations, tables of results, graphs of different sorts, video); and the amount of associated resources available to the learner during his manipulation of the simulation. When simulations make use of rich visual resources, they are beginning to overlap with the category of virtual reality environments (see Chapter 8). Such environments usually involve at least the capacity for the user to manipulate the visualisation of the system, but may also involve manipulation of three-dimension representations. More sophisicated virtual reality systems involve environments outside of the what is seen on a computer screen. At the National Institute for Multimedia in Education in Japan, for example, the learner wears special glasses and stands in a room in which all surfaces have visual displays relating to the simulation. The experience of the learner is one of immersion in the new, virtual environment, in which he can make adjustments via his own body movement.

Such virtual reality environments are still scarce and most learners in the next few years at least will not have the opportunity to interact within one. However, computer-based microworlds and workbenches have been in relatively common use for at least a decade. Such environments allow the learner to manipulate a number of variables relevant to a certain domain (for example, to build different electrical systems and vary the resistence and the current going through the system in order to study the performance of the system in different conditions) and thus carry out experiments via the computer which would be time-consuming if not impossible to do with real equipment (see also Chapter 39). Simulations to learn how to operate complex equipment such as nuclear reactors or warships have been in use for over a decade in countries throughout the world. Sometimes these require additional facilities, but often they are interacted with by the learner completely via a computer.

Simluations involve some level of constraints on the learner with respect to the decisions that can be made about variables in a system. There are other sorts of software tools, called cognitive tools (Kommers, Jonassen, & Mayes, 1992), which instead are meant to be servants of the user, to help him express his ideas about relationships among variables even if these ideas are original to the learner. Concept-mapping tools are example of this kind of cognitive tool. Such tools are now being used to create interfaces to collections of materials available via a Website, thus combining concept mapping with information sharing and communication (thus, more convergence).

Educational databases:

Educational databases can be organised in a variety of ways: as relational or object oriented; as resource collections in multimedia environments (hyperlinked or relational); as associated with the WWW or other distributed systems. In whatever form, there are several major issues associated with educational databases: relating to structure, location of resources for inclusion in the database, privileges for the addition of entries, organisational of entries including the use of indices or metadata (see Chapter 17), maintenance issues, access issues, quality control issues, and modalities of representation (text, audio, video, images, etc.).

The use of educational databases began later than that of tutorial software, word processing, or programming. Partially this is because of the nature of a database; it is of little interest if there is little in it but few have the time or interest to fill one. The learning value of educational databases did not really take root until Hypercard for user-designed and filled databases, and multimedia CD-ROMs for large collections of professionally assembled multimedia resources became available. Both types of databases brought issues of copyright into a new cycle of applicability in education. But copyright as an issue reached a new dimension with the use of the WWW. For the first time, individuals had easy access to vast database collections, and could begin to contribute to some of these collections as well as extract material in digital form from them. Most Web-based course-management systems are built upon a database. Issues and possibilities relating to the re-use of materials in such database are a major new focus of attention in 2000. Software to support user access to databases is now familiar through its appearance in Web interfaces. The choice of metadata standards for identification and access (as well as payment for) items in educational databases is a major point of discussion internationally, with different several different systems in contention for user acceptance (see Chapter 17).


Another major category relating to computer-related technology in education is that of tools for self-expression and for the self-creation of learning and performance-support materials. Some of these tools have already been mentioned: word processors as communication tools, Hypercard as a tool for self-creation of hyperlinked databases, concept mapping tools, and programming languages. There are a variety of editors that can also be named, such as editors for graphics and digital photographs, as well as tools specialised for a given content area (i.e., for mathematical expressions). New tools that have recently become familiar are HTML editors, tools for digital image processing, for video editing, and for the creation of multimedia presentations. Computer-presentation tools have become nearly as common as word processors or email systems as communication support for professionals and in educational settings. The use of a presentation package such as PowerPoint is becoming standard. The synchronisation of a PowerPoint presentation with a captured audio-video file of a lecture is the basis of re-usability of lecture materials via video on demand (see Chapter 9). The integration of products made with computer tools, such as PowerPoint presentations, multimedia presentations, graphics, and audio/video files into Web environments, is now commonplace.

Another category of tools is that of search tools and agents. Search tools have now become essential for efficient use of the WWW and also for internal intranet systems. The power of search tools is increasing rapidly. One of the ways in which this power is expanding is via the use of agents, software tools such of which retain information about the preferences of a particular user and make use of this information to help carry out tasks for the user. Improving the functionality of search tools is only one application for agents; while current realisations are still more or less in the research stage, the potential is strong that agent technology will help the learner in a variety of ways in the near future. Agents for support of learning are being researched in many different settings.

Web-based integrated resources:

In the previous sections, it has been noted a number of times that the integration of various sorts of software products into an environment that seems to the user to be a single integrated system, accessible via the same user interface, is a major development for educational software. This integration occurred in limited ways before the WWW, but it is the explosive growth of Web-based systems in which most integration now occurs. Web-based systems can support information handling, presentation support, communication, groupware, course organisation, and learning-specific resources, all in one integrated environment. Table 1 shows a mapping of different sorts of software products that can be available via an integrated Web environment, with various categories of educational activities.

Table 1. Applications of computer-based tools and applications available within integrated Web sites, in terms of general categories of learning-related purposes (Collis, 1999)

Major purpose

Applications that can be integrated with Websites

1. Publication, information dissemination

HTML editors; Websites and the browsers to access them, Websites associated with database environments; software to facilitate file transfer and document attachments to email; tools for cross-application format retention (i.e., pdf)

2. Communication

Email systems, computer-conferencing tools, including Web boards and other forms of Web-based conferencing; Websites offering communication options including mailto: for the direct sending of e-mail and CGI (common gateway interface) forms for structured communication; software for Internet telephony; software environments for audio-video desktop conferencing, for voice-email, for creating video attachments for email; software systems for text-based chat

3. Collaboration

Groupware, which includes application-sharing software, shared workspaces, Web-based shared workspaces, Web-based application sharing, workflow tools; computer-conferencing suites; Websites designed for collaboration support; tools to allow collaborative writing on documents that are then commonly available to a group

4. Information & resource handling

Web-based search engines; distributed database systems (Web- and proprietary); WWW sites designed for information organization, access and sometimes creation; tools to retrieve and display distributed multimedia resources stored as digitized audio and video (including streaming audio and video)

5. Specific for teaching & learning purposes

Applets for interactive software (such as tutorials, quizzes, simulations) accessible via Websites; testing systems accessible via Websites; video-capture tools for lecture or presentation capture; video-conferencing (point-to-point and multicasting) for lecture participation; video-on-demand and streaming video for lecture capture and re-use; Web-based course-support environments; Database-generated course-support systems, integrating many or all of the applications in this table along with management tools

Non-Web systems

While Table 1 focuses on Web-based systems, there are many other sorts of systems for educational and performance support (see Chapter 7). Some of these involve software and hardware combinations, others only software, while other include not only software and hardware but also human organisations and networks. Examples of integrated-software systems include school-management systems, computer-based testing systems, and (non-WWW based) educational database systems and course-management systems. In addition, there are different forms of task-support systems such as EPSSs (electronic performance support systems) and decision-support systems. Such systems are rapidly becoming Web-accessible. New combinations of systems involving software and hardware, are moving computer resources out of the screen and into the overall physical environment (Streitz, Konomi, & Burkhardt, 1998). Roomware or beyond the desktop are generic names for such systems. Finally, wide-area systems involving the combination of data networks, telecommunication, and mass communication (computer networks, radio, television, telephony) along with different human/organisational services aimed directly at educational institutions are emerging (such as the so-called information superhighways for education; see also Chapter 10). Current versions of these systems integrating technical infrastructure, transport services, support and maintenance, and services are in operation in many different countries. For the user, the access to such networks occurs via a Web browser, although if this access is to an intranet or to the Internet or both varies. At a meta-national level, the European SchoolNet ( is an example of a network of such national networks, offering new services at the European level to its users (see also Chapter 35). Some of these services are expressed metaphorically (the Virtual Campus) but most have the intention of bringing together and supporting a social network of users. Currently many of the educational applications of Web technology supported at the regional or meta-institutional level have a social-networking aspect (see also Chapter 3). It may become the case in the first decade of the 21st century that e-commerce applications of the WWW supersede social-networking aspects, even in educational contexts.

Perspectives on Technology Levels: Micro, Meso, Macro

In the previous sections, we have focused on technologies themselves as the organising principle for a variety of categorisations. However, there are other ways to approach an overview for this Handbook. One other approach can be expressed in terms of what might be called micro- meso- and macro-level perspectives.

Micro-level perspectives

By micro-level perspectives, we mean those focused on the technology product itself. This includes topics related to the user-interface design and design variables (see Chapter 15). Topics relate to content design, navigation design, screen design in terms of layout and consistency; design issues related to graphical user interfaces and now, to Website- and system design. Micro-level perspectives also include focuses on the development process itself in terms of methodologies (task analysis, rapid prototyping, waterfall method, etc.) and tools (see Chapters 11 and 12). Important concepts relate to the usability and utility of a product: the evaluation of usability and utility need to take place as early and as often as possible in the life cycle of any software resource (see Chapter 11 and Chapter 19). Other micro-level perspectives focus on interaction design and support within products. The fields of human-computer interaction (HCI) and cognitive ergonomics are important sources for micro-level perspectives (see for example Helander, Landauer, & Prabhu, 1997). Chapters 11-19 relate to this perspective in various ways.

Meso-level perspectives

If micro-level perspectives place the technology product and the final user at their centre, the meso-level perspective takes a broader view. In this perspective, the product and user are still in or near the centre of the domain, but attention is focused on the broader usage context of the technology product. Variables in this broader context include the content and type of learning, the role and behaviour of the teacher/instructor (and thus on training, implementation/rejection, and changes in the instructor’s role), on the motivations for technology use in a particular context (for individualization, for enrichment, to make learning more flexible, etc); and on the curriculum and instructional setting in which the technology product is used (curriculum integration, classroom integration, course integration). Chapters 20-34 of this Handbook relate to this meso-level, in that they position their interest in technology within a curriculum/learner context. If the learner and his computer screen could be seen as the micro-perspective, the learner in his classroom (in a flexible and even virtual sense) can be seen as the meso-perspective.

Macro-level perspectives

If we move one level higher than the meso level, we focus on issues such as organisational implications of technology; cost-benefit perspectives; the relation of technology use to changing educational opportunities (life-long learning, just-in-time learning, workplace-based learning, virtual universities); issues and strategies relating to the diffusion and implementation of innovations involving technology in educational institutions; policy issues relating to equity and access; gender differences; intervention strategies; national or regional stimulation strategies; research and evaluation methodologies; impact studies and meta-analyses. All of these could be called macro-level perspectives. Chapters 22, 26, 36, and 37 primarily focus at this level.

Lessons learned

For each of these levels, there is a long history, continuing now and into the future, of issues, alternatives, and challenges. Because the technology is always changing, the time that is needed to deal with issues at all these levels is never adequate. New technologies tend to change many of the variables at each of the micro-, meso-, and macro levels before a stable experience base has had time to accumulate. A few insights remain robust however, despite changes in technology (see Collis & Moonen, 2000, for a set of 21). At the micro-level, it is important to involve the eventual user as much and as early as possible in the design process (ssee Chapter 11). Also, Web technology should be accepted as the standard platform. At the meso-level, integrating technology use into instructional practice takes time, often fails to take root, and presents the instructor with many challenges (see Chapters 18 and 21). Learners generally have positive reactions to technology use in their learning settings (but as they gain more experience are more critical of usability problems). At the macro level, institutions are taking on new forms of delivery and learning support involving network technologies but both costs and effectiveness are difficult to measure (see Chapter 36 and 38). A major trend at all three levels is that of convergence.


A major current characteristic of information technologies is convergence. Convergence can be seen at all three perspective levels as well as within technology types themselves.

At the micro level, one aspect of convergence is the fact that digital data involving a variety of signal types, such as text, audio, and video, are now handled within the same application. Technically, the convergence of mass-media communication technologies (radio and television) with telephone technologies and data-network technologies is well underway (see Chapter 10). Already Internet via the same cable system that brings television to the home is becoming established and transmission technologies such as fibre-optic networks and satellites with digital transmission capacity as well as network technologies such as ASDL are bringing the Internet and multimedia into homes and schools. In Table 1 we saw another major aspect of convergence at the micro-level; that of the convergence of different sorts of computer use in the same (Web-based) environment. The convergence of the orientation of those members of design teams coming from a computer background and those coming from an audio-visual media background is now being seen in new forms of multimedia products and Websites. This interpersonal convergence can be complicated during its first iteration. Computer-oriented designers focus on interactivity and on system architecture. Audio-visually oriented designers focus on story line, quality of representation, and emotive as well as cognitive engagement. In subsequent generations, this difference in background will also converge; but at the present time it presents a difference in value systems that is often not easy to reconcile.

At the meso level, the convergence between information-processing technologies and curriculum is also an important object of study. There is little debate now, compared to the early 1980s, about the question of whether computer topics should be studied on their own or learned in the context of studying other subject matter; the agreement is convergence. Computers as tools for the learning of mathematics, physics, language, environmental education, law, medicine, and any other subject are well established (see Chapters 27-33). More than only being tools, the impact of information technology on each of the fields of study is also being integrated into curriculum. Engineers, physicians, managers…all need to use different types of technology for the execution of their work, and these types of usage need to be anticipated in the school and university curriculum.

A different sort of convergence at the meso-level relates to the roles of instructor and students. Increasingly, students are engaged in activities which were previously only the domain of the instructor (see Chapters 14 and 21). Students can enter new resources into a course Web environment, to extend the study materials for a course. These new resources can be URLs of external Websites, showing examples of applications of the course subject matter in real-world practice. The new resources can also be resources created by the students themselves, such as reports, presentations and links to their own Websites. Web-based tools make this contribution process feasible, even for students at a distance from the institution itself. As another form of role convergence, students can take the role of peer evaluators, making use of Web-based tools such as shared workspaces (see Chapters 2 and 14). Instructors‘ roles are also changing, and in some ways converging with those of the students. Instructors must seek for, sort through, and evaluate many different resources in terms of their quality for the course (a task that now is also becoming a typical student responsibility). Instructors are moving to the task of support and quality control for student activity, rather than lecturer at the front of the class. A convergence between the role of the instructor as guide and quality controller and the role of the student who is responsible for peer support and feedback within his group is occurring (see Chapters 21 and 22).

Another convergence is that of learning resources. The increased use of the WWW does not necessarily mean that books with disappear (see Chapter 38 about digital libraries), but rather that the book will be extended via its associated Website. This will occur through the addition of examples, of links to contact key persons, and of links to the instructor’s own resources via a course Website. The textbook will be soon no longer the core medium for a course, but rather this will be the course Website. The convergence of real-time communication and video on demand is another technical convergence of high significance to education. Students and instructors can capture moments of valuable communication as they occur and make these available for expansion and re-use as asynchronous video via an integrated Website.

At the macro level, the convergence of services offered by traditional universities and distance universities is another example (see Chapter 36). More and more, traditional universities are offering courses in increasingly flexible ways, including flexibility in location and time. The WWW is the technology of choice. Whereas these sorts of flexibilities were earlier the domain of distance-and-open institutions, they are now the domain of a number of sorts of educational provider, not only traditional universities. The convergence of in-house and externally available learning experiences is beginning; its impact has not yet begun to be felt in Europe. But it will. For all of these convergences, converging technologies are a major facilitator.


In this chapter, we have given an overview of information technologies for education and training, from both technical and micro-, meso- and macro-level perspectives. We conclude this chapter by mapping topics in this chapter to further chapters in the Handbook. This occurs in Table 2.

Table 2. Mapping of topics in Chapter 1 with remaining chapters in the Handbook

Technology categories and perspectives in Chapter 1

Related chapters in the Handbook

Technology categories:

Software for knowledge transfer and conceptual development

2, 9,27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 39

Applications for communication support

2, 3, 14

Applications for collaborative learning

2, 8, 13, 14, 20, 31

Software for conceptual manipulation

27, 28, 29, 32

Educational databases

5, 17


2, 5, 8, 9,14, 27, 28, 29

Authoring systems

5, 11, 12

Integrated resources (WWW based)

2, 8, 14,27, 28, 29, 39

Systems and services

5, 9, 10

Development methodologies

11, 12, 13

Technology perspectives:


2-10, 15, 17


11-16, 20 27-33


18, 19, 21-26,34-40



2, 8, 9, 10


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