Soft is hard and hard is easy: learning technologies and social media

Published in Form@re, 2013

This paper is primarily about the nature of learning technologies, with a particular focus on social media. Drawing on W. Brian Arthur’s definition of technologies as assemblies of phenomena orchestrated to some use, the paper extends Arthur’s theory by re– specifying and extending the commonly held distinction between soft and hard technologies: soft technologies being those that require orchestration of phenomena by humans, hard technologies being those in which the orchestration is predetermined or embedded. Learning technologies are those in which pedagogies (themselves technologies) are part of the assembly. The consequences of this perspective are explored in the context of different pedagogical models and related to social learning approaches in a variety of contexts, from correspondence courses through to MOOCs.

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I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor and Associate Dean, Learning & Assessment, at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology, and I teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems. I am a proud Canadian, though I was born in the UK. I am married, with two grown-up children, and three growing-up grandchildren. We all live in beautiful Vancouver.

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