Squeezing out the good stuff

Yesterday I wrote a post concerning the concept of affordances, and I promised a whole series examining the affordances of digital media - learning technologies. One of the best articles I have read on affordances in digital media has to be the one written by Matt Bower which looked at matching learning tasks to technologies. It's a sensible, no nonsense take on the spectrum of possible digital media affordances, and it provides some simple, clear models of how they relate to each other. Bower shows that affordances - i.e. the perceived attributes or features of the technology - determine the actions that can be performed by the user with that technology. He quotes Donald Norman to clarify this point:

"The term affordance refers to the perceived and actual properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could be possibly used. A chair affords ('is for') support and therefore affords sitting. A chair can also be carried" (Norman, 1988, p. 9).

One of the key affordances of digital media for me anyway, is its educational affordance. That is, all digital media have properties that allow them to be used to learn. That's important to acknowledge. Not all technologies used in education were designed for the purpose of learning. Podcasting for example, was originally designed so that people could listen to music downloaded from the Internet. Yet many schools, colleges and universities have been able to effectively harness podcasting so that its pedagogical value can be squeezed out. Although there was no special 'educational-ness' designed into podcasting, people have perceived its potential to support learning through downloaded audio files that can be sequenced and archived. And some educational podcasting projects have been very successful.

Another example is the mobile phone, which was first designed so that users could communicate at a distance and while on the move, without needing to use a fixed line telephone. Although we are seeing the demise of the telephone box on many street corners in the Western world as a result, and although we are often annoyed in public places by irritating little ring-tones, we are never-the-less able to learn on the move. We have done this by perceiving the affordance, and then creating learning objects that can be accessed through the mobile phone. These affordances go beyond its original design, tapping into the open potential of the web browser each mobile phone comes complete with.

Tomorrow I will explore another affordance of digital media, and try to make sense of it in the context of current e-learning practices.

Bower, M. (2008) Affordance analysis: Matching learning tasks with learning technologies. Educational Media International, 45 (1), 3-16.
Norman, D. A. (1988) The psychology of everyday things. New York: Basic Books.

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'Squeezing out the good stuff' by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Based on a work at steve-wheeler.blogspot.com.


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