'Computers & Education: Exploring four decades of learning technologies

A valuable overview of research and scholarship

Go to the profile of Martin Delahunty
Dec 03, 2018

Computers & Education Volume 122, July 2018 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2018.04.001

Olaf Zawacki-Richter and Colin Latchem


Mapping the research themes and topics featured in four decades of Computers & Education shows that the articles progressed through four broad content areas: the advancement and growth of computer-based instruction (1976–1986); stand-alone multimedia learning (1987–1996); networked computers as tools for collaborative learning (1997–2006); and online learning in a digital age (2007–2016). This progression reflects a) the advance from instructional tools that were rudimentary by today's standards and often viewed with scepticism to sophisticated, powerful and networked systems that are widely accepted as greatly expanding access to education and opportunities for communication and collaboration and b) the rise of new theoretical frameworks influencing the use of the technology in teaching and learning.

This study reveals that there can sometimes be a time lag between the release of a new technology and research reports on its application in an educational context. For example, at the time of writing, out of the over 2201 papers published in the last decade, only 54 of the titles and abstracts include the words “mobile learning”. Some topics such as teaching using the virtual world Second Life in the early 2000s have fallen by the wayside. Some were completely unanticipated. When the first iPhone was launched in 2007, few predicted today's smart phones or the mobile learning revolution. And most of these technologies were not designed expressly for educational applications, so it took time, money and experimentation to establish how and where they could be most effectively applied and the rate and sustainability of the adoption curve depended upon the capability of the early minority to convert the cautionary majority through their research, advocacy and practice.

It must be acknowledged that this study only maps the structure and progression of research topics in educational technology in a single journal, albeit a leading international publication with a long history of extending understanding and practice in applying digital technology to enhance education. In such a study, there is always the possibility that the use of synonyms and polysemy (multiplicity of meanings in words) may result in a failure to pick up certain items. Also, most of the articles in Computers & Education are sourced from the English-speaking world. So further investigations would be needed in comparable journals in the field, as well as books, dissertations and conference proceedings and in languages other than English in order to definitively map and draw conclusions about the research domain of educational technology and establish the connections between the theory, research and practice in the various disciplines and cultures. Furthermore, it would be interesting to investigate how the articles in Computers & Education relate to each other and to other journals in the field in terms of citations. Such an analysis would reveal the intellectual structure (see Liu, 2007) of the educational technology research community and to what extent and by what means research reports in one journal influence research methods and findings in other contexts.

On the home page of the journal, the Editors of Computers & Education state that they “welcome research papers on the pedagogical uses of digital technology, where the focus is broad enough to be of interest to a wider education community”. The vast majority of the papers in the journal concern applications in schools and higher education. Looking to the future, with the ubiquity of the Internet and mobile devices, increasing use of online and mobile learning in the corporate sector and non-formal education in pursuit of the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (United Nations, 2015) there are even more great opportunities for researchers to explore the role of educational technology in all aspects of formal and informal education and training across the globe.


Go to the profile of Martin Delahunty

Martin Delahunty

Managing Director, InspiringSTEM Network

Founder & Managing Director, InspiringSTEM. Formerly, Global Director at Springer Nature. Highly experienced scientific technical and medical publisher. Extensive experience of working with international science research organisations, universities and academic researchers working on journals, digital communities and conferences. Proud UK Stem Ambassador. Experienced speaker and presenter. European Irish.

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