A book about the nature of technology, learning, and being human

Related resources

A few papers that make use of or that contributed to the development of the theory in How Education Works:

2023: The Human Nature of Generative AIs and the Technological Nature of Humanity: Implications for Education – preprint of a paper submitted to Digital, applying the coparticipation theory from How Education Works to generative AIs (GAIs), revolving around the observation that GAIs are the first technologies to at least mimic the soft technique that was formerly the sole domain of humans.

2023: On being written – chapter in the book Research, Writing, and Creative Process in Open and Distance Education describing my writing process, drawing on many of the themes and theories from How Education Works.

2023: Technology, Teaching, and the Many Distances of Distance Learning  – a paper from the Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning that reframes distance in technological terms as the gap between the technologies the learner has or can access and those they cannot. I quite like this idea but I’m not sure whether to develop it further. I think there might be an easier way to express it.

2022: On the misappropiation of spatial metaphors in online learning – a paper from the OTESSA Journal that applies my coparticipation model to critique attempts by online technologies to replicate in-person approaches that were designed to solve problems of in-person teaching. It updates some of the ideas presented in the 2016 paper on p-learning below.

2022: Learning, technology, and technique – paper from CJLT that provides a summary of my coparticipation model of educational technology, based quite heavily on Educational technology: what it is and how it works but shorter and slightly updated to reflect the final version of the book.

2021: Educational technology: what it is and how it works – paper from AI & Society that summarizes my coparticipation model of educational technology. This is closely modelled on the theories in the book and covers the main elements of it in a form that is not too far removed from how it is eventually presented in the book.

2019: X-literacies: beyond digital literacy – paper from E-Learn 2019, reframing the concept of ‘literacy’ as the hard skills needed to participate in a culture.

2018: Smart learning environments and not-so-smart learning environments: a systems view – paper from the Smart Learning Environments journal on how smartness cannot be found in tools, only in how they are orchestrated and enacted.

2016: P-learning’s unwelcome legacy – paper from TD Tecnologie Didattiche on how boundaries determined by physics provide the context for in-person teaching, but make no sense for online learning,

2013: Dron Soft is Hard, Hard is Easy: Learning Technologies and Social Media – Paper from Form@re applying an early (not fully formed) version of the model to social media and learning.

Dron, J. (2012). The Pedagagogical-technological divide and the elephant in the room. – paper from the International Journal on E-Learning, based on a 2009 conference paper in which I first expressed the realization that pedagogies (methods of teaching) are as much learning technologies as learning management systems, and where I began to unravel the soft and hard distinction. It leads to a set of principles governing learning technologies, some of which I continued to develop, others that I later quietly discarded. If you’d like to read the paper you’ll probably need to request it via the link at ResearchGate above unless you have access to AACE’s repository at https://www.learntechlib.org/noaccess/33288/ (it is a closed journal, so I can’t make it fully public. I try to avoid such things nowadays).

An assortment of presentations on related themes

2024: The Intertwingled Teacher – keynote from SITE 2024 summarizing some central themes and ideas from the book.

2023: Artificial humanity and human artificiality – keynote from ICTEL 2023 applying coparticipation theory to generative AIs, and discussing the nature and purpose of education.

2022: It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, that’s what gets results – keynote from ICEEL 2022 covering many of the themes of the book, and borrowing the song title that summarizes much of what the book is about.

2021: Mediaeval Teaching in the Digital Age – keynote for Oxford Brookes that presents the main outline of the theory and applies it to the problems for motivation that traditional models of teaching cause.

2020: How Distance Changes Everything – keynote for the University of Ottawa focusing in particular on the motivation aspects of education, using examples and principles from the book.

And, just to show how this has been a long-developing idea…

2010: Dron Orchestrating soft and hard technologies – presentation for ITEL Winterschool 2010. I was just beginning to develop the underlying theory at this point, but the main elements were already there. This was the first time that I came up with the idea of using a stick to illustrate the nature of technology, providing the example for the prologue of the book.

Some related blog posts

A decade of unwriting: the life history of “How Education Works” – how the book came about.

A post about my contribution to a series of 10 minute chats on Generative AI – applying the theory as a critical lens on generative AI, noting that they are the first technologies to apply soft technique: they are creative, problem-solving partners, and that means there are great dangers as well as opportunities because our own soft technique may remain undeveloped or atrophy (amongst other things) if we let them replace cognitive activities we might do or learn to do ourselves.

Cognitive prostheses and the future of the human race. – another post using the theory to discuss the great risks of using generative AIs to replace aspects of learning and teaching, with some ideas about paths (good and bad) we might take, and ways to avoid some of the pitfalls.

The artificial curriculum – a post using the theory to discuss the complex nature of teaching in the context of generative AI. It expresses deep concerns that AI teachers that are human-like might not be the greatest role models, and fears that, at scale, the consequences might be dystopian. This is about what is engendered and enabled through our participation in technologies, the value of that participation, and the nature of education as a process of human becoming, not just the acquisition of facts and skills.

An assortment of mostly relevant posts from Jon Dron’s blog