About forty years ago, I remember being asked in an interview what I understood ‘educational technology’ is, and without reflection, I started talking about using slide projects, overhead projectors, film, and audio when teaching. It was only afterwards that I began to wonder if my answer was correct and in some respects, it was but my training on how to use a blackboard in a classroom as the primary technical means of conveying information to the students, it felt hollow. The primary concern of institutions are the practicalities of teaching, theories just provided the justification and in some respects, the status or licence for teaching. Moreover, theories are in conflict with school administration systems as outlined so eloquently by Ken Robinson in one of his TED talks. (https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms). Such issues like learner centred perspectives and 'readiness to learn' get in the way of educational ‘progress.’ In short, when an institution expounds educational goals regarding socially, academically, physically and spiritually, then education is a political construct, and ‘learning’ is a by product and theory stays in the staff room. Learning is not necessarily a result of teaching. Shortly after the interview; I learned that ‘educational technology’ is, in fact, the application of science or the scientific method to teaching and instruction. Surely the success of the scientific paradigm, in general, should benefit teaching and therefore, learning (?).

The application of the scientific method for solving the problems of the natural sciences has been so successful with breath-taking outcomes manifested in technological progress leads one to believe that such methods applied to human learning would equally have outstanding results. In their effort to make psychology a science and to distinguish it from philosophy, people like Watson and Thorndyke and Freud set out to create a scientific discipline of human behaviour (and human learning in particular) had, one imagines, Auguste Comte in their minds with his “Philosophy of Positivism”, and let’s not forget Durkheim. The quest to discover universal laws that validate and verify empirically should result in predictable outcomes when applied to human learning. However, such outcomes can only lead to Vaucanson’s Duck!

Essentially, natural sciences are;

  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Biology
  • Mathematics


Vaucanson duck Vaucanson duck


The big fear among scientists researching human learning is the accommodation of relativism. Relativism has no role in the investigation of the natural sciences. Positivism declares itself value free, and it found its most influential advocates in the Vienna Circle where they issued a pamphlet (Neurath, Hahn, and Carnap in 1929);

The scientific world-conception knows only empirical statements about things of all kinds, and analytical statements of logic and mathematics . . . . First, it is empiricist and positivist: there is knowledge from experience, which rests on what is immediately given. This sets the limits of or the content of legitimate science. Second, the scientific world conception is marked by application of a certain method, namely logical analysis. (Morrow. R. A. and Brown. D.D.B. Critical Theory and Methodology, 1994 Sage. P69.)

So, no room for irrational or relativist notions or concepts. But there is one big problem with this. Aristotle was wrong when he said that “man is a rational animal”; man is an irrational animal by default, but capable of rational thought. It is this capability that leads us to believe that we are fundamentally a calculating, information processing, logical analytical, biological machine. The positivist must explain Las Vagas, the stock market, and the Vatican? The positivist perspective can only see blotches of different pigments of paint on a piece of wood when looking at the Mona Lisa painting. How does one go about logically analysing her enigmatic smile? Indeed, what is a smile in the positivist world? Even empirically, the observer cannot escape the relativist stance. Check out naïve realism.