Welcome to the Curriculum & Leadership Journal website.
To receive our fortnightly Email Alert,
please click on the blue menu item below.
Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
Follow us on twitter

Searching for disruptive pedagogies: matching pedagogies to the technologies

John G Hedberg

This article is adapted from a paper of the same title presented at the Curriculum Corporation 13th National Conference, Adelaide, August 2006. John G Hedberg, Educator and Director, Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre, Australian Centre for Educational Studies, Macquarie University, john.hedberg@mq.edu.au

A variety of obstacles to integrating ICT into teaching and learning have been identified. These include a conservative, change-resistant educational culture; lack of time for teachers to learn how to integrate ICT in their teaching; lack of ICT infrastructure and ongoing support; and the incompatibility of traditional teaching with the constructivist framework fostered by ICT (Vrasidas & Glass 2005).

Overcoming these obstacles is not simply a matter of providing access to technologies. There is a need to ensure collaboration among teachers and experts, so that teachers can gain successful experiences in teaching with the technologies and participating in a community that provides continuous support. In many education contexts, at least one of these elements is missing. Given that the obstacles to ICT use are part of the organisational structures of teaching, how can we expect ICT to have a significant impact in education?

ICT as 'disruptive innovation'

I suggest that we consider ICT as what Christensen (1997) terms a ‘disruptive innovation’. Disruptive innovations or technologies take over existing dominant technologies or practices, even though they are radically different from, and often initially perform worse than, their predecessors. A recent example is the disruptive technology of digital photography, which has now largely replaced the formerly dominant medium of photographic film.

While educators may have initially seen e-learning as a potentially disruptive innovation, there is no evidence yet that ICT has replaced dominant pedagogical paradigms. E-learning has enabled the more efficient recording and transmission of curriculum to learners, changing the contexts of teacher and student interactions and effectively enabling every institution to become a potential provider of distance learning. In general, however, the uses of ICT in today’s classrooms are generally restricted to traditional teaching approaches.

Using ICT to support a 'disruptive pedagogy'

The success of e-learning will depend on a revolutionary move away from replicating traditional classroom-based teaching practices. Instead of using ICTs just for presenting and representing information in a variety of modalities, it is important to explore their capacity for generativity, for enabling learners to construct their understanding of phenomena. If they are to support a constructivist (potentially disruptive) pedagogy, ICTs that are presently used just for representing ideas need to be associated with a range of interactive activities, employing digital resources either provided by the teacher or generated by the learner.

Many writers have noted the capacity of the Web to extend access to information. The Web has enabled students to be less dependent on the teacher for access to authorised texts, and the advent of the search engine and its increasing sophistication is making such access customisable. Such technologies are supporting constructivist approaches to teaching and learning, and a return to dialogic rather than narrative literacy, more concerned with solving problems and developing new ideas than with narrative and exposition (Bereiter & Scardamalia 2005).

The use of content management systems has been identified as a second stage of e-learning innovation (Zemsky & Massy 2004). However, today’s content management systems allow the teacher to organise resources in a predetermined sequence that prescribes the structure of the learning strategy. This type of structure mirrors traditional classroom practice, rather than suggesting a disruptive innovation or a radically different pedagogy.

Adopting digital repositories rather than content management systems provides users with the opportunity to take control of their access and selection of resources. They afford the capacity for personalised project management in that learners can collect resources from more than one source, and compare and contrast information obtained in the light of the learning goal. Such a student-centred learning strategy supports other modern constructivist approaches to pedagogy.

Digital tools can expand learning performance beyond the reproduction of facts and concepts in a single product, to encompass the processes through which the student has attained the learning outcome. ICTs make it easier for students to show versions of an essay, comment on how they changed things and why, record the social interactions that influenced their ideas and assess their own progress towards the learning goal. Within an e-learning setting, learning interactions come to be characterised by personal construction and the collection of artefacts that represent a constructed learning state.

In a series of studies of digital repository use in geography, Hedberg and Chang (2005) found that most users were able to create multimodal learning artefacts and that use of the repository can improve a range of learning skills. However, the repository’s ability to support a more authentic, evidence-based approach to learning was compromised by limitations in students’ research skills and in their ability to construct metacognitive strategies to approach open-ended learning tasks. While successful digital repositories need to offer students the chance to explore, they must do so with some scaffolding or other forms of learning support from the teacher.

While examining how students learn, it is also useful to examine why they choose to devote time and energy to learning. Several writers have suggested that strategies such as games and three-dimensional virtual worlds might contribute to a disruptive pedagogy (for example, see Barab et al. 2005) through engagement and motivation. Such technologies can be sufficiently realistic that participants ignore the real-world distractions around them, while at the same time challenging them to perform at higher cognitive levels (Lim, Nonis & Hedberg 2006) by making choices about authentic problems situated in the meaningful, virtual contexts.

Conclusion: matching pedagogy to technology

Use of ‘disruptive’ ICTs as described above, when associated with a constructivist pedagogy, could make such a major difference to teaching and learning contexts that constructivist approaches would amount to a ‘disruptive’ pedagogy in their takeover of traditional pedagogies. However, current e-learning activity tends to be driven by the teacher, not the learner, and characterised by the simple transfer of traditional instructional methods into technologically enhanced learning environments.

Shifting learning choices towards the learner can be highly challenging to some teachers. While the teacher’s role in developing resources may be diminished, their role in assessing students’ learning, if not well constructed, may become more demanding. Furthermore, constructivist approaches challenge both teachers and learners, by shifting the emphasis away from content assimilation to the higher-order thinking skills that provide the foundations for lifelong learning.

We now need to choose pedagogical options that do not simply transfer traditional methods but transcend them. For pedagogy to match the potential of ICT for enhancing learning, the role of the learner needs to change from a passive participant to an active engaged constructor of their own experience. This will involve a rethinking of learning activities, an exploration of how interactions are managed and facilitated, and a choice of the right tool for each pedagogical task.


Barab, SA, Thomas, M, Dodge, T, Carteaux, R & Tuzun, H 2005, ‘Making learning fun: Quest Atlantis, a game without guns’, Educational Technology Research and Development, vol. 53, no. 1, pp. 86–107.

Bereiter, C & Scardamalia, M 2005, ‘Technology and literacies: from print literacy to dialogic literacy’, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, retrieved 25 July 2005 from http://ikit.org/fulltext/TechandLit.htm

Christensen, CM 1997, The innovator's dilemma, Harvard Business School Press, Cambridge, MA.

Hedberg, JG & Chang, CH 2005, ‘G-Portal: supporting argumentation and multimodality in student solutions to geographical problems’, in P Kommers & G Richards (eds), Proceedings of ED-MEDIA 2005 world conference on educational multimedia, hypermedia and telecommunications, Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education, Norfolk, VA, pp. 4242–7.

Lim, CP, Nonis, D & Hedberg, J 2006, ‘Gaming in a 3D multi-user virtual environment: engaging students in science lessons’, British Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 211–31.

Vrasidas, C & Glass, GV (eds) 2005, Preparing teachers to teach with technology, Information Age Publishing, Greenwich, CT.

Zemsky, R & Massy, WF 2004, ‘Thwarted innovation: what happened to e-learning and why’, Final report for The Weatherstation Project of The Learning Alliance at the University of Pennsylvania in cooperation with the Thomson Corporation, The Learning Alliance at the University of Pennsylvania, retrieved 5 December 2005 from http://www.irhe.upenn.edu/Docs/Jun2004/ThwartedInnovation.pdf

Key Learning Areas


Subject Headings

School leadership
Information literacy
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)