Technocentrsim in education is a perspective that foregrounds the impact of technology on learning, teaching and assessment. It considers technology as a source of change that directly influences social development and knowledge construction. In a general sense, technocentrsim refers to the way of thinking that views technology as a central component for addressing complex social issues and reforming the education system. According to Papert (1987), technocentric thinking leads to questions that investigate the impact of technology on human interaction and development, such as learning, without considering the complexity of the context in which the technology is situated. Technocentric thinking separates digital technologies from the social and cultural context and suggests a one-way influence of technology on educational policies and practices, including pedagogy, teacher roles and education objectives. Researchers in the digital education field have proposed several approaches to address technocentrism in education by acknowledging the role of technology and the complexity of the relationships between different social and material components in the educational setting (cf., Brennan, 2015; O’Donoghue et.al, 2001; Papert, 1988).
EdTech companies, media and education intermediaries often describe educational success as a direct result of the adoption and development of software, platforms and technology systems (Suoranta et al 2022). Within the formal education sector, policy documents, reports and evaluations of learning interventions have a tendency to attribute the recent, ongoing or potential change to the demands or opportunities of technology. Digital technologies are often perceived as means to shake things up, fix a broken education system and reconstruct education provision in appropriate ways for current and future demands (Burch & Miglani, 2018; Selwyn, 2016). By emphasising technology as a change-driver, the field of educational technology can be considered to have been influenced by technocentric thinking or assumptions.
Technocentrism suggests an oversimplification of a complex relationship, such as that between human and non-human actors in an educational space or setting. When Papert used the term in 1987, he contrasted it with his preferred approach, “computer criticism”, which was concerned with placing computers in socio-cultural perspective. As an example of technocentric thinking, he offered the question: “What is THE effect of THE computer on cognitive development?” (p.23) – and criticised this question for ignoring factors such as skill, design, social structure and cultural integration. While such critical responses to technocentrism in education began early, many commentators in digital education are still centring digital technology in the learner's experience. In their view, “the learning is focused on learning about the tool/technology or the effects of the tool/ technology itself, rather than learning with or through the technology” (Brennan, 2015, p.289)
Hamilton and Friesen (2013) describe an ‘essentialist’ approach to educational technology that maps closely to technocentrism: the expectation that “technical functionality will lead to the realization of an associated human potential once the technology is in place” (p.4). They note that an alternative approach, instrumentalism, appears to work in opposition to essentialism because it frames technology as a tool that operates according to human goals and delivers intended outcomes. Instrumental approaches can be seen in phrases such as “the pedagogy must lead the technology”, which attempts to assert the dominance of human intention (Cousin 2004). For instance, Harris & Hofer (2011) claim that effective integration of the technology in the classroom requires a structured planning known as technology, pedagogy, content, and context knowledge (TPACK). However, Hamilton and Friesen argue that instrumentalism, by privileging human intentions, also oversimplifies the relationship between technology and social, cultural, economic and other factors in education.
Another approach to countering technocentrism in educational technology draws on sociomaterial and posthumanist theory to attempt a more nuanced account of how technology emerges from and within networks of human and non-human actors and cannot be seen as separate from them (Fenwick, Edward, & Sawchuk 2011). These approaches engage with materials from a relational perspective and help account for unintended consequences and for the range of practices and outcomes that are associated with digital education. Sociomaterial research redefines educational activities such as learning and knowing as shaped by materiality and emerging from webs of interconnections among human and materials actors. In recent years, postdigital approaches to education have provided another productive way of viewing digital technology as sufficiently interwoven with contemporary learning and teaching contexts that it is not possible or desirable to identify its consequences or impacts in technocentric terms (Jandrić, et al., 2018).
Technocentrism is generally a term that is applied in a critical way to others’ work, rather than a description of an established position in educational research. Pea (1987), responding to Papert, highlighted the way that technocentrism is positioned as a less advanced form of criticism, one that must be diagnosed and overcome (p.5). He asks “whether anyone but a straw person actually holds the technocentric beliefs that Papert describes” (p.5), and suggests that they do not. However, whether or not anyone would claim to be technocentric, the way researchers and educators have worked against forms of technocentrism has proved to be generative in the field of educational technology.
Brennan, K. (2015). Beyond technocentrism: Supporting constructionism in the classroom. Constructivist Foundations, 10(3): 289–296.
Burch, P., & Miglani, N. (2018). Technocentrism and social fields in the Indian EdTech movement: Formation, reproduction and resistance. Journal of Education Policy, 33(5), 590–616. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680939.2018.1435909
Cousin, G. (2004). Learning from cyberspace. In R. Land and S. Bayne (eds) Education in Cyberspace. Routledge.
Fenwick, T., Edwards, R. and Sawchuk, P. (2011). Emerging Approaches to Educational Research: Tracing the Socio-Material. Routledge.
Hamilton, E. and Friesen, N. (2013). Online Education: A Science and Technology Studies Perspective/Éducation en ligne: Perspective des études en science et technologie. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology/La revue canadienne de l’apprentissage et de la technologie, 39(2).
Harris, J. B., & Hofer, M. J. (2011). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) in Action. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 43(3), 211–229. https://doi.org/10.1080/15391523.2011.10782570
Jandrić, P. et al. (2018). Postdigital science and education. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 50(10), pp. 893–899. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2018.1454000.
O’Donoghue, J., Singh, G., Caswell, S., & Molyneux, S. (2001). Pedagogy vs. Technocentrism in virtual universities. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 13(1), 25–46. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02940943
Papert, S. (1987). Information Technology and Education: Computer Criticism vs. Technocentric Thinking. Educational Researcher, 16(1), 22–30. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X016001022
Pea, R. D. (1987). The Aims of Software Criticism: Reply to Professor Papert. Educational Researcher, 16(5), 4–8. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X016005004
Suoranta, J. et al. (2022). Speculative Social Science Fiction of Digitalization in Higher Education: From What Is to What Could Be. Postdigital Science and Education, 4(2), pp. 224–236. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-021-00260-6.