The definition of educational technology: An intellectual and historical account

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education


Donald Ely


audiovisual education, educational technology

Subject Categories

Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research | Instructional Media Design


The purpose of this study is to examine the intellectual history of educational technology. This is done by reviewing the history of the formal definitions of educational technology which were published by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, the oldest and most prestigious professional organization involved in the study of educational technology. Three definitions, published in 1963, 1972, and 1977, are reviewed. This analysis includes: identifying the major themes in each of the definitions; tracing the history of each of the major themes, and explaining the consistancy of the major themes in each of the definitions over time.

This analysis is developed through two filters or lenses. The first shows how the influence of certain conceptions of science, engineering, and the audiovisual education movement affected the field of educational technology, and subsequently the definitions of educational technology. The second sees the efforts to formally define educational technology as a political activity where formal definitions of the field were generated to influence the direction of the field and/or to gain prestige for the field of educational technology.

It is concluded that the purposes for formally defining educational technology were frequently in contradiction with each other resulting in problems in communicating and disseminating ideas about educational technology. Topics and methods for conducting future research in this area are also discussed in the final chapter.


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