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H807 – Affordances and technology (A5.1)

March 7, 2011

Affordances – conceptual framework

Here we meet again. I have to admit that it was a good advise to start with H800, as it seems to have introduced a lot of theories and concepts that are now addressed to a greater depth in the single H-modules.

Wikipedia offers the following definition of affordance.

“An affordance is a quality of an object, or an environment, that allows an individual to perform an action. The term is used in a variety of fields: perceptual psychology, cognitive psychology, environmental psychology, industrial design, human–computer interaction (HCI), interaction design and artificial intelligence. Different definitions of affordance have developed”.

Martin Weller, the author of this chapter in our course material argues that one way of looking at technologies and how people use them is to ask:  in what ways does the technology affect our behaviour when we us it? The theory of affordances may be relevant.

Here a brief timeline about affordance

Gibson (1979) used the term first to describe what interaction the environment offers an organism. ‘Affordances are a means of describing how the organism perceives its environment, with the emphasis on interaction.

Norman (1988) applied the concept of affordance to the design of everyday objects, e.g. a door handle affords pulling. He argues that poor design can be explained in terms of lack of affordance.

The concept was then applied to the design of software and human computer interaction (e.g. Gaver, 1991) and then to educational technology (e.g. Laurillard et al. 2000) and Kreijns et al. (2002) extended the concept to social affordances, in the context of ‘computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL).

Affordances still describes the interaction between user and tool, but is now applied to higher cognitive functions, such as communication. This extension to more complex actions makes it useful for educational technology. Conole and Dyke (2004) suggest a top ten (taxonomy) of affordances for computers in education.

It is argued that e.g. blogs or other internet technology have their own set of affordances, which will influence the way in which people interact with the technology and with each other. A particular interest lies in affordances and communication technologies.

We are now asked to answer an awful lot of question regarding this topic 😦  I guess I will follow Kate’s example and pick a couple of  technologies I use for communication and then write about the affordances it offers and more or less include the questions. You should have a look at Kate’s blog she designed a couple of movies with Xtranormal surrounding MAODE topics and they are really good 🙂

Affordances and communication technologies

Consider the now commonplace communication technologies of email and blogs, which you encountered earlier. Suggest the affordances found in each technology. Think about how the affordances influence the type of communication you engage in when using the technology.

  • How does the technology itself shape that communication?
  • What are the technologies good at?
  • When are they a poor medium for communication?

When you have done this, answer the following questions.

  • Was the concept of affordances useful when thinking about the technology?
  • Do you find your behaviour shaped significantly by the affordances of the technology?
  • Were there other explanations for any behavioural influences?

As you engage with the technology, consider the following.

  • The affordances of the communication technology as you perceived them.
  • The implications the affordances have for the technology’s use.
  • Now that you have encountered the notion of affordances, would you recommend its use to a colleague to assess the use of a new technology for teaching purposes?

Kate labeled her blog post ‘Media vs. Messages’ and talked about  media as the message and questioned if I change the media I use to present my blog, does that significantly change the message? McLuhan (1964) states that not each technology suits each learner equally and that different media demand different forms of engagement of our senses and social relations leading consequently to identity change. Consider how Web 2.0 is linking people, how they share, trade and collaborate, communicate and build new forms of communities and how that impacts on their learning and identities. This reflects McLuhan’s view that ‘the medium is the message. McLuhan also coined the term ‘Global village’, although he used it to describe how the globe has been contracted into a village by electric technology. Today the term is mainly used to describe the Internet

In H800 we also get to know Saloman’s (1997) and his view that each form of representation is exclusively capable of selecting, covering, transmitting and conveying its own information in its own way, thus offering a unique experience. Saloman suggest that the different forms of representation (at a simple level: text, sounds, still and moving images) have an effect not only on what we know, but also on how we know and understand it.

However that stands in contrast to Clark (1983) and his ‘Grocery truck analogy’. Clark claims that media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition. That would bring us back to the discussion we had in the forum  discussing what defines an innovation that we concluded that an innovation is not all about technology, but it’s about the pedagogy, to use technologies in new ways and to appropriate the affordances that the single technologies offer and to capitalize their full potential.


Wikipedia (2011) Affordance [online]. Available from: (accessed 06 March 2011).

From → H807

One Comment
  1. I’m doing H800 cincurrently with H807 – and we are studying Saloman right now. As a result, the two studies overlap, which is perhaps why I tend to move my blogs ‘slightly’ away from a strict format of answering the questions we are asked. Another reason, of course, is that I’m not very disciplined, and like to let my mind wander where it will!!!

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