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Instructional Technology: Avoiding the Golden Hammer

Special Issue: Instructional Technology in the Online Classroom

By B. Jean Mandernach / December 2018

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The "golden hammer" refers to our tendency to over-rely on tools that are familiar to us. As explained by Maslow [1], "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.? While we rarely discuss this cognitive bias in the context of education, it provides an important reminder for our integration of instructional technology in the online classroom. Simply put, instructional technology is just a tool. When we utilize the right tool for the right job, it can revolutionize the effectiveness and efficiency of teaching and learning. But the key here is not the tool. What is most important is the alignment of the tool with a task to which it is uniquely suited.

Complicating the issue, educators today are inundated with instructional technology tools. A quick Google search of "educational technology" produces millions of hits. One lap around the vendor hall at an elearning conference likely results in an overflowing bag of technology promotions. There is an endless menu of professional development events to teach you the latest and greatest educational technology applications. And as if this weren't enough, we are frequently reminded that our Millennial, Gen Z, and NetGen students no longer view instructional technology as a beneficial supplement, but rather as an integral (and expected) component of their learning experience.

Fortunately, the obsession with instructional technology tools is not without merit. There is a plethora of research confirming the benefits of instructional technology for addressing a wide range of educational challenges. This growing body of empirical evidence, combined with the instructional technology hype, provides a sound argument for the integration of instructional technology in the online classroom to foster student learning, satisfaction, and engagement.

The message to educators is clear: use tools. Lots of tools. Fancy tools.

But, herein lies the problem: We become focused on the tools, not the task. For educational technology to have value, it must clearly align with individual instructional needs. Simply put, you can't focus on technology and expect to see gains in your online classroom. Technology provides solutions; but "when you've got a solution in search of a problem, that's probably a bad thing" [2]. It is essential that you clearly understand: what your instructional challenge is, why you are looking to integrate technology into your online classroom, and how technology will help you improve the learning experience.

Once you articulate the pedagogical issue, you can then look for relevant, appropriate technology options. Instructional technology is a tool that, when used appropriately, offers unique opportunities to more effectively facilitate teaching and learning. To take advantage of the benefits available via the integration of educational technology, we must consider the purpose, context, and goals of our individual online classrooms.

In this Special Issue of eLearn Magazine, we examine the value and impact of instructional technology for addressing specific challenges faced by educators in the online classroom. With an emphasis on practical utility, authors share technology tools that have aligned effectively with their pedagogical needs to produce positive teaching and learning outcomes. As you read the contributions to this Special Issue, it is important to avoid the golden hammer. Don't become so focused on the technology tool that you fail to consider the tasks for which it is best suited.


[1] Maslow, A. H. The Psychology of Science: A Reconnaissance. Harper & Row, New York, 1966.

[2] Kelly, R. Blended learning: Integrating online and F2F. Online Classroom 12, 12 (2013), 1-3.

About the Author

B. Jean Mandernach, Ph.D. is Executive Director of the Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching at Grand Canyon University. Her research focuses on enhancing student learning in the online classroom through innovative instructional and assessment strategies. She explores strategies for integrating efficient online instruction in a manner that maximizes student learning, satisfaction, and engagement. In addition, she has interests in the development of effective faculty evaluation models, perception of online degrees, data analytics, and faculty workload considerations.

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