Imagine the state of your online classes if proper communication did not take place! The role communication plays in online teaching and learning makes it extremely important for you to observe and understand your communication ecosystem.

Your online communication ecosystem primarily consists of technology and media. If you carefully observe, hardly an hour passes during our busy day (or night) when media and communication technology does not intrude into our lives. Look around you and your community. In one way or another we are all connected amongst ourselves as well as to most other parts of the world through social media apps, the internet, the World Wide Web, and numerous other contemporary media and technology.

It is quite challenging to notice the difference between technology and media because we tend to use these two terms interchangeably. For example, television is classified as both a medium and a technology. In education, it is also important to consider the personal, social and cultural contexts in which we use technology. The terms ‘media’ and ‘technology’ represent different ways of thinking about the choice and use of technology in teaching and learning. To understand the difference more clearly, let’s consider Dr. Tony Bates’ definition of the two terms.

What is Technology?

Essentially the many definitions of technology range from the basic notion of tools to systems which employ or exploit technologies. Thus,

  • ‘technology refers to tools and machines that may be used to solve real-world problems‘ and
  • ‘the current state of humanity’s knowledge of how to combine resources to produce desired products, to solve problems, fulfill needs, or satisfy wants’.

In terms of educational technology, we have to consider a broad definition of technology. The technology of the internet is not just a collection of tools, but a system that combines computers, telecommunications, software and rules and procedures or protocols. Beware, that once a definition begins to encompass many different aspects of life it becomes unwieldy and ambiguous.

Educational technology is seen as tools used to support teaching and learning. Therefore, computers, software programmes such as a Learning Management System (LMS), or a transmission or communications network, are all technologies. A printed book is a technology. Technology often includes a combination of tools with particular technical links that enable them to work as a technology system, such as the telephone network or the internet.

Technologies or even technological systems do not of themselves communicate or create meaning. They just sit there until commanded to do something or until they are activated or until a person starts to interact with the technology.

What is Media?

Media (plural of medium) is another word that has many definitions.

The word ‘medium’ comes from Latin, meaning in the middle (a median) and that which intermediates or interprets. Media require an active act of creation of content and/or communication, and someone who receives and understands the communication, as well as the technologies that carry the medium.

The term ‘media’ has two distinct meanings relevant for teaching and learning, both of which are different from definitions of technology.

A. Media linked to senses and ‘meaning’.

We use our senses, such as sound and sight, to interpret media. In this sense, we can consider text, graphics, audio and video as media ‘channels’, in that they intermediate ideas and images that convey meaning. Every interaction we have with media, in this sense, is an interpretation of reality, and again usually involves some form of human intervention, such as writing (for text), drawing or design for graphics, talking, scripting or recording for audio and video. Note that there are two types of intervention in media: by the ‘creator’ who constructs information, and by the ‘receiver’, who must also interpret it.

Media of course depend on technology, but technology is only one element of media. We can think of the Internet as merely a technological system, or as a medium that contains unique formats and symbol systems that help convey meaning and knowledge. These formats, symbol systems and unique characteristics of a particular medium (e.g. the 280 character limit in Twitter) are deliberately created and need to be interpreted by both creators and end users. Furthermore, at least with the Internet, people can be at the same time both creators and interpreters of knowledge. Computing can also be considered a medium in this context. The term computing is used here, not computers, since although computing uses computers, computing involves some kind of intervention, construction and interpretation. Computing as a medium would include coding, animations, online social networking, using a search engine, or designing and using simulations. For example, Google uses a search engine as its primary technology, but Google can be classified as a medium, since it needs content and content providers, and an end user who defines the parameters of the search, in addition to the technology of computer algorithms to assist the search. The creation, communication and interpretation of meaning are added features that turn a technology into a medium.

Thus, in terms of representing knowledge we can think of the following media for educational purposes and the sub-systems within each media.




textbooks, novels, poems


diagrams, photographs, drawings, posters, graffiti


sounds, speech


television programmes, YouTube clips, ‘talking heads’


animation, simulations, online discussion forums, virtual worlds.

B. Media as organisations

The second meaning of media is broader and refers to the industries or significant areas of human activity that are organised around particular technologies, for instance films and movies, television, publishing, and the internet. Within these different media are particular ways of representing, organising and communicating knowledge.

For instance, within television there are different formats, such as news, documentaries, game shows, action programmes, while in publishing there are novels, newspapers, comics, biographies, and so on. Sometimes the formats overlap but even then there are symbol systems within a medium that distinguish it from other media. For instance, in movies there are cuts, fades, close-ups, and other techniques that are markedly different from those in other media. All these features of media bring with them their own conventions and assist or change the way meaning is extracted or interpreted (Bates, 2019).

The Difference between Technology and Media

The infographic below shows the distinction between technology and media by outlining the role each plays in ODFL communication.

Technology Vs Media.png

In a nutshell, technology refers to tools and machines that may be used to solve real-world problems (where educational technology is seen as tools used to support teaching and learning), whereas media can be defined as a medium requiring the active creation of content and/or communication, and someone who receives and understands the communication, as well as the technologies that carry the medium. Once we have understood the difference between the two terms, media and technology, it is essential to realise their roles in the ODFL communications ecosystem along with the importance of integrating assistive technology.