Finding the Right Tool for the Task -- Four Categories of Technology Use

Information technology such as computers, software applications, video, audio/visual multimedia, and telecommunications can be integrated into virtually any classroom situation. The key is to identify what you are trying to accomplish within your curriculum (i.e., your learning goals and objectives), and then to identify an appropriate technology tool which will help you accomplish your goal. This sounds simple, but of course in practice ends up being considerably more difficult.

We believe that one path towards simplification lies in the identification of different categories of technology that can be broadly said to support different classroom strategies. While by no means exclusive, this categorical identification helps illustrate the point that not every strategy can be supported by any or every technology. More specifically, you need a variety of tools to accomplish the variety of objectives associated with a given curriculum. No single piece of software or hardware can be expected to address all of your classroom needs. Sorting educational technology by category of use is a step toward learning how to apply the right technology tool towards a given task

Tutorial Technology

Tutorial technologies are those which support the transmission of information from source to student. The technology itself might be a software application which presents questions, allows time for answer, and offers corrections or rewards for the "right" or "wrong" response. Often tutorial technologies present their lessons accompanied by a variety of multimedia. Tutorial technologies are useful for the development and reinforcement of basic skills. Thus, it is not surprising that tutorial technologies are often found in lower grades (and in remediation programs at higher grades) and are used to support skills such as spelling, grammar, vocabulary development, and basic function mathematics.


See the software selection and evaluation section of our web resources for links to educational software publishers.

Application Uses of Technology

"Application" technologies include tools such as word processors, spread sheet programs, database applications, and other data collection/manipulation/analysis programs. The operative term is tool, since applications such as those above have no content in and of themselves. For example, a word processor may be used at all grade levels and in every subject. The application use of technology is an interim, or process, step toward achieving an instructional goal.


See our web resources for links to word processing, presentation, and spreadsheet projects.

Exploratory Technology

Exploratory technology combines some content with a particular delivery strategy to encourage students to explore a subject and construct their own knowledge. The majority of exploratory technology applications are open ended and can produce a variety of narrative outcomes. The primary goal when using an exploratory technology is not to get the "right or wrong answer" but rather to use the technology to engage with a subject and derive meaning from that engagement. Exploratory technologies are often used to facilitate student cooperation, critical thinking, and group problem solving.


See the software selection and evaluation section of our web resources for links to educational software publishers.

Communications Technology

"Communications technology" describes those uses of telecommunications which support teaching and learning. Communications technology can be used in any of the three modes/categories discussed above (tutorial, application, and exploratory). Often, communications is used in an exploratory mode to facilitate student collaboration and research across great distance. As with the "application" category, communications technology is a tool which in itself is content neutral. On the other hand, the use of this tool can enable the teaching of certain content and the fulfillment of certain learning goals that would otherwise be more difficult if not impossible.


See our web resources for links to web and email projects.

For more information on this topic, please read about our new publication, Click on Success! .


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Last updated, 2/5/01