The constraints and benefits of learning technologies

My exploration of learning technologies comes from a lifetime of immersion in education and educational technologies – my father was a primary school teacher who continually upskilled, had a passion for learning technologies, and encouraged me to explore the possibilities of education and educational technologies. This began with building transistor radios, the introduction of calculators, developing film photography, and utilising the first video camera recorders. I was encouraged to pursue science, maths, and languages while also developing a passion for music and the creative arts – so for me technology has always been a tool to enable creativity and exploration. This is the main benefit of technology in education – a tool to enhance creativity and inspire new ideas. The constraint of technology in education is when it gets in the way of creativity, becoming a barrier or distraction that must be overcome. Three examples illustrate how I have designed and implemented educational technology strategies to mitigate educational constraints and maximise creativity in teaching and learning:

MAINZ 1997-2004

From 1997 to 2004 I was a lecturer at MAINZ the Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand, a division of New Zealand’s second smallest provincial polytechnic based in Auckland, MAINZ is a satellite campus of the main Greymouth campus. While teaching audio engineering and music production full time at Diploma level at MAINZ, I introduced a student-owned laptop scheme (Gray, 2004; Webster, 2004), designed a classroom audio-visual system, established MAINZ first campus wired computer network and a campus-wide wireless network, initiated Internet connectivity for the Auckland campus, designed and built an Apple Macintosh computer lab, created a LAN between the Greymouth, Christchurch, and Auckland campuses, and established an internal file sharing service via an Apple Xserver. I also established the polytechnics first learning management system (Cochrane, 2003), and MAINZ first website ( This was all in addition to my full-time lecturing role – the MAINZ campus had no official IT technical support staff until 2004. Consequently I learnt very pragmatically the constraints and benefits of learning technologies, working with both Windows based PC networks (used in the first year certificate programme) and Apple Macintosh networks (used in the second year Diploma programme).

The establishment of a student-owned laptop scheme and the provision of a supporting infrastructure was driven by my belief that education should be based around a social constructivist paradigm that enables student exploration, interaction and creativity. The limitation of a small IT budget forced creative solutions to providing educational technologies. The benefit of small class sizes (25-30 students per class) and a small institution of around 500 total students meant the polytechnic structures were relatively nimble and open to change and new ideas. The cost of the student-owned laptop scheme was off-set as a course related cost to enable students to purchase their laptops through the governmental student-loan scheme. The IT literacy and productivity benefits to students more than convinced them of the benefits of the investment in their education. Key outcomes of the student laptop scheme included:

  • Increased student productivity
  • Increased student collaboration & communication
  • Fore-runner to developing an institutional elearning strategy



Figure 1: MAINZ students with iBooks, 2000

While at MAINZ I made a concerted effort to upskill both my technical knowledge and my teaching skills through completing a Graduate Diploma in Higher Education, and a Masters of Computing in educational technology. This dual focus enabled me to embed technology as a creative tool within my own teaching practice, and I began sharing this expertise with my teaching colleagues by running workshops on how to integrate elearning and learning technologies into their practice. As part of my studies I developed interactive online environments for my students (for example an interactive loudspeaker design tutorial, SpeakerDesign), and interactive  multimedia learning objects to engage students with a link between theory and practice (Cochrane, 2004). This led to the development of a four-stage, tiered elearning strategy implementation for the institution:

    • STAGE1: Initial needs analysis.
    • STAGE2: Diploma Audio Engineering Pilot Study.
    • STAGE3: Collation of data and report, presentation of final elearning strategy.
    • STAGE4: Institution wide implementation of elearning strategy.

A tiered implementation

  1. Online course outlines.
  2. Online course materials.
  3. Supporting face to face and distance student-student and student-tutor interaction.
  4. Online self-paced learning objects to support face-to-face delivery.
  5. Fully online courses.

And a supporting infrastructure and professional development plan:

    • Web Based Learning software
    • High Speed Internet connection for web server
    • Instructional Design course building software
    • Tutor preparation time
    • Tutor development
    • Video/audio streaming classroom facilities

These experiences led to my following role at Unitec.

Unitec 2004-2011

From 2004 to 2011 I was an academic advisor in learning and learning technologies at New Zealand’s largest polytechnic, Unitec. My roles and responsibilities at Unitec covered the exploration of a range of learning technologies from supporting the institutions LMS (Blackboard, followed by a migration to Moodle), hosting and implementing experimental Wiki, video streaming, portfolio and WordPress installations, developing interactive multimedia learning objects (Cochrane, 2005; 2007a), to establishing a mobile learning strategy, and development of lecturer professional development strategies (Cochrane et al., 2012). In particular I developed a specialisation in mobile learning and communities of practice (Cochrane, 2007b; Cochrane & Kligyte, 2007).


Figure 2. Product Design mobile learning COP 2008

I found that nurturing communities of practice (COP) of lecturers within a department and developing trust over a sustained period was the most effective way of scaffolding curriculum change that lead to a more direct focus upon student-determined learning, or heutagogy (Hase & Kenyon, 2001; Luckin et al., 2010). Wenger’s (Wenger, 1998; Wenger et al., 2005, 2009) conception of communities of practice resonated with my role as a technology steward within these COPs. This process involves significant conceptual shifts for both lecturers and students around their understanding of their roles within teaching and learning, and technology can be a powerful catalyst and enabler of this change. However technology structures and choices must enable these new pedagogical paradigms, and hence I found the power of mobile technologies (laptops, smartphones, PDAs, tablets etc…) to be in enabling flexible classroom environments and the ability to bridge formal and informal learning – creating a link between out of class student experiences, facilitating authentic learning.

Key achievements in the domain of learning technologies included:

  • Receiving best student award for Master of Computing 2004
  • Repurposing fixed computer labs into flexible mobile laptop-based rooms
  • Grant recipient 2007, Elearning Guidelines: Innovation in eLearning Project $29000, (Cochrane, 2008)
  • Emerging Researcher Award, 2007
  • Grant recipient 2008, AKO Aotearoa Good Practice Publication Grant $5000, (Cochrane, 2009; Cochrane et al., 2009)
  • Internal mobile learning project 2009, $15000 (Cochrane, Flitta & Bateman, 2009)
  • Internal mobile learning project 2009-2010, $300000 for 200 Netbooks, 200 iPads, 200 Nokia smartphones, 20 iPod Touch’s, 20 iPhones. (Cochrane & Rhodes, 2013; Cochrane, Narayan & Oldfield, 2013; Cochrane & Flitta, 2013; Cochrane & Bateman, 2011)

I received the best paper award at Ascilite 2009 on mobile learning (Cochrane & Bateman, 2010), and developed an institutional elearning strategy (Cochrane, 2010).


Figure 3. Music students iPad project 2010

Auckland University of Technology 2011-present

Beginning in August 2011 I joined AUT’s Centre for Learning And Teaching as an academic advisor in learning and learning technologies. In this role I have consolidated a research and practice profile in mobile learning (see research map and developed a transferable professional development strategy based around communities of practice (Cochrane & Withell, 2013).


Figure 4. AUT Lecturer  COP

In 2011 I was awarded as an Ascilite Fellow and completed my PHD thesis titled: “Mobilizing Learning: Transforming pedagogy with mobile web 2.0”. Developing a focus upon the Scholarship of Technology Enhanced Learning (SOTEL) around over 50 mobile learning projects has led to over 100 peer reviewed publications, with best paper awards at ALT-C 2011 (Cochrane & Narayan, 2011), and ALT-C 2012 (Cochrane, 2012). I have consequently been invited to keynote at several international educational technology conferences including: the 2012 Australian Moodle Moot, the 2012 m-Libraries conference in the UK, the launch of UWS massive iPad project in February 2013, the 2014 IBSA VET Practitioners Conference in Melbourne, and an invited speaker at EdMedia2014 (Tampere, Finland), and an Educator In Residence at the Disruptive Media Learning Lab, Coventry University in September 2016. In 2016 I was appointed as an AJET Associate Editor, and I am an editorial board member of RLT and IJMBL. I am a regular reviewer for a number of educational technology journals including: AJET, CHB, IJMBL, JCHE, UAIS, and TLT.

Key outcomes related to exploring the constraints and benefits of learning technologies include:

  • Working with AUT’s ITS to design and implement a wireless screen-mirroring infrastructure for mobile devices throughout the institution (Cochrane, Munn & Antonczak, 2013)
  • Integrating SOTEL within a community of practice strategy for lecturer professional development (Cochrane, Narayan & Antonczak, 2015; Cochrane & Antonczak, 2015))
  • Co-leading a national two-year project on mobile learning, NPF14LMD (Frielick et al., 2014)
  • Designed and implemented a cMOOC for lecturer professional development (Cochrane et al., 2015)
  • Establishing a mobile learning special interest group for Ascilite


Figure 5. Custom designed Mobile Airplay Screens (MOAs)

Within my role at AUT I have been able to build upon my previous experiences at both MAINZ and Unitec to establish a theoretical framework for designing creative learning environments via mobile social media. I have also taken this to an international level via the development of the Mosomelt cMOOC, and the Ascilite Mobile Learning SIG, creating a global network of COPs interested in the potential of learning technologies (Cronin, Cochrane & Gordon, 2016).


There are common themes that I have identified around the constraints and benefits of technology across my three educational roles and three institutions over almost 20 years. The key constraints surrounding learning technologies include the critical need of a supporting strategy, providing a supporting infrastructure, working closely with ITS on implementation, providing an on-going professional development plan for lecturers, and appropriate curriculum integration for students to see the benefits. The key benefits include the empowering of creativity and self-determination of both lecturers and students, and the ability to design authentic learning experiences that would be difficult or impossible without (mobile) technology (Cochrane, 2014). My teaching experiences at MAINZ led me to develop an theoretically informed approach to improve my teaching practice. Through completing the Graduate Diploma of Higher Education followed by a Masters of Computing in educational technology I developed a critical reflective practice approach that enabled me to explore and implement innovation in teaching and learning at MAINZ. This experience provided a foundation for my role as an academic advisor at Unitec and my enrolment and completion of a PhD in educational Technology (specialising in mobile learning) through Monash University. At Unitec I developed a lecturer professional development elearning strategy around the formation and nurturing of departmental communities of practice. Having implemented over 30 mobile learning projects at Unitec with institutionally owned devices (Loaned to students for the duration of the projects) the conclusion was that a student BYOD approach was the sustainable way forward. This informed the design of the subsequent mobile learning projects at AUT, where the emphasis has been upon enabling student BYOD devices while supporting lecturers through the provision/funding of their own personal mobile devices and the formation of lecturer communities of practice. This approach has seen significant curriculum transformation across several departments at AUT, for example: Journalism, Product Design, Graphic Design, Law, Paramedicine, and Public Health.


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Cochrane, T. (2010). Beyond the Yellow Brick Road: Mobile web 2.0 informing a new institutional elearning strategy. Special Issue ‘The Transformational Impact of Learning technology’ of ALT-J, Research in Learning Technology, 18(3), 221–231.

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