Futuristic car driving fast

More Than a Cool Ride: Designing Learning with the EdTech Quintet

Ruben R. Puentedura, Ph.D.

— Sep 08, 2022

Learning technology tool coolhunting is fun but it can lead a bit too easily to the "Oooh – shiny!" effect, and before you know it, you've purchased the learning equivalent of a 1982 DeLorean and it just rusts and sits there, and doesn't time travel at all. In 2012, under the auspices of the New Media Consortium (NMC), I researched and developed a framework for robust learning tool selection called the EdTech Quintet. The EdTech Quintet leveraged a decade's worth of materials from the Horizon Report to identify five key categories of tools and associated practices that are particularly valuable to educators, and that have deep connections to human ways of knowing and making in the world.

The five categories are:

  • Social tools that allow us to communicate with each other, collaborate on projects, and share the results of our collaborations;
  • Mobility tools that allow us to fulfill the promise of "anytime, anyplace" technologies, creating and exploring anywhere in the world, and grounding hybrid learning;
  • Visualization tools that translate abstract concepts like a number, a position in space, or a set of events in time, into a tangible two- or three-dimensional object as a graph, map, or timeline;
  • Storytelling tools, which capture aspects of the world as text, drawings, photos, or videos, and allow me to make meaning about the world I’ve been exploring by telling stories about it for others – but also for myself;
  • Gaming, which allows for playful exploration of ideas, and in doing so constructs feedback loops that help grasp better what is and is not understood.

The EdTech Quintet doesn't just allocate tools to bins; rather, it combines tools with associated practices when categorizing them. This is particularly important when looking at tools such as AI:

  • Are you using AI for data analysis? Then it belongs in the Visualization group.
  • Is it part of an interactive storytelling project? Then you should think of it as a Storytelling tool.
  • Have you created a bot designed to streamline online interactions? Then it is a component of a Social tool package.

Each of these paints a very different picture of AI and its strengths – but also its pitfalls – as a learning tool. Absent this analysis, deciding that "AI is cool" is not too different from deciding gull-wing doors are cool in the abstract, without thinking about how well they actually work for getting in and out of a particular car in a particular place.

Keeping this in mind, can we use the Quintet to identify some particularly powerful and cool tools that might otherwise go unremarked? Let's set some goals first – let's use as a backdrop for our exploration three examples drawn from currently active ShapingEDU projects:

  • The Data-Driven Learning Futures Action Team, winners of the 2022 Pente Pitch Challenge, is currently developing a data- and evidence-driven approach to supporting student learning decision-making. This is a complex landscape, with abstract nuances that different students will encounter in very personal contexts a prime candidate for a Visualization toolkit. The combination of Wolfram Alpha and Mathematica allows for exploration of landscapes such as these with a very wide range of sophistication, from natural language inquiries to powerful yet simple to use exploratory tools that can also support personalized dashboard creation.
  • The Digital Belonging and the Evolving New Now in Learning Action Teams both have an ongoing commitment to capturing and communicating stories from an international community in the context of the world of learning before, during, and after the pandemic. So, Storytelling it is – and some of the best video toolkits allow for live multimodal conversations that can be remixed into rich stories. Taking a cue from the world of online eSports streaming, the combination of mixers, such as OBS Studio, and channel hosts, such as Twitch, can create forms of engagement with narrative that set the stage for action through conversation.
  • Finally, in my role as groundskeeper for Black Swan Lake, I find that an obstacle frequently holding people back from developing antifragile strategies is an overly utopic/dystopic set of expectations about how people might – or might not – collaborate. So, while this might ultimately require some new tools for Collaboration, a preface could instead leverage the Gaming category to playfully address these expectations. Social digital games such as Spaceteam and Among Us transmogrify classics such as Mafia/Werewolf into the online social digital domain – and allow for gentle eye-opening exploration of human collaboration. This category of the EdTech Quintet is also the focus of the ShapingEDU Serious Play Studio – very serious, but also very playful.

These three examples show how the EdTech Quintet can help frame the quest for new and powerful tools, and map out strategies for systematically incorporating technology into learning. Just make sure to keep a clear head, and avoid succumbing to the allure of chrome rims and custom flame paint jobs...

Explore more than 75 EdTech tools for educators, organized using the EdTech Quintet framework!


Ruben R. Puentedura, Ph.D.

Ruben R. Puentedura, Ph.D.