Active Versus Passive Technology

Active Versus Passive Technology

Technology like a pencil is simplistic yet effective. It’s function is outshined by the purpose of its use mostly due to a low percentage of device failure, access to replacements, and minimal training required.

While such devices are effective they are being overtaken by emerging technologies because they are what I would refer to as “Passive technology”. Passive technology tends to have a singular function or process that does not allow for the user to interface with it outside of these parameters. As technology continues to evolve, we find ourselves interfacing more and more with “Active Technology”, technology that is multifaceted and multi-functional. These devices are mobile, agile, and efficient, allowing for users to experience previously inconceivable opportunities in the area of; creativity, personal expression, and collaboration.

Active Output

Without technology our classrooms are very limited in how information is expressed and shared. Technology has naturally developed to support multiple senses, and in the case of education support multiple learners.


When we think about inclusivity in education think about how far technology can take us. The use of audio recording in the classroom does more than just include students with disabilities, which in of itself is a massive accomplishment, but it includes a type of learner that might need to hear things twice but can't pause and rewind the teacher. Audio feeds into our social nature in a powerful way that promotes communication, dialogue, and the ability to archive learning in a new one. While audio isn’t a new technology, we have seen significant advances of classroom application in addition to traditional voice recorders that can record a lecture. Audio becomes something that can be part of a student's project to infer understanding where they might lack the capability of doing the same in written form. Simply put, Audio has the ability to engage and involve so many more learners that might be lose in the shuffle in an overcrowded classroom.


I think in pictures. Anytime I survey a group, a majority of them consider themselves to be visual learners or that visuals help them relate to and remember information better. If there is anything in this book that I can back with serious research it's the area of visual communication. If you haven’t heard of or read the work on Multimedia Learning Theory by Dr. Richard Mayer, I strongly suggest you do. His decades of research show that without question your bulletpoint slide decks during your lectures do worse than nothing, they actually block listeners ability to internalize information as the brain competes between verbal words and visual ones and all but overloads.

Even more, visuals like photos and videos have an uncanny way of engaging users and creating a memorable experience. Look at the success of the film industry and think about how this could be apply to classroom learning without sacrificing academic rigor or integrity.


This is one of my favorite parts of tablet technology. While it started with the smartboard, the idea of giving learners a tactile device in which allows them to physically interface with it via their hands is truly revolutionary. Through various kinesthetic engagements tablet technology has the ability to completely transform how learners collaborate, explore, and create most awesome learning experiences? See what I did there? The mere existence of a touch responsive device promotes the ability to engage in learning with clear connection back to the critical mindset and skillsets discussed above. This type of back and forth is a requirement if technology’s role is expected to be something that enhances or transforms classroom learning.

A Technology Rich Environment

When envisioning a technology rich environment it is important to understand that that doesn't necessarily mean rich in quantity. When using technology thoughtfully and intentionally it does not have to be a constant tool, and in many cases the constant use of technology will not lead to higher engagement. Even our youngest learners are interface with technology regularly and access to technology is not a means of engagement long term, with minimal short term success. When I think of a technology rich environment, it is not when but how and why technology is utilized. Is the experience collaborative? Are students engaged in creating something or at the very least a self paced experience? The true richness of technology's role in a classroom is how it allows for new developments in how learning is consumed, expressed, and how new roles can development in the classroom focusing on student empowerment.

One of the biggest mistakes in education today with technology is how we use technology to enhance traditional educational experiences. I describe this as not pulling the horse before the cart, but slapping rockets and roller-skates on the horse to get the cart around faster.

For technology to truly innovate in education we must look at how the world innovates which is communal, collaborative, and not lecture based. Students like employees should not be commanded to transcribe information in note form or regurgitate it back with cookie cutter paperwork. They should be led to something more meaningful without sacrificing fundamental skills and knowledge. 

Img Src

About the Author
Author: Michael Cohen
Who Is The Tech Rabbi? Rabbi Michael Cohen is a consultant, featured speaker, workshop facilitator, and writer in the areas of Technology Integration and Curriculum Design. He works with schools and programs nationally to help them discover how they can redefine learning experiences by harnessing the power of technology. He is an Apple Distinguished Educator and a former Director of Educational Technology where he led his school in becoming an Apple Distinguished School. He is Rabbinically Ordained, and holds a Masters of Science in Education. He speaks regularly at national and regional conferences such as ISTE, SXSWEdu, and Apple Education Events. In 2016 he was ranked as one of the Top 50 EdTech Influencers in education. He currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife and four children, and is still an avid skateboarder.

Like what we do?

The Latest EdTech News To Your Inbox

Follow us:


Subscribe to our Newsletters.