Social CommentTechnologies for Learning

SAMR: A model without evidence

I wrote in a previous post my thoughts on how the SAMR model degrades/demeans meaningful technology based learning activities and directs teachers to think of their use of technology as insufficient if it is not “transformative”.


SAMR is not a model of learning. There is no inherent progression in the integration of technology in learning within SAMR. Using SAMR as a model for planning learning and the progression of learning activities is just plan wrong- the SAMR model is overly simplistic, deeply lacking in peer reviewed academic research and its current prevalence in the world of education is almost entirely due to its adoption by a certain multi-national as a core pillar of its education technology sales push.

But I’m not alone in this questioning of the cult of SAMR – Dr Jonas Linderoth, an associate professor at the department of Education, Communication and Learning at the University of Gothenburg and a holder of a PhD in pedagogy (Dr Ruben Puentedura, author of the SAMR model, holds a PhD in…Chemistry – not education or any related discipline!) has some clear observations on the SAMR-model, the lack of research and the questionable background and motives of its creator.  In his open letter to Dr. Ruben Puentedura he makes a number of very clear points:

“I could not find a single publication about the SAMR-model and not a single peer-reviewed article (or any other popular-scientific publication either) written by you. Instead all searches lead to slides, podcasts and videos.”

I’ve been looking for academic research that references and uses SAMR and there isn’t any (let me know if you can find some!).  Dr Linderoth, also observes:

“… I could not find any traces of a dissertation in the field of education with your name anywhere online?! Neither did I find any institutional affiliation at any university tied to your name.”

This chimes with my own observation that SAMR, an overly simplistic model of the use of technology for learning, is being promoted by tech companies and individuals with a specific commercial interest in selling devices and advocating a particular technology.

But Dr Linderoth is not alone; James O’Hagan, Director of Instructional Technology at Rockford Public Schools: also questions SAMR in his blog post A Critical Review of Puentedura’s SAMR.  In his post he notes:

In fact, the work by Dr. Puentedura has been called into question because of his lack of study with the framework, and his qualifications as a chemistry professor and not an educational specialist.

In fact, some educators are already recognising the problems with SAMR: check this post from Chris Hesselbein on the problems of SAMR and moving to RAT,  The Problem with SAMR from Royan Lee and Through The Looking Glass by Lucy Santos Green. It is also possible that the work of Puentedura may not be entirely original as it bears a striking resemblance to the work of Joan Hughes (as noted by O’Hagan/Green) and others: Assessing Technology Integration: The RAT – Replacement, Amplification, and Transformation – Framework.

SAMR does not relate to skills; it does nothing to develop the higher order skills of Bloom’s revised taxonomy: creativity, evaluation, analysis – the areas that we clearly need to focus on and develop with our young people. Education Scotland’s Technologies Impact Review hits this nail on the head with this statement (page 8)

Creativity, an innate feature of children from these early years and beyond, emerges as a central defining characteristic for the technologies which is revisited throughout this report. The importance of an emphasis on creativity cannot be overstated, presenting rich opportunities for children to apply higher-order thinking skills including analysis, design and evaluation.

The SAMR model does nothing to focus the development of creativity or any other skills. It is a linear model with a single focus on the apparent integration of technology in learning. It pays no attention to the appropriate use of technology or the development of the skills to utilise that technology.

The madness of SAMR doesn’t stop.  In a recent blog post Puentedura proposes a SAMR ladder that couples Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy to his model – insisting that the “transformative” level of SAMR (redefinition and modification) be aligned with Bloom’s Create, Evaluate and Analyse.  Reading this, makes it clear to me, that SAMR is nothing more than a cheap way to look at technology: the examples he provides in the article are trivial and exemplify activities which sit perfectly well in our schools without the SAMR model.   And again, he has taken a superficial approach to modelling the activities of learners.

Interestingly, John Hattie, writing in his Visible Learning For Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning refers to Michael Fullan’s work on identifying the right drivers for educational system change.  One of these four is:

“going all out to power new teaching innovations with technology (not the other way round)”.

To me SAMR is the wrong way round – the model pushes technology rather than innovative learning and teaching.  It is also interesting to note that in Hattie’s seminal Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 Meta-Analyses relating to Achievement he  provides research based evidence for a number of statements related to the use of technology to support learning. Referring to “the use of computers is more effective when there are multiple opportunities for learning (e.g. deliberative practice, increasing time on task)” Hattie presents findings that show the use of technology for drill & practice is more effective in raising achievement than the use of technology for problem solving.  Many of the key examples used by Puentedura, portray drill & practice as inefficient “substitution” and problem solving as innovative “modification/redefinition” – further evidence that SAMR doesn’t reflect what is actually of benefit to learners.

Hattie also shows that the use of computers is more effective when the student, not the teacher, is in “control” of learning. SAMR is a model for the teacher to evaluate his/her lessons that utilise technology. By definition this puts the teacher and not the learner in control of the learning.  Again, SAMR misses the point about what actually works in the classroom to assist learners.

We must be extremely careful as educators to ensure that the language of SAMR does not – no matter how fervently it is used in the marketing propaganda of certain technology companies – become the language to identify positive learning and teaching with technologies.  As educators, it is wise to reflect on the body of evidence to support the development of high order skills and the language of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy – a sound footing on which we can make assessments of learners skills and assist them to plot their course for the future.

Until there is a body of appropriate, peer-reviewed academic research, demonstrating the benefit of the SAMR model in improving outcomes for learners it cannot be taken seriously by educators.

The last word I’ll leave to Dr Linderoth, again from his open letter to Puentedura.

Taken together, the image that emerges is more of an independent consultant serving companies with commercial interests in the one-to-one reform. This is of course a completely legitimate position to have. However, it is not okay to use the discursive power that comes with a PhD title (withholding that it is from another field) and referring to 10 years of research one claims to have made (that is not published) in order to gain a rhetorical power position.

  1. Maureen miller

    I like it as a simple framework for providing common vocabulary around transformative teaching and learning. Good for getting started.

  2. Charlie Love

    Hi Maureen,

    Thanks for your comment. When we treat technology differently from the other tools we use for learning, we create a separate set of problems and expectations relating to its implementation. Using technology in the classroom is no different from using a book, a pencil, a calculator – each has a set of prerequisite skills, a set of requirements for use, each can be used positively (or not), each may require some level of support. For learning to be successful we should look at the range of tools available and use what is appropriate. Just as with Games Based Learning or Project Based Learning treating Technology Based Learning differently compartmentalises it with the impact being that some teachers don’t take it on as an activity because it is not “main stream”. As my former colleague Derek Robertson often says, “Good teachers use good tools” – meaning that we should focus on what works for learning and use the best tools we have available for the job.

    There are many better, evidenced models for teacher professional learning (this for example) and for reflecting on learning and teaching (e.g. HIGIOS or Effective teaching: a review of research and evidence).

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