Entangled pedagogy: why does it matter to educational design?

Associate Professor Tim Fawns |  Monash Education Academy

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, despite a rapidly growing field of online education, technology was often positioned as a specialist domain, as part of “technology-enhanced learning”, “e-learning”, “online learning”, “digital education”, etc. (Baran et al., 2011). At the same time, technological platforms such as Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), plagiarism detection software, and learning analytics dashboards, were promoted by government, EdTech companies, educational managers and technology enthusiasts, often without much attention to theories of technology integration in education (Hew et al., 2019). In response to the perceived encroachment of technology on their autonomy, many educators sought to put pedagogy “first” (Fawns, 2022), even as more established digital technologies such as PowerPoint, video, discussion forums and online journal databases had become ubiquitous within online, blended, and on campus teaching (Fawns, 2019).

During Covid -19, as online became, at least for a time, the most common or prominent form of education (Fawns et al., 2021), there was no choice for many but to adapt their practice to technologies like Zoom that would allow some continuity for students. Yet, without time or resources to learn new approaches, teaching methods were broadly the same as those on campus (i.e. lectures and tutorials, focused on synchronous, teacher-led approaches) (Hodges et al., 2020). A lack of time, support and expertise to adapt approaches to a very different context resulted in what Hodges et al. called “emergency remote teaching” (ERT), an impoverished form of online learning in which technological possibilities and pedagogical expertise were sidelined.

Following the removal of Covid-19 restrictions in many countries, various educators, university leaders and politicians looked to go “back to normal” (Kerres & Buchner, 2022), justified by an apparent failure of online learning due to impoverished social connections and disengagement. Aside from a lack of quality research and a tendency to ignore the confounding factor of the pandemic itself (see work in progress by Moore, Barbour and Veletsianos, 2022a, 2022b), assigning failure to technology or modality (e.g. online, blended or hybrid) attributes outcomes of a complex system to a single component. Educational outcomes are not caused by the kinds of methods or technology used, nor by whether teaching is online, on campus, blended or hybrid. Rather, they are contingent on the interplay between a range of factors (Fawns, 2022).

The “entangled pedagogy” diagram below (click to enlarge) is explained in depth in Fawns (2022). The column on the far right shows an aspirational view of how educational stakeholders can work together (through openness, honesty and an acceptance of uncertainty and imperfection) to generate distributed, responsive and ethical educational knowledge.

entangled pedagogy


An entangled view sees technology as situated within a broader and messier coincidence of elements. Beyond teachers and students, a wide range of stakeholders are involved and bring their own purposes, values, and contextual considerations. Entangled pedagogy is aimed at helping different educational participants to take a complex, holistic view that considers the relations between various elements in phases of design, orchestration and emergent practices (see Goodyear and Dimitriadis, 2013 for a discussion of these terms).

This view impacts learning design in a few important ways. Firstly, the design process does not have a fixed order but an iterative tracing and reconfiguring of relations. Reconfiguration often happens by adjusting elements in response to consideration of other elements. For example, we notice late in the design process that a particular group task is too onerous for students who are also about to have exams in another subject, and that we therefore need to adjust both the task and its objective. Note that this probably happens to a greater or lesser extent in many existing design processes, including those that use models and frameworks with a clear order (e.g. backward design, see Tighe and Thomas 2003). The entangled pedagogy view makes this iterative tracing of the relations between different aspects of a design a necessary condition.

This may be more important than ever as we response to the emergence of more sophisticated generative artificial intelligence technologies (e.g. DALL-E, ChatGPT). Rather than focusing too much on specific technologies or forms of assessment (e.g. essays or exams), we might find out about how a range of things are entangled (e.g. ChatGPT, Turnitin, essays, learning outcomes, our students’ values and studying conditions) so that we can attend to and adjust each element in response to the greater combination. Entanglements also extend over time. Consider the concept of “engagement”, often cited as a problem with online learning. Perhaps, engagement isn’t just looking attentive or saying things. Perhaps, engagement isn’t always immediate or sustainable throughout a session. Perhaps, it can unfold over time, well after the session has ended, as students think and talk about the things that they were prompted to think about, and how these connect to other things they are learning. Each session or activity is entangled with every other. Therefore, all designs have to be reconciled by each student with other designs and the emergent learning activity that comes out of them. Again, tracing is important: what else is in your learners’ curricula? How might this prompt us to reconfigure our designs to contribute to sense-making around the bigger picture for students? All of this involves considering the ways in which technology and other educational factors are entangled.


Baran, E., Correia, A. P., & Thompson, A. (2011). Transforming online teaching practice: Critical analysis of the literature on the roles and competencies of online teachers. Distance Education, 32(3), 421–439. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2011.610293.

Fawns, T. (2019). Postdigital Education in Design and Practice. Postdigital Science and Education, 1(1), 132–145. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-018-0021-8.

Fawns, T. (2022). An entangled pedagogy: Looking beyond the pedagogy – technology dichotomy. Postdigital Science and Education. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-022-00302-7.

Fawns, T., Aitken, G., & Jones, D. (2021). Introduction: A Postdigital Position on Online Postgraduate Education. In T. Fawns, G. Aitken, & D. Jones (Eds.), Online Postgraduate Education in a Postdigital World: Beyond Technology. Springer.

Goodyear, P., & Dimitriadis, Y. (2013). In medias res: Reframing design for learning. Research in Learning Technology, 21, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.3402/rlt.v21i0.19909.

Hew, K. F., Lan, M., Tang, Y., Jia, C., & Lo, C. K. (2019). Where is the “theory” within the field of educational technology research? British Journal of Educational Technology, 50(3), 956–971. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12770.

Hodges, C., Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T., & Bond, A. (2020). The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning. EDUCAUSE Review. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/3/the-difference-between-emergency-remote-teaching-and-online-learning.

Kerres, M., & Buchner, J. (2022). Education after the Pandemic: What We Have (Not) Learned about Learning. Education Sciences, 12(5), 315. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci12050315.

Mctighe, J., & Thomas, R. S. (2003). Backward Design for Forward Action. Educational Leadership, 60(5), 52–55.

Moore, S., Barbour, M. K., & Veletsianos, G. (2022). Online or remote learning and mental health. Open/Technology in Education, Society, and Scholarship Association Annual Conference. https://www.slideshare.net/mkb/otessa-2022-online-or-remote-learning-and-mental-health.

Moore, S., Veletsianos, G., & Barbour, M. (2022). Mental Health and Online Learning – Systematic Review Dataset. A synthesis of research on mental health and remote learning: How pandemic grief haunts claims of causality. https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/ulls_fsp/190.

4.8 5 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments