What is an affordance and how it can help us understand the use of ICT in education?

In the world of design including learning design, the term ‘affordance’ has taken on a larger-than-life meaning. So, let me bring you back to its origin.

According to Gibson (1979), affordances refer to the actionable properties between the world and its actors which include you and me. A person’s perception of the environment leads to some course of action. Clues in the environment or affordances point out possibilities for action by a person directly with no sensory processing. Examples include:


Buttons for pushing


Knobs for turning

Affordances and technology

However, Norman (1998) offered a modified view of affordance focusing on an association with an object’s suggestibility:

Affordance refers to the perceived and actual properties of a thing, mainly those fundamental properties that determine how the thing could possibly be used

A key difference between Norman and Gibson is that Norman asks the crucial question to the teacher-designer, ‘how can I make this thing so that it is feels natural to use?’

Affordances for learning design

The focus here is how you perceive an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tool so that it supports activities which are necessary for learning or how can you design learning so that the use of the ICT tool is as transparent as possible to your students?

Technology should be used to enable and enhance learning as inappropriate use of technology can lead to negative effects (Johnson & Aragon, 2003). The usefulness of an ICT tool can be analyzed from two main perspectives: usability which is its technical affordance and utility which is its pedagogical and social affordances. Technical affordance is an essential but insufficient condition for the ICT tool to be useful in teaching and learning.  The pedagogical and social affordances of the tool are more important considerations (Mandell, Sorge & Russell, 2002). Pedagogical and social affordances may overlap in certain situations. The relationship between these three affordances can be illustrated below:

EduTech eDM-graphic2-proof1_171127

Pedagogical Affordance

Pedagogical affordance refers to the possibility that the ICT tool can help to achieve the learning objectives of the subject you are teaching. More specifically, pedagogical affordances include pedagogical approaches and learning activities that the tool can support. An example of a pedagogical approach is cooperative learning and the ICT tool, Google DocTM, can allow students to work together simultaneously in real time.

Social Affordance

Social affordances refer to the properties of the ICT tool that that facilitate your students’ social interaction. The social affordance of ICT tool determine if it can provide a safe, comfortable, and convenient environment. In feeling safe, students can then open their minds and share freely. Comfort provides a friendly and fair environment in which all students have equal opportunities to share. Convenience enable students to communicate easily both synchronously and asynchronously.

Technical Affordance

Technical affordances mainly refer to the capacity and usability of the ICT tool. Capacity indicate the number of users the tool can support or its storage size. Usability refers to the interface design, ease of use, aesthetics, customization, and technical support.

Overall, the success of an ICT integration to the curriculum depends not only on the availability of the ICT tool but more so on its pedagogical design. The effectiveness of ICT integration is also contingent on other factors such as the professional development of the lecturers in using the tool, the development time required and the evaluation of the ICT tool for teaching and learning purposes.


Johnson, S. D., & Aragon, S. R. (2003). An instructional strategy framework for online learning environments. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 100, 31-43.

Gibson, J. J. (1979). The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Norman, D. (1988). The psychology of everyday things. New York: Basic Books.

Mandell, S, Sorge, D. H., & Russell, J. D. (2002). Tips for technology integration. TechTrends, 46 (5), 39-43.


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