About the book – and how to use it

The book in a nutshell

1. There is increasing pressure from employers, the business community, learners themselves, and also from  a significant number of educators, for learners to develop the type of knowledge and the kinds of skills that they will need in a digital age.

2. The knowledge and skills needed in a digital age, where all ‘content’ will be increasingly and freely available over the Internet, requires graduates with expertise in:

  • knowledge management (the ability to find, evaluate and appropriately apply knowledge);
  • IT knowledge and skills;
  • inter-personal communication skills, including the appropriate use of social media;
  • independent and lifelong learning skills;
  • a range of intellectual skills, including:
    • knowledge construction;
    • reasoning;
    • critical analysis;
    • problem-solving;
    • creativity;
  • collaborative learning and teamwork;
  • multi-tasking and flexibility.

These are all skills that are relevant to any subject domain, and need to be embedded within that domain. With such skills, graduates will be better prepared for a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.

3. To develop such knowledge and skills, teachers and instructors need to set clear learning outcomes and select teaching methods  that will support the development of such knowledge and skills, and, since all skills require practice and feedback to develop, learners must be given ample opportunity to practice such skills. This requires moving away from a model of information transmission to greater student engagement, more learner-centred teaching, and new methods of assessment that measure skills as well as mastery of content.

4. Because of the increased diversity of students, from full-time campus-based learners to lifelong learners already with high levels of post-secondary education to learners who have slipped through the formal school system and need second-chance opportunities, and because of the capacity of new information technologies to provide learning at any time and any place, a much wider range of modes of delivery are needed, such as campus-based teaching, blended or hybrid learning and fully online courses and programs, both in formal and in non-formal settings.

5. The move to blended, hybrid and online learning and a greater use of learning technologies offers more options and choices for teachers and instructors. In order to use these technologies well, teachers and instructors require not only to know the strengths and weaknesses of different kinds of technology, but also need to have a good grasp of how students learn best. This requires knowing about:

  • the research into teaching and learning;
  • different theories of learning related to different concepts of knowledge (epistemology);
  • different methods of teaching and their strengths and weaknesses.

Without this basic foundation, it is difficult for teachers and instructors to move away from the only model that many are familiar with, namely the lecture and discussion model, which is limited in terms of developing the knowledge and skills required in a digital age.

6. The challenge is particularly acute in universities. There is no requirement to have any training or qualification in teaching to work in a university in most Western countries. Nevertheless teaching will take up a minimum of 40 per cent of a faculty member’s time, and much more for many adjunct or contract faculty or full time college instructors. However, the same challenge remains, to a lesser degree, for school teachers and college instructors: how to ensure that already experienced professionals have the knowledge and skills required to teach well in a digital age.

7. Institutions can do much to facilitate or impede the development of the knowledge and skills required in a digital age. They need to:

  • ensure that all levels of teaching and instructional staff have adequate training in the new technologies and methods of teaching necessary for the development of the knowledge and skills required in a digital age;
  • ensure that there is adequate learning technology support for teachers and instructors;
  • ensure that conditions of employment and in particular class size enable teaching and instructional staff to teach in the ways that will develop the knowledge and skills needed in a digital age;
  • develop a practical and coherent institutional strategy to support he kind of teaching needed in a digital age.

8. Although governments, institutions and learners themselves can do a great deal to ensure success in teaching and learning, in the end the responsibility and to some extent the power to change lies within teachers and instructors themselves.

9. It will be the imagination of teachers inventing new ways of teaching that will eventually result in the kinds of graduates the world will need in the future.

This is the third edition of Teaching in a Digital Age. The first edition was published in April 2015. The second edition was published in 2019. This version of the third edition is for translators and for instructors who have used earlier versions for teaching a course. All changes to the first edition made for the second edition are in green colour text, and the changes for this third edition are in this blue colour text, so you can follow the changes more easily. There is another general version of this third edition for students or individual readers, where all the text is in black.

i. Why this book?

Teachers, instructors and faculty are facing unprecedented change, with often larger classes, more diverse students, demands from government and employers who want more accountability and the development of graduates who are workforce ready, from parents who want more flexibility, and above all, we are all having to cope with ever changing technology. To handle change of this nature, teachers and instructors need a base of theory and knowledge that will provide a solid foundation for their teaching, no matter what changes or pressures they face.

Although the book contains many practical examples, it is more than a cookbook on how to teach. It addresses the following questions:

  • is the nature of knowledge changing, and how do different views on the nature of knowledge result in different approaches to teaching?
  • how do I balance the demands of my discipline with developing the skills that students will need in a digital age?
  • what is the science and research that can best help me in my teaching?
  • how do I decide whether my courses should be face-to-face, blended or fully online?
  • what teaching methods work best when teaching in a technology-rich environment?
  • how do I decide what is best done online and what face-to-face in blended or hybrid courses? 
  • how do I make choices among all the available media, whether text, audio, video, computer, or social media, in order to benefit my students and my subject?
  • how do I maintain high quality in my teaching while managing my workload?
  • what are the real possibilities for teaching and learning using MOOCs, open educational resources, and open textbooks?

In summary, the book examines the underlying principles that guide effective teaching in an age when everyone, and in particular the students we are teaching, are using technology.  A framework and a set of guidelines are suggested for making decisions about your teaching, while understanding that every subject is different, and every teacher and instructor has something unique and special to bring to their teaching.

In the end, though, the book isn’t really about teachers and instructors, although you are the target group. It’s about helping your students to develop the knowledge and skills they will need: not so much digital skills, but the thinking and knowledge that will bring them success in a digital age. For that to happen, though, your students need you to be on top of your game. This book is your coach.

ii. The impact of Covid-19

Covid-19 had a huge impact on education systems throughout the world. Whole schools systems, universities and colleges suddenly switched from on-campus teaching to emergency remote learning, in less than two weeks in some countries such as Canada and the USA. Before February 2020, in North America online learning constituted about 5-8% of school teaching, and about 10-12% of post-secondary education credit courses. Then in March 2020 everyone was online.

However, most online learning before 2020 was largely asynchronous and primarily text-based, using software known as learning management systems (Canvas, Moodle, D2L, etc.), although web-based video-conferencing was beginning to be increasingly used. This web-based video-conferencing, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, was seized on by instructors with no previous online experience desperate to get their courses online.

The attraction of web-based video-conferencing was two-fold:

  • it was relatively cheap and easy-to-use technology already available to most institutions and school boards; 
  • instructors did not have to change their teaching method. They could just move their classroom methods (mainly lectures in higher education) online.

This approach though ignored more than 20 years of best practice in online learning. The results of the hasty move to synchronous video-conferencing were not pretty, but it did save the academic year, and more importantly, many lives. Also, lessons were learned. There were some advantages as well as disadvantages of synchronous video-conferencing. The sudden move to emergency remote learning also highlighted the critical importance of support units such as Centres for Teaching and Learning and specialists such as instructional designers. As a result, there was a huge increase in professional development and training in teaching.

These and other lessons learned require that the third edition of this book takes into account both developments during the pandemic, and the consequences for post-pandemic teaching and learning. I have a new section (Chapter 1.8) on some of the key lessons learned, and other lessons are considered in the context of the book as a whole.

Fortunately, and perhaps also surprisingly, though, earlier editions of the book stand up well to the lessons learned from Covid-19. In particular the overall structure and themes are still relevant, but this edition makes an effort to take the lessons from the pandemic into account. 

iii. The audience for the book

The audience I am reaching out for are primarily

  • college and university instructors anxious to improve their teaching or facing major challenges in the classroom, such as very large numbers of students or rapidly changing curricula, and
  • school teachers, particularly in secondary or high schools anxious to ensure their students are ready for either post-secondary education or a rapidly changing and highly uncertain job market.

In particular the book is aimed at teachers and instructors anxious to make the best use of technology for teaching.

I draw many of my examples from post-secondary education, but many of the principles will also apply to teachers in the school or k-12 sector. However, as a former elementary/primary school teacher, I am well aware that schools have far fewer resources and less technology support than colleges or universities.

Throughout this book, I have struggled with the term ‘instructor’, because I argue that we need to move from a transmission model of education (‘instruction’) to the facilitation of learning (‘teaching’), even or especially in post-secondary education. However, the term ‘instructor’ is often used in post-secondary institutions and ‘teacher’ for school or k-12 systems, so throughout the book, I’ve tended to follow this practice. However, my hope is that we will all eventually become teachers rather than instructors.

Lastly, although technology is a core focus of this book, I am not advocating ripping up the current human-based educational system and replacing it with a highly computerised model of teaching. I believe that although there is a great need for substantial reform, there are many enduring qualities of a well funded and publicly supported education system based on well trained and highly qualified teachers that will be hard if not impossible to replace by technology. The focus here is in making technology work for both learners and teachers.

iv. Why an ‘open’ textbook?

Although I retain the copyright through a Creative Commons CC BY-NC license, this book is ‘open’ in all five ways described in Chapter 12, Section 2:

  • re-usable: you are allowed to use all or part of the work for your own purposes (for example, you can download any part or the whole of the book, and use it in your own teaching or studies, without needing to ask for permission or to pay anything);
  • re-distributable: you can share the work with others (for example, you can e-mail a section of the book to a colleague or fellow student);
  • revisable: you can take any part of the book, and change it for your own purposes, or translate bits of it or all of it into another language, again without needing to ask for permission;
  • re-mixable: you can take parts of this book and combine them with other ‘open source’ material or resources to create a new resource (for example, take some of the podcasts from this book and combine them with text from another open textbook to create a new work);
  • retainable, which means there are no digital rights management restrictions (DRM), the content is yours to keep, whether you’re a teacher or student.

There is only one restriction on all five activities, and that is that you acknowledge me as the source (unless I am quoting someone else, or using someone else’s material, of course). Full attribution is particularly important as an example for your students, who need to acknowledge their sources! Also, if you do find the material in this book useful, I would appreciate your sending an e-mail to tony.bates@ubc.ca with any feedback about how you are using the content, and how the book could be improved, but this is just a request, so I can improve the book and track how it is being used.

The first edition was published as I wrote it, a chapter at a time. I published the first draft of most sections in my blog, Online Learning and Distance Education Resources, to get feedback. I did the same for the new sections of this edition. This book is published as an open textbook for many reasons, but the main one being that I see open publishing as the future for education. In a way, this book is a proof of the concept of open publishing. I could not have done this without excellent support from BCcampus, or without additional support from Contact North, Ontario.

v. Independent reviews of the book

Shortly after publication of the first full draft of the book, I requested three independent experts in the field to review the book. The process that was followed, and the full, unedited reviews, can be seen in Appendix 3. This book was also independently selected and reviewed by MERLOT. There are also 23 reviews of the book in BCcampus’ Open Textbook Library.

vi. Different ways to use the book

If you have found your way to this book website, you can read it off the screen at any time and anywhere. Just bookmark the home page (https://pressbooks.bccampus.ca/teachinginadigitalagev3/) then click on any chapter heading or any section in the content list.

The book will download in pdf and ebook versions, so you can print out or download the whole book if you wish, for straightforward reading. In general, it is best to read the book online direct from this website, if you can, as when it exports to different versions, sometimes the illustrations get moved around to fit the page or screen layout. Also reading on the small screen of a mobile phone may be somewhat frustrating as the graphics will be very small. Reading on tablets should not be a problem, except the graphics may not always fit as intended.

You can also buy a print copy – just click on the relevant button. However, if your institution has print-on-demand facilities, it will be cheaper to download the pdf version and print locally.

The book can also be cloned, so you can edit or adapt the book or parts of the book for your own use.

You will see from the book website that the book is now available in at least nine languages. More are being added. All these translations have been done by volunteers in their own language, again demonstrating the power of open publishing. If you wish to do a translation, please let me know but otherwise you are free to do so. Just remember though that the book cannot be sold commercially under the terms of the license, even in translation.

The book is written on the assumption (based on research) that most reading will be done in chunks of one hour or less, so each section of a chapter can be completed in one hour at the maximum (some sections will be much shorter).

Many of the sections will have activities added, which mainly require you to reflect on how what you have read relates to your own work or context. These activities will usually take no more than 30 minutes each.

Each chapter begins with a set of learning goals for the chapter, the topics covered, a list of activities for the chapter, and the key takeaways or main points made. To access this, just click the chapter heading (e.g. Chapter 1: Fundamental Change in Education). [Note that text in blue often indicates a live link/url – just click on it to activate it. This doesn’t always show clearly on screens under certain conditions so run your cursor – or finger on mobile devices – over the text to see where the links are.] The arrows in the red section at the bottom of the page will take you either to the previous page or the next page.

There are many different ways this book could be used. Here are some suggestions:

  • straight read through (over several days) for personal use: this is probably the least likely, but there is a logical sequence and a continuous, coherent argument that builds up through the book;
  • read a specific chapter or section that is useful for you, and come back later to other sections or chapters as you need them (use this preface and/or the list of contents on the home page as a guide);
  • do the activities that follow most sections;
  • use the book as the core reading for a course (or part of a course) on how to teach in a digital age. You can use the activities I have suggested, or, if you clone the book, you can edit it and replace the activities with your own.
  • at the time of writing it is NOT possible to clone just sections of the book, but you can use the Pressbooks XML file to import specific chapters.

There are also:

  • podcasts and occasionally a video giving my personal spin on each chapter,
  • a search facility at the top right corner of each page – just type in the word or phrase you are looking for,
  • a full bibliography containing all the references in the book
  • there is no index: use the search engine [Search in book (Q)] located at the top right of each section. Type in the term or name you are looking for. It will provide a list of the sections where this term or name is used..

This book – as indeed are open textbooks in general – is a work in progress, so keep checking back to see what new features are being added over time. As new developments occur, I will try to ensure that they are incorporated so that the book stays up to date (also you can follow my blog). I will also make changes based on feedback from readers.

vii. An overview of the content

Chapter 1 Fundamental change in Education

This sets the stage for the rest of the book. Chapter 1 looks at the key changes that are forcing teachers and instructors to reconsider their goals and methods of teaching, In particular it identifies the key knowledge and skills that students need in a digital age, and how technology is changing everything, including the context in which we teach.

Chapters 2-4: Epistemology and teaching methods

These chapters address the more theoretical and methodological aspects of teaching and learning in a digital age.

Chapter 2 covers different views on the nature of knowledge and how these understandings of knowledge influence theories of learning and methods of teaching.

Chapter 3 analyses the strengths and weaknesses of different campus-based methods of teaching and

Chapter 4 does the same for blended and fully online methods. These chapters form a theoretical foundation for what follows.

Chapters 5-9: Media and technology

The focus in these five chapters is on how to choose and use different media and technologies in teaching, with a particular focus on the unique pedagogical characteristics of different media.

Chapter 5 looks at the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs.

Chapter 6 looks at the main components of an effective learning environment (this was Appendix 1 in the first edition).

Chapter 7 examines the difference between ‘media’ and ‘technology’ in educational contexts and provides an analytical framework for understanding the differences between media.

Chapter 8 then applies the analytical framework to identify the educational ‘affordances’, the strengths and weaknesses, of different media,

Chapter 9 examines four emerging technologies (social media, artificial intelligence, virtual/augmented reality, and serious/educational games)

Chapter 10 offers a set of criteria and a model (SECTIONS) for making decisions about different media and technologies for teaching.

Chapter 11 addresses the question of how to determine what mode of delivery should be used: campus-based, blended or fully online.

Chapter 12 examines the potentially disruptive implications of recent developments in open content, open publishing, open data and open research. This chapter above all is a messenger of the radical changes to come to education.

Chapters 13-14: Ensuring quality in teaching in a digital age

These take two different but complementary approaches to the issue of ensuring high quality teaching in a digital age.

Chapter 13 suggests nine pragmatic steps for designing and delivering quality teaching in a highly digital teaching context.

Chapter 14 very briefly examines the policy and operational support needed from schools, colleges and universities to ensure relevant and high quality teaching in a digital age.

Chapter 15: The book in a nutshell

Chapter 15 provides a brief summary of the main issues the book attempts to address


Appendix 1 is a set of questions, to be used in conjunction with the SAMR and SECTIONS models, to help you make decisions about the choice and use of media within your own teaching context.

Appendix 2 is a list of different online learning quality standards, organisations and research

Appendix 3 includes three independent peer reviews commissioned at the completion of the first edition of this book, as well as an unsolicited review for MERLOT by its Teacher Education Editorial Board.

Finally, there is a section that provides feedback on activities set at the end of several sections of the book.


There are nine ‘what if’ scenarios scattered throughout the book. These are semi-fictional, ‘semi-‘, because in almost every case, the scenario is based on an actual example. However, I have sometimes combined one or more cases, or extended or broadened the original case. The purpose of the scenarios is to stimulate imagination and thinking about both our current ‘blocks’ or barriers to change, and the real and exciting possibilities of teaching in the future.

Other features

Each chapter ends with a set of key ‘takeaways’ from the chapter, and a complete set of references. Most chapter sections end with an activity. For many of these I have provided a podcast to give my views on the topics of the activities.

viii. Acknowledgments and thanks

This book could not have been done without tremendous support from a number of people and institutions. First of all, I am truly indebted to BC campus. BCcampus hosts the site and has allowed me to use their own version of Pressbooks. In particular Clint Lalonde, assisted by Brad Payne, and with the support of Mary Burgess, has provided wonderful help and support. I was completely new to the technology of open publishing, and Clint and Brad held my hand through all my struggles. I could not have done this without them. BCcampus’s help desk also provided essential support in setting up both the second and the third edition.

Open textbooks may be free to end users but they do not become a reality without professional technical support. As part of its mandate to support innovation in education and learning, Contact North | Contact Nord, Ontario’s Distance Education & Training Network, provided essential support and help with instructional design/editing, graphics, copyright clearance and is assisting with marketing and promotion.  Contact North | Contact Nord has also made it possible to  make the first edition of the textbook available in French.

I also received unexpected but very welcome assistance from Leonora Zefi and her instructional design team at the Digital Education Strategies, The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson University, Toronto, who volunteered to read the drafts of each chapter and provided incredibly valuable feedback. Katherine McManus provided instructional design and copy editing advice, and Elise Gowen did all the dirty work in checking copyright and getting permissions. For the second edition I drew heavily on the work of Naza Djafarova and her colleagues on serious games at the Chang School at Ryerson University (now Toronto Metropolitan University).

I also want to acknowledge the huge influence of my colleagues from the Open University UK, the Open Learning Agency, and the University of British Columbia, who did much of the research and innovation from which I have drawn. Throughout my career, I have been immensely supported by two overlapping communities of practice: distance educators; and educational technologists/instructional designers. This is really their book; I’m merely a spokesperson for all their ideas and work. I just hope I have represented their knowledge accurately and clearly.

Lastly, there was all the valuable feedback I received from my blog readers.  I published the first draft of most sections of the book in my blog as I wrote them. Instead of a peer review team of two or three, I had a review team of many hundreds – indeed thousands – of readers of my blog. The advice I received from everyone was really helpful and much appreciated. However, I didn’t always follow all the advice I got, and I take full responsibility for any errors or misjudgements you may come across.

ix. Over to you

The great thing about an open textbook is that is is a dynamic, living project. Changes can be made immediately. I would really like to hear from you, by e-mail to tony.bates@ubc.ca. Constructive criticisms and feedback will be very welcome.

Above all, I hope you find this book interesting and helpful and that it inspires you and/or your colleagues to develop the knowledge and skills our students need in this challenging age.


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Teaching in a Digital Age - Third Edition - Translators' version Copyright © 2022 by Anthony William (Tony) Bates is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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