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Transforming learning with the SAMR model

We all know a digital wizard or two. You may even be one yourself! But everyone started somewhere.

The SAMR model gives us a framework for understanding what a person's digital journey might look like. As we'll see, the SAMR model also gives us a helpful framework for delivering a balanced teaching programme; one which leverages the opportunities that come with digital technology, without sacrificing existing good practice.

What is SAMR?

SAMR is an acronym: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition.

Each of these words describes a stage in a person's journey as they integrate digital technology more deeply into their practice.


When a teacher first dabbles with digital technology, it's very likely that they just use it to replace pen-and-paper activities. Uploading PDFs, emailing notes to students, creating worksheets for students to complete on a computer rather than on paper.


As they become more confident with the basics, a teacher might start to utilise more features in the digital tool they've chosen. It's still basically the same activity, but it has been augmented with digital features.


When a teacher significantly redesigns the activity to take advantage of digital tools, they come up with tasks that would be very difficult to do without technology. The digital technology is much more deeply integrated than a simple substitution of pen-and-paper.


So the teacher is now confident with re-designing tasks to make the most of digital tools. The next step is to create completely new tasks that would have been inconceivable without digital technology.

Some examples of Redefinition:

  • Getting students to create an augmented reality or virtual reality tour of an ancient city using Google Earth or Minecraft: Education Edition, incorporating their notes on why key features are important or noteworthy.

  • Getting students to design and 3D-print parts for a structure which involves a robot programmed with basic Scratch commands to illustrate some concept that the students have been learning, filming this and sharing with an expert in the field to give feedback via video conference, making adjustments to their work then recording their reflections about their learning throughout the whole task in a podcast episode.

  • Getting students to film a stop-motion clip with a free Chrome extension and record a voice over to articulate their understanding of the concept.

Enhancing learning vs. Transforming learning

The Substitution and Augmentation stages enhance the learning activity from its original tech-free version, but they're not really transformative. You could probably still achieve the same thing without technology (eventually). When technology transforms learning, we start to see the really exciting opportunities.

Substitution and Augmentation are considered to be "Enhancement" of the learning; the latter two stages, Modification and Redefinition, are considered to be "Transformation" of the learning.

Working with SAMR

Look at SAMR as a spectrum, rather than a progression.

When a teacher starts to integrate tech into their teaching, they will naturally move through the SAMR model in a more-or-less linear progression.

Once you're familiar with each stage, though, feel free to choose an activity from anywhere on the SAMR spectrum.

As an experienced teacher, you already consider a huge range of variables when planning a suitable lesson: the students' needs, the particular learning objective, the nature of the topic or concept, the time of day, the availability of different resources. Look at SAMR as a framework to help your planning, not restrict it.

Once you're confident with planning and delivering an activity at the Modification stage, don't feel like you're 'not allowed' to then do an activity at the Substitution stage. Choose the best tool for the job!

In saying that, don't just live in the Substitution stage. Now that you see the whole SAMR picture, you can see the opportunities to transform learning by using activities from the Modification and Redefinition stages when appropriate.

So don't just stop at Substitution. Remember, here at Think E-Learning we're all about using e-learning to foster critical thinking, creativity and collaboration. Simply making PDF resources available online won't really achieve these - be brave and venture into the deeper levels of the SAMR model.

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