Resistance to Using Technology among Adult Learners

When I found out about email as a college instructor, way back then, I felt swished into outer space, acquiring special powers to use and share with my ESL students. I immediately scheduled a weekly session with my students, got them all email accounts, and had them email each other for 20-30 minutes in the language lab. Talk about learning to communicate in English! I could hear the giggles and “Ahs" the whole time. I giggled, too!

When multimedia tools emerged, I went from outer space right through and into heaven. Later, as a teacher trainer, I came across an intriguing challenge: instructor resistance. I thought college instructors would jump with joy when shown what technology could do. Not!

I reflect on this phenomenon all of the time. Why do many instructors resist using technology? My questions go as follows:

  1. Is it fear of not knowing how to use digital media?
  2. Is it the time it takes to learn and use something new?
  3. Is it just the perception that technology is taking over human initiatives?
  4. It is lack of access to easy tutorials and learning opportunities?
  5. Is it the perception that "There is an ocean of information with thousands of tools out there, and I'll never learn it all. It's too much for me to handle?"

I've been to banquets where I was initially paralyzed by the number of scrumptious food options before me. I had no idea of where to start. I didn't want to fill up on something only to find I didn't have room for something better. Is that it?

What are your thoughts? Leecy




I frequently hear teachers mention reasons 1, 2, and 5. In addition, I also know that these are concerns:

6. Using technology in the classroom, unlike using print materials and chalkboards, can be unreliable. Teachers worry that after investing time preparing for a lesson that depends on unreliable hardware, software or Internet access, that their time will have been wasted. This is not an unrealistic concern, so a well-prepared and confident teacher always has a backup plan that does not depend on using technology.

7. Teachers who are long-accustomed to a role in which they are the expert are not comfortable being in a role (using technology) where their students may have more expertise than they do. Of course, the needed change is for a teacher to acknowledge to their students that they are not technology experts and accept students' technology help if they have expertise, or acknowledge that no one in the room has the expertise, move on, and perhaps gain some expertise and try again in a subsequent class.

8. Teachers often, and usually rightly, say that to use technology well they need time to practice using it. While they may have attended a good training in how to use a piece of software, for example, they often cannot find the time to practice using it and as a result feel uncomfortably unprepared to use it.

I would be interested in hearing what others' perceptions are about teachers' resistance to using technology.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

Technology and Learning CoP

In response to suggestion # 6 - unreliable technology - In addition to the time and support needed to use technology effectively, as a society we tend to blame technology when situations arise that require technology and we have access issues.

I have heard the following general statement from instructors, "I couldn't use it because the program wouldn't load or the computer wouldn't work." I now provide just-in-time mentored professional development to help them through the critical thinking and problem solving steps necessary. 

Hello Lyn,

I am interested in hearing more about how you provide "just-in-time mentored professional development to help them through the critical thinking and problem solving steps necessary". Does "just-in-time" mean just before, or during, their use of technology with their students or both? Who provides it and how? How do your teachers have the time to benefit from what you have to offer, or is it required? Eager to hear more details!


David J. Rosen, Moderator,

Technology and Learning CoP

The "Will-Skill-Tool" model of technology integration shows it can be a combination of many things.  (See Knezek et al., 2000 - or just Google it. ;)  )   Teachers have to be willing, have to have the requisite skills, and have to have the technology regularly available. If any one of those things fail, the implementation fails.  What's been interesting to me as I've been reading research on teacher education is that even our young, just-out-of-college teachers will not use technology if they go to a campus where the existing teachers really aren't including it, so that tells me there may also have to be a culture of expectation that technology will be used.

At this point, though, it's really not optional.  You can't apply for a job at Dollar General without having computer skills. And we need our teachers to move from using technology to do PowerPoint lessons into truly integrated technology lessons where students are engaged with these 21st Century tools to create and publish their own work.

Glenda and others who have added very perceptive additions to the list, I like the proposed "Will-Skill-Tool" model and can imagine myself before the next group of instructors saying, "Let's take a look at this model. Where do you see yourself fitting it?" :)

I can easily plan ways to meet gaps in skill and tools. However, without the will part, there is nothing left for us to address but that. Where there is a will there is a way?

Maybe what we are missing are enough real incentives for hooking teachers into using technology. I was the trainer for a number of teachers (K-12 through college) in what was then called The Star Schools national program. Teachers were offered one single incentive to participate in a very demanding three-month, after-school training for using MS Office tools in instruction: they got to keep their computers! That's it. Of course, they got to receive the free training and college grad credit, but computers were the real incentive, they told me. Of course, 17 years ago, computers were not cheap!

Would providing similar incentives generate more of a will? Hmmmm.... Leecy

While I agree with everything I have read so far, we are missing another important element. We have touched on the role of administration and leadership in other conversations, but it is also very important in the role of technology and instruction. What are the expectations of leaders as it relates to technology in the classroom? How are these expectations shared among staff? And most importantly, how are these expectations supported? Do the teachers have access to professional development? Do they have the physical resources available to use technology in the classroom? These are important questions to address before we can expect teachers to integrate technology instruction in a meaningful manner. 

I'd love to hear what everyone thinks about the points I have shared. Image removed.


Hi Kathy,

Yes, the leadership role of program administrators in requiring the use of technology, and in supporting teachers in the use of technology, is essential. Lack of this leadership is often a reason that teachers resist technology, or just can't use it because at their program the hardware, software or Internet access is unreliable or out of date, or because they haven't had the needed professional development to use it well.

Technology professional development and mentoring, and purchase and maintenance of hardware and software, are too often sacrificed by administrators when budgets are tight and/or when other budget items have mandates but effective use of technology does not. Poor use of technology is also too often the result of an impoverished state or local adult basic skills system. There are costs involved in having up-to-date, well-maintained hardware and software, for high-quality professional development, and for teachers to practice using what they have learned so that they are comfortable integrating it in their face-to-face classroom instruction or blended learning model.

I wonder what ideas you and others may have for addressing some of the reasons for resisting technology that Leecy, Glenda, you, and I -- and perhaps others who will weigh in -- describe. What examples do we have of how programs, or states, have overcome resistance or inability to use technology well in adult basic skills education?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

Technology and Learning CoP