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Learning Design, Social Ontology and Unintended Functionalism in Education Projects

Journal of Interactive Media in Education Volume 2016, Number 1,


For many years there have been well-funded project opportunities for developing educational innovations, both pedagogical and technological, to fulfil the educational ambitions of national governments and European agencies. Projects have been funded on the basis of competitive bidding against themes identified by funders. Calls for funding typically exhibit bold rhetoric as to their ambition and consequently bold claims are made in response. It is not untypical for the results of these projects to fall short of their rhetoric. During the process of project delivery, there can arise what is termed "unintended functionalism" where the fulfilment of the project contract through the regulatory instruments of project management overrides critical challenge of the objectives and rhetorical claims, or reflection about theoretical assumptions. Two contrasting projects are examined to explore this: ITEC, a large-scale technological innovation and implementation project involving schools throughout Europe; and INCLUD-ED, a research project to describe successful educational practice around inclusion. An analysis is presented which draws on Searle's concept of "status functions" to explain anomalies between the declarations concerning the objectives, technologies and concepts of a project and the evidence of project outcomes. It is argued that unintended functionalism arises as a result of common constraints of project regulation which bear upon all project stakeholders. The contrast between ITEC and INCLUD-ED presents an opportunity to ask whether and how, in the light of better knowledge about the dynamics of constraints, the pathology of unintended functionalism might be avoided.


Johnson, M.W. (2016). Learning Design, Social Ontology and Unintended Functionalism in Education Projects. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2016(1),. Retrieved December 8, 2019 from .

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