The SAMR Model is Missing a Level

One of the most often used models for technology integration in education is the SAMR Model. Here is a quick overview for those that may not be familiar: [footnote] Source: [/footnote]


It starts with S for Substitution. Technology can substitute but the functionality stays the same. Writing on a chalkboard is the same function as writing on a whiteboard and writing on an overhead projector and smartboard (as long as all you are doing is project words and diagrams onto a board).

A is for Augmentation. Where technology has direct functional improvement over previous methods. This is like writing in a notebook by hand vs writing in Microsoft Word. The editing, saving, and other tools take the functionality up a notch.

M is for Modification. Now we have a scenario where students begin to use Google Docs to write and have real-time auto-saving and collaboration functionality. It has modified and redesigned the task to allow for new possibilities.

Finally, we have R for Redefinition. When my students took their Google documents that were collaborated on, and then shared them on a blog with students in Australia and Qatar it was redefining what previously was possible. Their feedback and collaboration across continents to create a script for a video they would publish and share with thousands of people online made a learning activity go beyond anything previously inconceivable.

Some view SAMR as a ladder. [footnote] Found via[/footnote]

SAMR Ladder Analogy

Others view it as a swimming pool. [footnote]Via this awesome article[/footnote]

SAMR Pool via Carl Hooker

And in this sketchy video John Spencer dives into a good overview of SAMR:

SAMR’s Missing Level

But, the SAMR Model is missing a level. It’s at the top and is happening to industries and businesses and schools all over the world at this very moment.

What happens when technology is no longer “integrated” into what we do, but instead Eliminates what we do because of the advancement?

E is for Elimination.

My six-year-old daughter probably does not need to know the Dewey Decimal system anymore. She may be taught the system, but many librarians argue it should be eliminated. Many libraries have ditched the system for a BISAC method similar to that of what you see in big bookstores, but even that may have its days numbered.

Augmented reality allows you to hold up your phone (or any device with a camera) and simply tell you where in the library or store a specific book is located. The technology has eliminated the need to learn, memorize, and store the Dewey Decimal system in your memory (as I had to do as a kid).

Even more so, the need for libraries is being eliminated in many colleges (at least in the traditional sense of what a library was). Many of these spaces are being transformed and renovated to have a much different feel and purpose. I spent almost no time in the library as a Graduate student and was able to do all of my research online, much quicker, and easier to find information through databases.

Technology has proven time and time again that it eliminates many previously valued skills in past generations. You can look at the impact on agriculture (We grow vegetables in the basement of our school). Or look at the impact on transportation (I don’t need to know how to ride a horse). Or look at the impact on healthcare (I don’t like going to the doctor so no examples for this one!).

Whether we want to embrace it or not, the fact is that technology has transformed our world and the reality of learning (and living) in this world.

The science shows that our brains are slowly evolving while the world around us is quickly evolving. This eliminates the need for many learning tasks we previously had to do (i.e. taking notes) and has us rely much more heavily on a third-party teacher that is usually not a teacher but instead a machine/device/computer of some sort.

E is when you get to the top of the SAMR Ladder and get off onto a building or structure. E is when you sit in the lifeguard chair at the pool. Elimination (via technological advances) is happening all around us, and we can’t deny it’ impact on our world of teaching and learning.

The SAMAR Model

If this sounds “scary” to you, maybe it should be a bit unnerving. It scares me but also excites me at the same time.

I think of students (like myself when I was in school) that didn’t “play the game of school” well. I didn’t like taking notes, which hurt me when it came time to study for a multiple choice test. I didn’t like reading only books that were chosen for me, which hurt when I didn’t have a choice in selection. I didn’t like doing 50 math problems at night to try and “understand” the concept.

Because technology can help change this game of school, it opens up new opportunities for students who struggled in a traditional setting to find success in a non-traditional path where other skills are valued and assessed.

And isn’t that what this is all about? Isn’t this a main purpose of technology in education: To give all students the best chance to learn and succeed.

To that end, I say bring on the Elimination. It’s going to shake things up a bit on our (teaching) side, but I’m hoping it is for the benefit of all our learners.

What have you seen technology eliminate in your life?

Join 76,000 other learners (and teachers)

And get new posts every week by email.

Powered by ConvertKit

Join the discussion 29 Comments

  • Seth says:

    While I agree that SAMR is missing a step, I don’t think the missing step (in its entirety) is Elimination. Elimination is very important, as you stated so well in the article, but I think the bigger picture is real-world adaptations. There needs to be a connection to life outside of the school’s walls. Simply Eliminating something because it is no longer relevant in our connected society, does nothing to prepare the grown student for daily functioning.

    If he/she were to step into a library still using the Dewey Decimal System, they would be lost. If he/she loses a calculator (or phone), eliminating rote math skills leaves them without the ability to process simple math (I saw this in person this year, getting change from a HS senior). If he/she is too poor to afford the devices to connect, they have no ability to function. If he/she lives in a rural area with limited connection, they’re out of luck. If the company they work for cannot upgrade their equipment to modern standards, he/she will have no way to understand how to adapt. All because their school “Eliminated” what they didn’t feel was useful at the time, based on the teacher/administration’s current experience of being connected.

    We need to build on history, not “eliminate” it.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Hi Seth, love the pushback here-it’s the type of conversations we need to have in education. My thought is that the SAMR model specially speaks to technology integration as it pertains to learning experiences. You are spot on in saying that certain circumstances and situations go way beyond how we use technology. However I think we need to think critically about what we are teaching as “must-have” skills in our schools. There are always going to be situations (for any of us) where we aren’t going to be prepared. My hope is that school can give students experiences to help themselves in those times and technology is just one piece of that puzzle.

  • I have been brought up in a traditional model but in the last decades I have developed into a digital lifelong learner. I do not think Technology eliminates anything that people want to keep. I used to take notes in the traditional way and I have learned to annotated PDFs and other digital documents. In my opinion , as teachers we have to teach soft and hard skills in a new way. Pedagogy should never let Technology take the lead but support its principles.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Thanks for the comment Stella! I agree that it is up to the learner whether or not technology can redefine or eliminate a practice. However I take issue when we force students to continue doing “what worked for us” instead of seeing how the world has changed and how that impacts learning. I’m not staying that is your case by any means, only pointing out that technology has always eliminated a “way of doing something” not necessarily elimination of the act itself.

  • Rob Marsh says:

    I have often thought there are two gatekeepers to personalization of learning- one is lack of technology, but the other is lack of freedom given by teachers. Either one can (and does) limit student choice and learning in the classroom.

    Having said that, you are right- even teachers who consider themselves cutting edge need to ask “what are we holding on to that we really don’t need to?” The sooner we can identify those things, the sooner we can truly eliminate and transform. I see the key essential question for teachers being “What control can I give up?” or “What would happen if…” In other words, which limits are necessary for student learning and which ones just get in the way of it?

    • AJ Juliani says:

      You bring a really good topic of discussion Rob: That SAMR doesn’t matter at all to those that don’t have access. In fact, this conversation we are having right now might make some educators disappointed because we are missing a huge piece of our population that are either not connected or underconnected. My hope is that we continue to advance in closing that gap, but it is a reality even in my own district. Thanks again for bring it up!

  • Thank AJ for this thought provoking article. I remember reading “Disrupting Class” a few years back and having the feeling of not being able to “play school”. With all the talk about infusing technology into our classroom teaching we get bombarded with models like SAMR but, I would say most educators don’t have a grasp of what technology integration is all about. I agree that all these changes and even the big “E” are good and should be seen as an opportunity for those that have other undiscovered talents. Once again, congrats.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Thanks for the comment Joe. I do believe you are right in saying that a lot of the PD we get is “being bombarded” with models instead of discussing what the relevancy and meaning is to us as teachers, leaders, and learners. I’ve been guilty of this myself. We need to do a better job at talking about the opportunities and good that comes from change, instead of focusing on what we might not like.

  • Megan Blakemore says:

    “Even more so, the need for libraries is being eliminated in many places (at least in the traditional sense of what a library was).” Yikes! As a school librarian intent on bringing innovation and creativity to schools, this comment stung. I have landed in a district with strong library leaders who are always asking us to be both student-centered and forward thinking and none of us see our roles or our spaces as irrelevant. I’m sure your aside about “traditional sense” of libraries was meant to imply that perhaps some libraries were staying relevant by adapting, but the truth this, libraries have always been more than information repositories and, especially in schools, have focused as a locus for knowledge creation.

    I don’t disagree with your sentiment that technology can make some modes of teaching irrelevant. Studies have shown, for example, that the way human memory works is starting to change so that rather than remembering facts, we are remembering how to find them. So, it seems key that we teach effective search strategies and information evaluation: these are, of course, the areas of expertise of librarians.

    Librarians *have* adapted our tools and approaches because of changing technology and educational research, just like any other teacher in the school, but a librarian’s core mission remains the same: to give students the tools to be independent, lifelong learners. If anything, the rest of the education world is starting to catch up to us. 🙂

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Love this comment! Also love the core mission you share at the end. Librarians in my district are fantastic and have done an amazing job reimagining their space and role-so I do know what you are talking about. The “traditional sense” was more directed at my experience in undergrad and graduate school where I didn’t use the library because it did not serve a purpose for most students. Thanks again for sharing!

  • Lois Donato says:

    Just as an aside, we were reading a story in my 8th grade reading class when one of my students asked, “Mrs. D., what’s a dial tone?”

  • Jen Baker says:

    In these times when finding for school libraries and school librarians are being cut drastically, we don’t need someone who’s supposedly in our corner making statements like “Even more so, the need for libraries is being eliminated in many places (at least in the traditional sense of what a library was). I spent no time in the library as a Graduate student and was able to do all of my research online, much quicker, and easier to find information through databases.”

    Perhaps your library experience would have been better had you gotten to know one of your librarians. One of my primary roles as a high school librarian is to help guide students through the glut of information that is found online.

    Another important role of libraries and librarians is to make reading materials accessible to everyone, not just those that have access to e-readers and reliable internet services.

    I understand that this was just an example, but in my opinion it was a very poor one.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Hi Jen, thanks for your comment, and I completely understand your concern. I actually changed the phrasing to say “college libraries” as that was what my specific example was referring to. As I mentioned in another comment, libraries in my school are being reimagined and we have wonderful librarians who are leaders and pushing past the traditional uses. That being said, I think John Spencer put it best in his post “We Need Libraries As Much as Makerspaces”: You see, to me the entire point of any class or place in our schools is to help support, guide, and provide students opportunities. Elimination, just like transformation, happens to us as learners in specific circumstances and situations. My example was the need for me as a college student with access to internet, device, etc. Keep up the great work, and don’t think for a minute that librarians are undervalued, you are not.

      • Jen Baker says:

        Thanks, AJ, I appreciate that! I know I make a difference in the lives of my students, but I hear “we don’t need libraries anymore” so often that I’m getting a bit testy about it. Part of my job is to advocate – it we don’t do it, who will?

        And don’t forget about public libraries as a ‘third space’ where the community can gather for programs, people without internet can check their email, and people can read the lastest bestseller or their old favorites ‘for free’!

      • Jen Baker says:

        Great article from John Spencer – thanks for posting that! It reflects some of my thoughts as I work with STEM club and STEM camps in my library.

  • Hello A.J.
    Interesting stuff here. As I age, I become more intrigued, and appreciative, of the minimalist perspective. I mean, how much stuff do we really need? A recent topic on the #MNlead Twitter chat was decluttering our educational practices. This chat got me thinking about deeper learning achieved by removing some things from our educational plates. What do we no longer need to learn? The missing E.
    Will Richardson’s references Seymour Sarason in his book, “From Master Teacher to Master Learner”. The topic is productive versus unproductive learning, with “productive learning being a process that engenders wanting to learn more.” To me, this suggests learning that offers future application and utility.
    Ruben Puentedura’s intention with SAMR was not to suggest a hierarchy with tech integration, merely different aspects of application supporting meaningful learning.
    I enjoyed reading “Most Likely To Succeed” by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith. One of my takeaways from the book was that our current forced curriculum is crowding out opportunities for creativity and innovation. Further, they suggest that very little of what is learned in school offers future application or utility. Connecting these dots, much of what is taught in school falls in the realm of unproductive learning. For instance, other than my signature, the last time I wrote cursively was forty years ago, and the last time I used calculus was in college. Conversely, I communicate, collaborate, and work to creatively solve problems every day.
    I would like to see all education stakeholders discussing and defending what constitutes productive learning in school. Then, work towards an agreement, if not consensus, of what can be eliminated.
    After reading some of the experts, I am convinced the best thing for our learners is a narrow, deeper pool instead of a very wide, shallow pool.(analogy spark)
    As always, thank you for creating this forum for learning and sharing.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Wow, really good thoughts here Bob. I think the most important point you bring up is “all education stakeholders discussing and defending what constitutes productive learning in schools” – yes! We need to be having conversations about the actual learning, instead of just all the things that are going on (or that we need to do). This blog post – and the subsequent comments – have shown me that even my perspective is shaped by my previous experiences. Isn’t that true for all of us? Thanks again for sharing and bringing up some great additions to this discussion.

  • David Wall says:

    While I am sure there would be no disagreement that ‘elimination’ does not happen within education there are two key issues you don’t identify. 1. Is it cultural or maybe just human to hold on to, or hoard, feel safe or avoid change, be nostalgic and therefore not eliminate previous systems or practise that are now not serving a purpose.
    2. In the transition between S, A and to M & R the practise that is identified as being substituted and changed to achieve redefinition is the practise that is being eliminated… The issue isn’t that we need Elimination after Redefinition, it is the fact we recognise the practise needs to be eliminated at S A & M and yet do not! Maybe it’s because we need permission, or not to fear change, or better leadership? Maybe the learners should be consulted more frequently maybe pedagogy should be redefined? Let’s use Heutagogy and remove the authoritarian power pedagogy places in our hands to determine that we (educators) have all the answers always; we may then eliminate those practises.

  • Melinda says:

    Your post caused a lot of ideas I’ve had floating around in my head to crash together.
    The biggest is about understanding the purpose of what we are teaching in evaluating its value to a student’s whole education, not just the education of its value within our class. I look at how some teachers are quick to “eliminate” the teaching of telling time on an analog clock in math classes. While actually telling time on an analog clock may not be an important skill that students use in this day and age of digital clocks/watches, there are other math skills that build beautifully on this skill so it is still worth teaching – it is the basis for a first understanding of fractions, pie graphs, modular mathematics, and even division, and probably more I cannot think of off the top of my head.

    I think I see this most in the keyboarding & cursive writing debates. As an educational technology consultant I have upset many people by saying eliminate keyboarding (yes, even in this day and age of overboard online testing) and keep cursive writing. But when it comes down to the value of each, there is too much research that shows the brain development that happens with cursive writing, along with physical development of fine motor skills (here’s a public radio piece that is an example of some of the research – Whereas keyboarding is actually an antiquated skill – I think people have forgotten that we type on a keyboard layout that was designed to SLOW typist down so that the typewriter wouldn’t jam! With the use of more tablets and phones the idea of a keyboard has already begun to evolve. And I am a believer that keyboarding will become even less of a needed skill as voice-to-text continues to grow by leaps and bounds. I already watch my teenage son “write” the rough draft of his papers by dictating it, I cannot imagine where it will be when my younger children are his age.

    So, by all means eliminate, but only after careful weighing of the actual value of the skill/knowledge in a much larger context.

    • David Young says:

      I think it’s important to recognize that elimination is essentially a comparative exercise. There is limited amount of teaching time available, so the question is not ” is there some value in retaining the old?”. In many cases, as has been pointed out, there is considerable residual value in the old. However, the key question is “Is the residual value greater than whatever teaching we would substitute for the old in the available timeslot?” If the answer is “Yes” keep it. If not, cut it.
      By definition this is a case by case situation and not one that you can write overarching rules about – and yes it contains some subjective judgement because we rarely have complete knowledge about what the new thing we are substituting will deliver, or for that matter what will be lost by eliminating the old.

  • […] Source: The SAMR Model is Missing a Level – A.J. JULIANI […]

  • […] week I read an interesting blog post by AJ Juliani on technology and its use in education The post provided a great overview of SAMR which is a […]

  • Ann Mausbach says:

    You had me thinking all week. So much so I had to write about it. Check it out and thanks–

  • Perla Loftin says:

    Thanks for the rich conversation and articles. As an elementary teacher I’ve been following your articles with great interest. I especially appreciate the concession that not all students are connected, which is the majority in my school. They need to first learn the basic skills in reading and math before we can think to eliminate the teaching of any SKILL. But technology (smart board tech especially) has certainly helped whet their appetite for innovation, for creation of their own books, articles, or art. They are much more likely to want to measure angles on an interactive board than on paper, to correct spelling mistakes on a game site, or read and answer comprehension questions one an i-pad. Even though there are not enough computers for each of them to use all day, we have enough for rotations and they so look forward to this! (And we can save trees at the same time!) So, yes, we are eliminating some methods, but we are still working on the basic skills they will need for life. Thanks for the article!

  • David Young says:

    Love the debate. Thanks for starting it. My main question is whether there is a problem? You would expect the symptoms of a problem arising from non-elimination to be that some students, particularly the highly tech orientated ones, to be turned off by having to study something that is no longer relevant. I’m not sure the evidence supports that. My experience is that such students in effect select their own curriculum. They have selected their area of interest and within that area are brilliant students, working and studying at levels that are well above any school curriculum. They Play the school game (nice phrase) to the extent they have to. They are not brilliant students generally, only within their chosen subject area. For the rest of classes they play the game to do enough to get by. The incentive of qualifications is not great because their tech skills/savvy make them highly employable.
    I think this description matches reasonably with those who are leading the technology innovation race. Arguably they are better innovators because they operate outside the mainstream education system. As a result they can percieve trends and opportunities that other students can’t. This is an area where teachers cannot be the front runners and should not try to be so.

  • […] Source : […]

  • […] The SAMR Model is Missing a Level – A.J. JULIANI […]

  • […] The SAMR Model is Missing a Level – A.J. JULIANI […]

Leave a Reply