The SAMR Learning Model

The first digital iteration of technology in any field tends to replicate its analogue predecessor, the next iteration then starts to exploit the possibilities

Kevin Kelly

SAMR is a model of learning and teaching created by Dr R. Puentedura frames the use of technology into four categories based on its impact on the student experience. 

SAMR model

  • Enhancement
    • Substitution – Technology acts as a direct substitute, with no functional change
    • Augmentation – Technology acts as a direct substitute, with functional improvement
  • Transformation
    • Modification – Technology allows for significant task redesign
    • Redefinition – Technology allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable

The first two categories are where the teaching has been enhanced by technology, and the second two is where it has been transformed by technology. The use of technology in the enhancement categories may bring some benefits, but the real improvements come when technology is used to do something that was not possible or practical previously.

Substitution could be represented by synchronous video calls with all the students and academics present at the same time to replace an in-person seminar or pre-recorded video used to replace lectures. The technology has enabled remote access to learning, but the method of delivery has not really changed. Augmentation then brings some functional improvements such as the students using the chat function to create rich conversations around the seminar topic and answer each other’s questions with higher engagement than in a physical classroom with one person talking at a time and the most confident students taking up much of the dialogue. Lectures might be reproduced in smaller 6-10 minute videos interleaved with automated knowledge checks (self-marking quizzes) that allow all students to test their learning and the academic know which ideas might need revisiting. 

The benefits of digital technologies will come with the modification of teaching and the move from a focus on ‘contact time’ to ‘learning hours’. Academics can be freed from the traditional constraints of the timetable and campus and design teaching around ideas and exploration rather than hour slots and room capacities. Modification might include the mixing of what used to be taught as in-class, such as the presentation of content in a lecture, and independent study, such as reading journal articles or problem sets to create a more natural route through the subject. Modification might be experiencing too by exploiting the interconnected nature of the internet to create new social learning experiences. Redefinition could suggest using technologies to allow students to take greater control of their learning and might include teaching through questions like platforms include and or practical competency-based methods like Khan Academy that adapt to the strengths, weaknesses, and pace of each student. These digital approaches can free up time for academics to work with small groups of students on problem-based projects and other classroom-based active learning methods. 

Redefinition should be the goal in the redesigning of learning and teaching, using the internet to remove the traditional constraints of in-person instruction and create a richer student experience around the subject narrative.

How to use SAMR

Universities could use the SAMR learning model as a benchmarking exercise to help people understand how technology can transform teaching to help planning or as an audit approach at module, course, and department level to understand the maturity of blended and online learning practice. It could just be used as a framework to help academics think about the use of technology in teaching and remove the pressure of moving too quickly. 

It is at this point in the year that university leaders and academics are starting to think about next year. Do we move back to predominantly in-person teaching, continue with our enhanced approaches or learn from emerging transformational practice that will deliver a step-change in the student experience? The more important question might be, how fast do we change? Do we push ahead with improvements and push academics too far or risk losing some momentum to protect teaching staff? 

If possible, we need to maintain the progress we have made this year and allow the majority of academics to evolve their practice with some incremental enhancements while supporting those that want to go faster to create transformational approach. Redefine learning and teaching and can then be seen as a direction of travel with speed controlled by individuals as they become comfortable with the benefits different technologies can bring. 

Watch a six-minute video with Dr Ruben Puentedura describe his model. Get in touch on Twitter if you are thinking about using the SAMR model or are starting to plan what the 2021/22 academic year and beyond might look like.

HE teaching staff want more Edtech

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Jisc, a not-for-profit organisation for educational digital services and solutions in the UK, released its annual Digital experience insights survey on 23 November. The 2020 survey received 2,677 responses from teaching staff from 14 universities between October 2019 and July 2020. 48% of submissions came after the UK went into lockdown on 23 March 2020.

Results I found interesting:

  • 95% said they either enjoyed trying out new and innovative technologies or were comfortable using mainstream technologies, but 4% preferred not to use technology unless they had to. 
  • 72% were either ‘very’ or ‘quite’ confident at trying out new technologies and 12% were either ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ confident
  • 79% are motivated to use it in their teaching, and 6% were not very or not at all motivated.
  • 43% rated the quality of support to develop digital skills provided as either ‘excellent’, ‘best imaginable’ or ‘good’.
  • 33% of staff asked for more training, and 25% asked for an organisation strategy, recognition, and culture when asked what one thing could be done to help you develop your digital skills
  • Only 7% agree they receive reward and recognition for digital skills developed.
  • Since lockdown, there has been an increase in staff discussing their digital skills informally with managers (+5%), in meetings with colleagues (+7), and staff meetings and CPD sessions (5+).


The forced move to blended learning with social distancing in the UK has increased online delivery at universities. There has been massive investment from both institutions and technology companies to support academic staff to develop their digital skills and improve the technologies they use. The survey report suggests that staff need now to be given time to innovate and be creative to build their digital teaching. In response to only 7% of staff feeling any recognition for digital skills they have developed, Jisc also suggested that creating an organisational culture that recognises and rewards these endeavours is a priority. The commitment and time staff have dedicated over the last six months to adapt their teaching practice to use technology has moved the sector forward many years. However, organisations still have a lot to do to consolidate this progress and support the 4-12% of academics that are either not confident or prefer not to use technology. 

“Moving forward, we need a stronger focus on supporting staff to gain and nurture the skills to embed digital within curriculum design and redesign. This will help students to develop a preparedness for remote teaching and learning, supporting their digital capabilities and increasing their confidence in the digital workplace.”

Sarah Knight, Jisc’s head of data and digital capability

key challenges:

Jisc suggests three priorities for future developments:

  • Strategic leadership is vital in driving digital transformation.
  • More resource is needed to support staff to develop pedagogically informed digital practices.
  • The digital environment and infrastructure require further investment.

Successful digital transformations require the organisation’s leadership team to make a clear signal of the digital vision and its purpose. It could be argued that the reason for the successful large scale adoption of digital learning this academic year has been due to a critical mission to provide students with the best possible educational experience in a time when they need it most. The next step is for leadership is to evolve this from a message of necessity to an aspirational one. This strategy needs to be underpinned with a robust implementation plan and investment. 

Teaching online or blending online and campus-based delivery requires new skills and practices. More resource is needed to support staff to develop high-quality teaching. Jisc’s survey suggests that academics are motivated to use technology, and most have confidence, but they want more support and guidance. Universities need to create more opportunities to discuss digital skills in informal settings such as meetings and embedding them into formal ones, including recruitment, induction, and appraisals. Demand is high for regular, continuous professional development (CPD) and ongoing support, in a variety of formats, on effective teaching with digital technology. Staff want this CPD to be collaborative with other academics to learn, share, and develop practices specific to their context or subject area.  

Finally, for digital learning and teaching to be successful in the long term, Universities digital infrastructure will require significant ongoing investment. The quality of available technologies and teaching spaces are highly variable across universities in the UK. The more emerging digital practice is shared, and technology is used at home becomes more seamless, student and staff expectations will continue to rise. Staff tend to be less satisfied than students with University technology, wanting good quality and consistent provision across all their teaching environments and a suitable personal device that works reliably with university systems. Virtual learning environments need to continue to updated and improve, become more usable, be better integrated, and be appropriately implemented with staff.

UK universities have invested heavily in resource and infrastructure over the last six months to support staff and students in the move to blended learning. They have provided clear leadership in the rapid move online. This leadership will need to work even harder and be backed up with resource and infrastructure to maintain staff motivation and goodwill towards digital learning once social distancing rules are removed.

Get the full report here on Jisc’s website, and get in touch with me on Twitter if you want to talk about what happens next in digital learning.