Barriers to Technology-Driven Music Instruction



The field of music education has long recognized the need to offer relevant music instruction to the 80% of students who do not enroll in traditional ensemble-based courses such as band, choir, and orchestra (Palmer, Hughes, Jothen, & March, 1989; Hoffer, 1986; Thompson & Keister, 1997; VanWeelden & Walters, 2004; Kratus, 2007; as cited in Sanderson, 2014).  One approach to increasing the number of students enrolled in music classes is through technology-based courses (Dammers, 2009; Freedman, 2013; Demski, 2010). Factors that impact technology integration in music education are explored in this paper, including: (1) teacher comfort with and attitude toward technology, (2) student attitudes toward technology, (3) preservice teacher training, (4) in-service teacher professional development, and (5) resource availability.


The field of learning technologies is a synthesis of concepts and artifacts from the areas of audiovisual media, systems based instructional design, and individualized instruction (Resier, 1987; Eraut, 1994).  A primary goal of the field is to deliver student-centered, hands-on, personalized instruction (Herold, 2015).  This is accomplished through designed exploitation of the capabilities of interactive multimedia hardware and software to deliver personalized instruction grounded in learning theory.

Unfortunately, in practice the intention of delivering student-centered technology-driven instruction is not yet the norm. As Education Week staff writer Benjamin Herold reports in his piece “Why Ed Tech is Not Transforming How Teachers Teach,” a growing body of evidence suggests that most teachers are not using the influx of digital technology into their classrooms to deliver student-centered, hands-on, personalized instruction (Herold, 2015).   At most, Herold (2015) relates,

Teachers are far more likely to use technology to make their own jobs easier and to supplement traditional instructional strategies than to put students in control of their own learning.  Case study after case study describe a common pattern inside schools: A handful of “early adopters” embrace innovative uses of new technology, while their colleagues make incremental or no changes to what they already do (p.8).

This disconnect between theory and practice reflects an incomplete understanding of educational technology as solely the integration of audiovisual devices in the classroom.  As Reiser (1987) reports, “most of those outside the field, as well as some of those who consider themselves to be part of it, still think of instructional technology as audiovisual devices” (p.12).  Indeed, Eraut (1994) identifies early educational technologists, particularly those entering the field from audiovisual education, as ascribing to the belief that “the more audiovisual devices used, the better” (p. 1883).  Today, a proliferation of web-connected devices in the classroom (over 75% of high school students, per a 2015 study, say they regularly use a tablet or smartphone in the classroom) suggests that this incomplete understanding is still quite pervasive (Herold, 2015).

For educational technology to achieve its purpose of facilitating learner-centered instruction, hardware and software integration must be intentionally and systematically designed.  Instructional design, grounded in learning theory, can bridge the gap between research and practice (Ertmer & Newby, 1993).  For example, both Cognitive and Constructivist learning theory seek to make learning relevant to the student.  Cognitivism emphasizes “making knowledge meaningful and helping learners organize and relate new information to existing knowledge in memory.  Instruction …should organize information in such a manner that learners are able to connect new information with existing knowledge in some meaningful way” (Ertmer & Newby, 1993, p. 60).  Constructivism equates learning with creating meaning from experience (Ertmer & Newby, 1993).  According to Constructivism, learners should be instructed on how to construct meaning, and designers should align and create experiences for the learner that provide authentic, relevant contexts (Ertmer & Newby, 1993).  The capabilities of interactive multimedia hardware and software can be exploited by instructional designers to support instruction that follows Cognitivist and Constructivist principles of relevance, basis-in-experience, and authenticity, and is by its nature learner-centered.

Traditional performance-centered ensemble music classes, absent of technology-based application of learning theories, are themselves proving to be irrelevant to a large majority of students (VanWheelden & Walters, 2004).  Elphus and Abril (2011) found that 79% of high school students are not formally involved in school music (as cited in Sanderson, 2014).  Furthermore, those that are formally involved were not representative of the overall student population in American schools (Elphus & Abril, 2011, as cited in Sanderson, 2014).

To make classroom music more relevant, VanWheelden and Walters (2004) recommend that music educators (1) provide skills and experiences relevant and transferable to adult music making experiences and (2) become more involved in creating community music experiences reflective of current school music practices (as cited in Sanderson, 2014).  One approach to achieving both objects is through the design and implementation of technology-based music classes (Dammers, 2009).  As Barbara Freedman reports in her text Teaching Music Through Composition: A Curriculum Using Technology:

In today’s world of music education, old-fashioned, lecture-based music appreciation and general music classes lack relevance for students and, frankly, just don’t cut it anymore.  …Students would clamor to register for music classes that offered them an opportunity to create their own music. Regardless of prior music education, or lack of thereof, students have access to sophisticated music software, which is either free or inexpensive, and they are already composing their own music. All students can have meaningful hands-on applied learning experiences that will impact not only their music experience and learning but also their understanding and comfort with twenty-first-century technology. Technology allows a musical experience for all skill levels (Freedman, 2013, p. 8-9).

Demski (2010) concurs, calling for a reinvention of the profession of music education to focus on more technology-based music courses and to integrate technology into existing models.

The field of music education has long recognized the need to offer relevant music instruction to the 80% of students who do not enroll in traditional ensemble-based courses such as band, choir, and orchestra (Palmer, Hughes, Jothen, & March, 1989; Hoffer, 1986; Thompson & Keister, 1997; VanWeelden & Walters, 2004; Kratus, 2007; as cited in Sanderson, 2014). Technology-based music courses offer a viable, student-centered approach to provide meaningful and relevant music education to these students (Dammers, 2009; Freedman, 2013; Demski, 2010).  As music educator Bennett Reimer warns the profession, “if we continue to concentrate on performance-focused methodologies as the major way to provide general music education, then we may find ourselves left in history’s dust” (Reimer, 1989, p. 28).

If the field of music education is to avoid this fate, relevant, learner-centered technology-driven instruction must be prioritized.  To achieve this goal, we must first understand the factors that impact technology integration in music education.  These include: (1) teacher comfort with and attitude toward technology, (2) student attitudes toward technology, (3) preservice teacher training, (4) in-service teacher professional development, and (5) resource availability.  It is vital that we fully comprehend the impact each of these factors has on technology integration so that we can begin to create more meaningful music experiences for a greater number of students.

Teacher Perceptions of Technology Integration

A common and persistent perception is that teachers are resistant to the adoption and/or integration of technology-based tools into their classroom instruction (Hennigen, 2012).  Herold (2015) reports on the impact of teachers’ pedagogical beliefs, citing an example from a recent study, in which students showed statistically significant gains in their ability to identify letters after using an iPad app called LetterWorks.  As Herold states, “their teachers, however, expressed reluctance about continuing to use the app, in large part because they held a philosophical belief that tactile learning is important for young children. (Herold, 2015, p. 10). Hennigan (2012) concurs, citing teacher resistance to “technological innovations (that) have the ability to replace them” (p. 3).

However, as Murphy (2016) reports, a 2015 nationwide survey of K-12 teachers found that fully 90% felt that technology was important for classroom success.  In the field of music education, Dorfman (2008) and Gilbert (2015) found that teachers reported a positive view of increased technology integration.  Dorfman (2008) reports that more than 75% of K-12 music teachers in Ohio indicated in a survey that improved technology integration is a high priority, while Gilbert (2015) found that most of her subjects (teachers of first-year instrumental music students) viewed technology implementation as a desired goal hampered by insufficient resources.  Doger and Kilic (2016) did find an attitude among some string teachers that technology integration was not necessary for instrument training, but also report that most string teachers do in fact use internet-based resources in their instruction, including online videos and digital practice tools such as web-based tuners and metronomes.

Despite a highly favorable view of technology integration, research exploring music teachers’ perceptions and usage of technology in their classrooms echo related findings in the broader field of education.  Dorfman (2008), Gilbert (2015), and Doger and Kilic (2016) all found that use of technology in the music classroom is primarily teacher driven, with few opportunities for student interaction with technology.  Raths (2014) concurs, stating that despite a recent influx of technology-based music creation, instruction, practice, and performance tools, “some teachers still teach music courses much the same way they were taught in the 1950’s” (p. 1).   The field of music education must account for this disconnect between teacher perceptions of technology integration and actual pedagogical practice if it hopes to progress toward more relevant, learner-centered and technology driven instruction.

Student Perceptions of Technology Integration

In contrast to the popular perception of teachers as resistors of technology, it is generally understood that students are advocates of greater technology usage in the classroom (Ash, 2012; Devaney, 2016; Schwartz, 2014).  Research confirms a positive correlation between technology usage and classroom engagement.  For example, Diemer, Fernandez, and Streepy (2013) found that students who reported a high level of engagement while using iPads reported a high level of learning as well.  They also found that students who characterized themselves as comfortable with e-learning reported significantly greater levels of perception of learning and engagement (Diemer, Fernandez, & Streepy, 2013).  Wynn (2013) echoes these findings, reporting that students valued technological tools integrated into the classroom, particularly tools that provide visual representation.  Finally, Turgal (2012) shares that audiovisual integration in the learning environment is rated by students as highly effective at enhancing learning outcomes.

A desire from students for greater technology integration in the music classroom is also apparent (Dammers, 2009; Freedman, 2013; Demski, 2010; Raths, 2014).  However, Gilbert (2015) notes that student favorability toward technology in the music classroom is tempered by perceived effort expectancy.  Specifically, the greater the perceived ease of use of the technology, the greater the attitude toward technology (Gilbert, 2015).  Gilbert states that “in order for technology to be viewed favorably in elementary instrumental music settings, it must be easy to use” (2015, p. 146).  Furthermore, Gilbert goes on to suggest that student attitudes toward technology integration can improve if the teacher can reinforce how its use can provide advantages to performance and practice. Therefore, while students do report a favorable view of technology integration, it remains the responsibility of the teacher to do so in such a way that motivates learners.  Indeed, the promise and allure of digital resources often overlooks the important role that the teacher plays in their successful implementation (Liang-Vergara, 2014).  As Liang-Vergara states:

There is a reason why conducting a Google search using the keyword “teacher” turns up the following related terms: mentor, psychologist, counselor, support, social worker, coach, advisor, tutor, guide and friend. The art of teaching lies in the ability to design a curriculum — a set of educational experiences — for students and then motivating them to trust you and come along for the ride. The stakes are high because if you don’t engage those students, especially in a blended learning setting, it is exceptionally easy for them to passively coast by or even get up and walk away (Liang-Vergara, 2014, p.1).

In short, successful integration of technology into music pedagogy cannot rely solely on positive student perceptions.

Pre-service Teacher Training

A proposed solution to the deficiency of technology-based student-driven pedagogy in music classrooms may be the inclusion of technology pedagogy and integration practices at the pre-service level.  Russell, Bebell, O’Dwyer, & O’Connor (2003) suggest that as “new teachers who have grown up in a technology-rich environment enter the profession, their comfort and skill with technology will lead to increased use of computers for instruction” (as cited in Dorfman, 2008).  However, research into current levels of instruction in music technology for pre-service music teachers is not promising.  Gall (2013) reports a lack of support for the pedagogy of technology integration, both from university faculty who are themselves unfamiliar with technology-related tools, and from practicing mentor-teachers who lack resources or confidence in their own abilities to support technology-driven teaching and learning applications during student-teaching.  In fact, music technology is often at best viewed as a small subset of the music education preparatory curriculum, which instead emphasize performance-based practices (Greher, 2011).  This is supported by the research of Haning (2016), who surveyed pre-service music educators and found that their primary source of technology instruction during their training came from a stand-alone music technology course.  Furthermore, this course was not geared specifically for music education; less than a third of respondents reported receiving any training in instructional hardware and software (Haning, 2016).  As a result, nearly half of pre-service music teachers reported the belief that their degree program had not prepared them to use technology successfully in the classroom (Haning, 2016).

Training for preservice and in-service teachers is necessary to familiarize educators with best practices for instructional integration and student/parent collaboration (Gilbert, 2015).  Furthermore, it is clear from the research cited above that pre-service music teachers need to be provided with more instruction and experience with education-centered technology resources, especially those resources designed for classroom or student use.  Progress towards a pedagogy that creates more meaningful musical experiences for a greater number of students begins with training for pre-service music teachers that values and emphasizes technology-driven teaching and learning.

Professional Development in Instructional Technology Integration

Survey results indicate that teachers in all disciplines overwhelmingly desire additional training on how to use technology in a valuable way; 91% believe that up-to-date training on using technology in the classroom is vital to achieving success in the classroom (“Survey Finds Majority of Teachers”, 2015). In fact, what proves to be a major obstacle to full technology integration is not teacher resistance, but rather insufficient and/or ineffective training on how to use digital tools and technology-driven models of instruction; the same survey found that 60% of teachers feel they are inadequately prepared to use technology in their classroom, while 37% said that “they would love to use technology in the classroom, but that they simply did not know how” (“Survey Finds Majority of Teachers”, 2015).  As Murphy (2016) reports, teachers are given too little training, and traditional teacher training workshops are not adequate.  “Teachers who succeed in adding technology to their teaching,” Murphy states, “usually spend their own time to figure out how to use new tools.  They don’t get paid or receive any credit for these exta hours of work” (2016, p.1).

To combat this reality in music education, researchers emphasize longer-term professional development and research projects.  Bauer, Reese, and McAllister (2003) found that a week-long workshop covering strategies for teaching music to K-12 students using music technology increased teacher knowledge of, comfort with, and frequency of use of instructional technology tools.  Minott (2015) calls for ongoing professional development that emphasizes the tasks associated with the selection, integration, and use of technology in the music classroom.  Both studies emphasize the need for continued support and resources, as well as further formal and informal learning, for gains in integration to be maintained and further developed (Bauer, Reese, and McAllister, 2003; Minott, 2015).

Resource Availability

In general, schools have invested heavily in educational technology; a 2015 report cites an average annual expenditure of over 3 billion dollars spent per year by US public schools on digital content (Herold, 2015).  As Murphy (2016) reports, there are “millions of educational apps, millions of lesson plans available online, millions of laptops in the hands of students” (p. 1).  However, these resources are not always intended or made available to music teachers.  As Gilbert (2015) reports, what technologies are available in music classrooms are often outdated and incompatible with lesson objectives (Garner & Bonds-Raacke, 2013 and Aldunate & Nussbaum 2013, as cited in Gilbert, 2015).  Additional resource-related challenges associated with incorporating technology in the classroom include a lack of funding, insufficient technical support, availability of appropriate technology, and district policies (Armstrong, 2014; Agbatogun, 2013).  In fact, even basic music classroom setup becomes problematic for the integration of most hardware.  For example, as Raths (2014) reports, “students don’t have desks, so any device with a keyboard presents a logistical problem” (p. 1).  Resource availability and classroom logistics must be addressed to provide meaningful learner-centered, technology-driven instruction in the music classroom.


Several factors affect technology integration in music education. These include teacher comfort with and attitude toward technology integration, student perceptions of technology in the classroom, preservice teacher training, in-service teacher professional development, and resource availability.  While it may be tempting to view addressing the challenges that these factors present as infeasible, it is clear that changes in music education must occur if the field is to provide meaningful musical experiences to the 80% of students who do not enroll in traditional ensemble classes.  Researched-backed learning theories support instruction that is hands-on, learner-centered, and technology-driven.  All stakeholders –teachers, administrators, legislators, and parents- most address the issues raised in this paper in order to best align theory with practice in the music classroom.   Returning once more to the warning issued by Reimer to the field of music education:

If we retain our present monolithic concentration on bands, orchestras, and choruses as the major ways to offer special musical opportunities, and if we continue to concentrate on performance-focused methodologies as the major way to provide general music education, then we may find ourselves left in history’s dust (Reimer, 1989, p. 28).


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