The notion of ‘Affordances’ and its use within the technology and learning field

Friday 14 October, 2011

This meeting was a literature discussion in which the following papers were used to unpack and critique the notion of ‘Affordances’ and its use within the technology and learning field.

The first reading is a chapter by James J Gibson, in which his notion of affordances is articulated in some detail:

Gibson, J. (1977). The theory of affordances. In R. Shaw & J. Bransford (Eds.), Perceiving, acting and knowing: toward an ecological psychology (pp. 67-82). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates .

The next two are by Donald Norman, the first in which he first talks about the way the concept of affordance can inform design, and the second where he reflects on how he used the term and suggests that he’d like to clarify that when he said “affordance” he really meant “perceived affordance”.

Norman, D. (1988). The Psychology of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books.

Norman, D. (1999). Affordances, Conventions and Design. Interactions, 38-43. 

The next is by Bess Sadler and Lisa Given and provides one example of how the notion of Affordance can be used to help explain interactions between people and computers.

Sadler, E. B., & Given, L. M. (2007). Affordance theory: a framework for graduate students’ information behavior. Journal of Documentation, 63(1), 115-141.

The next, by Mark Lee and Barney Dalgarno provides another example of how the notion can be used in a learning technology context:

Dalgarno, B. & Lee, M. J. W. (2010). What are the learning affordances of 3D virtual environments? British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(1), 10-32.

Lastly, Martin Oliver provides a critique of the concept and of what he sees as misuses of the term leading him to conclude that we should perhaps avoid using the term at all:

Oliver, M. (2005). The problem with affordance. E-Learning and Digital Media, 2(4), 402-413.

Click here to view the transcript

Click below for the audio recording

Alternatively, if you wish to download the file to listen at a later date, use the link below:



One Response to The notion of ‘Affordances’ and its use within the technology and learning field

  1. Barney Dalgarno says:

    Some takes on affordances coming out of the symposium:
    -Is teenage use of mobile phones driven by affordances or affordability?
    -Can provide or force a techno-centric lens
    -Affordances versus advantageous application
    -Within an ecological notion of information seeking
    -As social or cultural from an ethnomethodological perspective
    -Notion of affordances in relation to computer interfaces is different to the notion in relation to physical interaction but these come together when we see young children climbing on the desk to point at the screen or using an iPad
    -Question of whether we need the concept to explain young children interacting with technology (or at all) or whether we are forcing it.

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