Affordances and Constraints of Email and the Learning Theories Which Support the Use of ICT

Ryder and Wilson (1996) stated that the term affordance, coined by the psychologist James Gibson (1977), is used to describe a potential for action, enabling the actor to assert his will and further stated that affordances offer opportunities for action. Hammond, (2010) contended that affordances are emergent properties of objects and need to firstly be perceived in order to be realised.  He further linked the term affordances with ICT in saying that affordances is used in connection with the opportunities for action provided by various technologies. 

These opportunities for action enable students to collaborate with each other and experience active engagement which facilitates their learning. Constructivist theories which support learning through action are: The activity learning theory (EDTK 2030, Unit 2) which substantiates the fact that ICT tools allow learners to investigate phenomena such as microworlds, vodcasts and virtual environments, consequently building their understanding and changing their environments with intent as they act and Bruner’s discovery learning theory which suggests that students learn as they discover, experiment, manipulate and wrestle with questions.

Although affordances provide opportunities, (Hammond, 2010) contended that they also offer constraints as these two terms go hand in hand, complimenting each other.  For example, with the use of electronic mail in the classroom, teachers and students are afforded the opportunity of conveniently and almost instantaneously sending messages, files and pictures to one another about field trips and school projects which students can use to build portfolios and reflect upon how they are learning.  A constraint that can occur there in some cases is where the size of the files may be too large to send resulting in the user having to either obtain an alternative email address with another email service provider or send multiple files to ensure that the recipients receive them, two of which I can relate from personal experience.  Also, in implementing a solution to this constraint in a proactive way, I can ensure that my files are sent through the appropriate email service provider that supports large files so that time and effort will be saved.


In ICT, affordances provide opportunities for users of technology to act with intent, consequently enhancing their learning and changing their environment through manipulation, collaboration and investigation using ICT tools. Constructivist theories substantiate the fact that ICT tools allow users to learn as they actively participate and learn as they discover. Although affordances offer opportunities for learning, they are also accompanied by constraints as in the case of the use of email, where it affords fast delivery of content yet may not be able to allow the downloading and sending of large amounts of data at one time. This can easily be solved by either changing service providers which accommodate downloading of large files or by sending small amounts of data at one time.


EDTK 2030 (2014). Information and communiation technologies in education. Unit 2. Learning

Theories that guide ICT-Mediated learning. Essential reading. UWI Open Campus.

Hammond, M. (2010).What is an affordance and can it help us understand the use of ICT in

education?  Retrieved from:


Ryder, M. and Wilson, B. (1996).Affordances and Constraints of the Internet for Learning and

Instruction. Retrieved from:


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