The Unself: A Call for Collective Communicative Actions

It was based on a simple premise: ” … the procedure in mastery of drill and informational material were in many instances simple and definite enough to permit handling of much routine teaching by mechanical means” (Pressey, 1926, p.374). Who would have thought the simple logic of Sidney Pressey’s drill-and-practice “teaching machine” would evolve into the levels of learning technology-integration we see in classrooms today. In fact, Pressey’s simple logic gave rise to new types of teaching machines including those often referred to as learning technologies (“Sidney Pressey,” n.d.).

Question: How does technology impact learning and communications today and what are the consequences?

Public Participation Through Public and Social Discourse

Bolton’s (2005) provides additional insight into the work and theories of Jurgen Habermas, philosopher and social theorist. Bolton notes that Habermas’ fundamental theoretical argument was that widespread public participation through communicative actions promotes the sharing of information and that such communications are necessary to reach public consensus and actions, otherwise known as social capital. Bolton wrote that Habermas’ theories of communicative actions form the foundation for societal common understanding and cooperation and argued that, while Habermas’ theories do not address all facets of public discourse, the value of his work lies in Habermas’ focus on the public rationale. Specifically, Bolton wrote Habermas believed, if members of a society actively and regularly communicate, they will come to general levels of understanding for the betterment of all (Bolton, 2005).

Hansen, Berente, and Lyytinen (2009) also saw value Habermas’ work. The researchers’ saw social communicative actions as counterfactual methods of unifying rational public discourse. The researchers also saw technology-based information systems as well suited for such purposes. Their positions was supported by their examination of Wikipedia as an example of an information social agent teaching machine system of inquiry. The researchers determined Wikipedia is indeed an example of an information systems of inquiry for public discourse and that such systems are needed to emancipate societies from unwarranted societal control. In conclusion, Hansen, Berente, and Lyytinen advised further study of Wikipedia as an emergent computing platform capable of countering human oppression (Hansen, Berente, and Lyytinen, 2009).

Social Media, Communicative Actions, and Higher Education

To take matters further, Kirchloff (2014) examined social media networks and their potential as emergent information social agent teaching machine systems. He found that the addictive natures of social media do provide the flexibility, mobility, and real-time sharing, and responding required for rational discourse interactions. This infers that Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google social media networks are equivalent of Pressey’s teaching machine . Work by other researchers (Reinhardt, 2019; Wakefield, Warren, & Alsobrook, 2011; Warren, 2012) also infer social media has great potential for actualizing Habermas’ theories regarding public discourse. But, in the realm of post-secondary education, research indicates public educators do not necessarily agree.

For example, Moran (2011) examined the personal and professional impacts of social media on teaching faculty. After surveying 1,920 randomly selected teaching faculty members, he found higher education is moving toward using social media as supplements to enhance traditional face-to-face teaching. An overwhelming majority of respondents (70%) agreed that video, podcasts, blogs, and wikis are valuable tools for teaching with 58% agreeing that social media can be valuable for collaborative learning. Further, a total of 78% of all faculty report using at least one social media site in support of their professional career activities. However, some respondents reported barriers to use of social media for teaching purposes. Besides a reported lack of support for such initiatives, 80% of respondents identified social media privacy and integrity as their main concern. Others reported they saw little value in integrating the use of Facebook or Twitter into their lesson plans with 53% of teachers reporting Facebook has negative value as a learning technology and 46% reporting the same feelings toward Twitter (Moran, 2011).  This infers higher education has not as yet embraced social media as an aspect of Pressey’s teaching machine, Habermas’ communicative actions, or Hansen, Berente, and Lyytinen’s emergent information systems .

But, while the barriers and concerns expressed by higher education regarding the use social media for teaching are understandable, Facebook and Twitter have proven their potential to draw individuals into collective public communicative actions. LinkedIn, another popular social media site, has also proven itself as a professional development networking community of organized like-minded professional that share, learn, and act together. Therefore, it can be rationally argued that social media is a form of teaching machine that can be used for social learning, facilitating public discourse, and organizing strategic, constative, normative, and dramaturgical communicative actions ( Hansen, Berente, & Lyytinen, 2009; Kirchhoff, 2014; Reinhardt, 2019; Wakefield, Warren, & Alsobrook, 2011; Warren, 2012) ).

Jennie’s Perspective

Back to the question: How does technology impact learning and communications today and what are the consequences?

America’s founding fathers determined that free and open public discourse should be constitutionally guarded rights. To me. this supports Bolton’s association of public discourse with normative communicative and collective actions that protect societies. Today, Facebook and Twitter regularly propel individuals to put aside their differences and assume a near-automatic “unself” consciousness ready to act collectively to guard and protect their widely shared beliefs (Bolton, 2005, p. 36).

So, in my opinion, are learning technologies and social media forms of teaching machines capable of imparting public, social, and academic discourse for collective actions? Absolutely.

I feel that Habermas, Bolton, and others that argue against suppression of public discourse deserve due consideration. Therefore, in closing, I stand with others much wiser than myself, that once argued :

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” (U. S. Constitution.)

I’m just sayin’ …


Benjamin, L. T. (1988). A history of teaching machines. American psychologist43(9), 703.

Bolton, R. (2005). Habermas’s theory of communicative action and the theory of social capital. Association of American Geographers, Denver, Colorado, April2.

Hansen, S., Berente, N., & Lyytinen, K. (2009). Wikipedia, Critical Social Theory, and the Possibility of Rational Discourse. Information Society25(1), 38–59.

Kirchhoff, L. (2014). Teaching Social Media: The Can-Do Guide. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited. 

Moran, M., Seaman, J., & Tinti-Kane, H. (2011). Teaching, Learning, and Sharing: How Today’s Higher Education Faculty Use Social Media. Babson Survey Research Group.

Pressey, S. L. (1927). A machine for automatic teaching of drill material. School & Society.

Reinhardt, J. (2019). Social Media in Second and Foreign Language Teaching and Learning: Blogs, Wikis, and Social Networking. Language Teaching52(1), 1–39. 

Sidney Pressey. (n.d.). Retrieved from

U. S. Constitution, Amendment 1

Wakefield, J. S., Warren, S. J., & Alsobrook, M. (2011). Learning and teaching as communicative actions: A mixed-methods Twitter study. Knowledge Management & E-Learning: An International Journal3(4), 563-584.

Warren, E. T. S. J. (2012). Learning and teaching as communicative actions: Social media as educational tool. In Using social media effectively in the classroom (pp. 112-128). Routledge.

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