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Communication, Media & Learning Technologies Design

In the Department of Mathematics, Science & Technology

Program Description

Communication, Media, and Learning Technologies Design (CMLTD) provides a cluster of degree programs for students who seek to develop leadership capacities in the use of information and communication technologies in education and society. The program applies to all subject areas and serves students, staff, and faculty members who share a commitment as educators to use digital technologies to improve education at all levels. Work through CMLTD should move simultaneously toward two poles of understanding and practice: toward a comprehensive understanding of the cultural and historical implications of new technologies for education and life, and toward purposefully selecting and shaping the uses of new media in educational practice at all levels and subject areas. 

Communication, Media, and Learning Technologies Design aims to prepare students to deal with both present and future implications of new media and to play a constructive role in shaping the educational response to innovations in information and communication technologies. The CMLTD Program encompasses the use of new media broadly in modern educational and public service arenas, including video, computer-based media, digital and non-digital game-based learning, and the role of communication and media in society from an historical and modern perspective. 

CMLTD’S programs deal with the many ways in which material culture changes and shapes educational practice. Listed are current assumptions about the long-term effects that innovations in information, communication, and game technologies are having on education and culture. Work through CMLTD should lead faculty and students to study, criticize, develop, and extend propositions such as these:

  • With emerging intellectual demands and conditions, activities contributing to the creation of knowledge will increase in relative value, while those devoted solely to its dissemination will decrease.
  • When changes in information and communication technologies transform the ways people create, disseminate, and apply knowledge, deep changes in educational practices occur.
  • Educational institutions, including schools of education, will undergo prolonged change and significant transformation, occasioned by changes in the media of intellectual production.
  • Literacy practices will become more central to active participation in information networks and modern life.
  • Preservice education will need to focus more on the active integration of Information Communication Technologies or ICTS into pedagogy and research.
  • As digital information and communication technologies become more accessible, the separation of schools and higher education into two, largely distinct, educational cultures will markedly diminish.
  • Campuses will remain important foci of intellectual activity, while participation in them will become more flexible via networks supporting asynchronous, distributed involvement.
  • Specialists in education will need to work closely with scholars, scientists, and professionals to embed powerful learning experiences in digital technology for advancing knowledge.
  • Increasingly, educators will de-emphasize imparting a static stock of information and ideas and will instead seek to enable all people to contribute to the advancement of knowledge.
  • Demand for highly skilled educators will increase and preparing them will largely be a field-based engagement in situations where students interact with new knowledge resources.
  • Schools and other educational institutions will increase in public importance, and the educating professions will increasingly become high-tech and high-prestige professions.
  • Changes in information, games, and communication technologies will resuscitate the progressive movement in education, enabling it to be both broadly egalitarian and intellectually rigorous.

CMLTD aims to prepare students to deal with both present and future implications of new media and to play a constructive role in shaping the educational response to innovations in information and communication technologies including mobile devices and augmented reality and cloud computing. Although these concerns are common to all three programs, each has distinct nuances with respect to methods and purpose:

  • Communication relies primarily on social science inquiry to understand, interpret, and shape how information and communication technologies influence culture and education, including areas such as literacy and teacher education.
  • Design and Development of Digital Games works with computer information systems to facilitate the effective extension of digital technologies into educational practice. This strand includes within it an online masters program that can be completed by students who live too far away to attend classes during the regular academic year.
  • Instructional Technology and Media concentrates on the creation and application of innovative technologies, guided by a research tradition grounded in pedagogy and cognitive science, in order to make new media work as powerful tools for study and teaching.

Across the three programs, students and faculty members engage in research, development, theory, and application. All three programs put a high priority on group work; fieldwork and internships; and planning, implementing, and completing innovative projects. Schools, computer companies, businesses, and other agencies are normally partners in projects, providing environments, materials, personnel, or opportunities for carrying them out. The Center for Technology and School Change (www.tc.columbia.edu/ctsc/) and the Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (ctl.columbia.edu) work closely with CMLTD faculty members and students and provide a wide range of internship and fieldwork opportunities. The resources of the Games Research Lab are also available to students and faculty in CMLTD (www.tc.columbia.edu/games-research-lab). Short video segments of several CMLTD faculty members and students talking about their courses and interests are found through the CMLTD program website (www.tc.columbia.edu/mathematics-science-and-technology/communication-media-and-learning-technologies-design).


The program in Communication prepares students for various roles:

  • Teaching and research positions in higher education;
  • Working in schools using information and communication technologies to improve educational practice;
  • Conducting formative and evaluative research in the areas of educational media and information technologies, in and out of school settings and across subject areas;
  • Designing innovations in the use of new media for educational purposes; and
  • Working in business and government settings to design and implement corporate communication programs. 

The program uses methods of the social sciences, encompassing both qualitative and quantitative approaches to the study of communication and education. It asks in particular how education and other social systems change under the impact of new media. Faculty members and students pursue three broad areas of inquiry, enabling them to: 

  • Reflect on the historical effects of media and on the cultural uses of developments such as face-to-face speech, writing, printing, photography, film, radio, television, computers, and networked multimedia;
  • Use anthropological and linguistic methods to study how the diverse forms of communication, literacy, information processing, and cognition condition educational practice; 
  • Explore the effects of media, including games, on social relations, and develop strategies for using information and communications technologies to improve conditions of education and life.

In the course of completing a degree, students should expect to attend closely to both technical artifacts and human activity: that is, both to material systems of communication in which technologies are the primary interest and to interpersonal, direct communication dynamics in which unmediated face-to-face exchanges are the subject of inquiry. A major theme for continuous reflection should be the diverse ways in which the modes of communication condition meanings that are actually and potentially communicated—whether in face-to-face conversation, through distance learning technologies, or through societies that are created in virtual worlds.

Design and Development of Digital Games

Students who complete the master’s program in Design and Development of Digital Games take positions in:

  • Schools, as computer coordinators or teachers using advanced technologies in the classroom;
  • New media companies, developing software and multimedia applications for education, training, and gaming environments; and
  • Academic computer centers, corporate information services, and in education departments at the federal, state, and local levels, managing the integration of information and communication technologies into schools.

Instructional Technology and Media

Students who have earned degrees in Instructional Technology and Media find positions in education, government, and industry. Some continue to work within formal education, as teachers, researchers, or administrators on the elementary, secondary, or college level. Others work in training and development departments in business or government agencies. An increasing number work as independent professionals in a variety of settings such as educational service, production consulting, and publishing. Still others have established themselves as researchers, designers, and producers for innovative multimedia projects. 

The World Wide Web and related technologies have lowered the costs of distance learning programs greatly while increasing their flexibility. Through Instructional Technology and Media, faculty members and students join to develop the skills needed to make full use of the new opportunities in distance and distributed learning.

In recent years, students in the program have made four questions paramount: 

  • Which emerging technologies hold greatest promise for enriching learning experiences throughout the educational enterprise?
  • What pedagogical strategies should designers embody in instructional materials, including those based on multimedia and those reflected in gaming environments? 
  • How should educators deploy, manage, and evaluate information and communication technologies in classrooms for optimal educational effect?
  • What principles of design and practice should educators incorporate into distributed educational courses and programs?

Participants in the three CMLTD program areas share a basic conviction that good design in educative matters starts with careful attention to the needs and characteristics of the individuals that the design will serve. For example, the ability to understand the individual through empirical research and empathic engagement will make the design of instructional technology not only technically proficient but educationally valuable as well. In all, this attention to the individual in society and culture defines the technological humanism we seek through all components of the programs in CMLTD — a humanism that combines the use of sophisticated technology with humane commitments for guiding purposes.