The SAMR Model at the Substitution Level


General Overview of SAMR:

SAMR is a model developed by Dr. Ruben R. Puentedura to frame the use of technology in the classroom/learning environment. SAMR stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition.

  • SUBSTITUTION: Technology acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change.
  • AUGMENTATION: Technology acts as a direct tool substitute, with functional improvement.
  • MODIFICATION: Technology allows for significant task redesign.
  • REDEFINITION: Technology allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.

The SAMR Model was introduced by Ruben Puentedura in 2006 in collaboration with the Maine Department of Education and their learning technology initiative. The model describes the life cycle of technology integration. It is a good framework to refer to when reflecting on how well we use technology to enhance learning.

For more information on the SAMR model in general, visit Dr. Ruben R. Puentedura’s blog at:

The Substitution Level:


At the Substitution level of SAMR, technology is acting as a direct tool substitute. Substitution is the first, and most basic level of bringing technology into the classroom. You can think of Substitution as a basic tool upgrade. While it can save the teacher and student considerable time, it is a low level of technology use and student engagement. Most current instructors embrace and utilize the Substitution level, as much as possible. Smart phones, tablets, desktop computers, web sites and software can go a long way to help instructors save time, and have a more meaningful interaction with their students.

Here are some examples of Substitution in the classroom that I brainstormed:

  • Using Word or Google Docs, instead of writing an assignment
  • Using Powerpoint or Keynote, instead of verbal presentation
  • Sketching on a computer, instead of on paper
  • Reading a paper or book on a device, instead of a printed book
  • Taking a quiz online, rather than printed
  • Coloring in the United States online, rather than a coloring book
  • Watching a video of sports instruction, rather than watching an instructor in person
  • Journaling in a Google doc, rather than writing in a paper journal
  • Taking notes on an iPad, rather than on paper
  • Emailing an assignment, rather than handing it in physically

For more ideas on how SAMR can be implemented through all four steps, check out this blog posting:

Pushback/Discrediting of the Substitution Level:

It has been suggested that Substitution, being the most basic application of technology to learning, can be lacking in student engagement and use of technology. Embracers of the SAMR model strive to move up the ladder in their use of technology in the classroom. The ultimate goal being to apply the Redefinition level within their learning environments. Conversely, I feel that simple technological substitutions in the classroom are not only crucial in this day and age, but of great value to both the teacher and the learner.

Here are some reasons why the Substitution level is a powerful tool in education:

  • Reduces the carbon footprint, by reducing and/or eliminating paper and ink
  • Makes the material accessible globally
  • Saves time and resources for both student and instructor
  • It’s the easiest level for the instructor to implement, and the student to participate with
  • Students and instructors are familiar with this phase of SAMR, and it therefore provides a strong foundation upon which to build the learning process

While I chose to explore the Substitution level of SAMR, here are other links that will explain the other three steps of SAMR (Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition).

For more information on each step:

  1. I love your blog about the substitution process! I found your ideas for the classroom to be interesting and helpful. This year I have recently started to use google forms to give my math tests. It has been a wonderful way to track student growth and incorporate technology into the classroom. I then use a google add on “Flubaroo” that will grade the responses for me. It has greatly reduced the amount of copies I have been making. I had never thought about having students keep a journal online but what a great idea! I think students would be more engaged if the journal was online where they could add descriptive photos to help aid their writing. I hope to be able to email out homework assignments in the future but as of now many of my students do not have internet connection at home or access to technology.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Allie, I’d bet that the Flubaroo element would be taking it up one level to Augmentation. The more that you can utilize technology to improve your students educational experience, while not taking away from your lesson, the better! Can your students take their laptops home? Or do they need to reside in the classroom? I’m eager for the day that high speed wifi becomes a “right.” Many cities and schools are currently embracing this practice. I read a really good article about this earlier today:


  2. Great overview of the SAMR model and Substitution. I loved that you presented the pros and cons of substitution. Those that suggest that engagement is lower at the substitution level makes me wonder if it really is? Smart phones, tablets, computers, Google Docs and other software don’t necessarily decrease engagement compared to the prior way of getting the task done. I remember when presentations were done with overhead projectors and transparencies. This method was substituted with digital slides (Keynote, PowerPoint). This substitution actually increased engagement because of new visual options and dynamic text options. However, on the other had, your example, watching a video of sports instruction, rather than watching an instructor in person may in fact impact learner engagement. I would think the in-person experience would be more engaging. Interesting topic and food for thought as we practice and experiment with learning technologies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the response! Actually, I would argue that for some, watching a video tutorial on sports is better than in person. I have a hearing impairment, and learned to ski mainly via a phone app called ski school. I paid instructors to teach me in person. But once I’m on the slopes, I can’t hear any of their instructions. So I watch videos on the app (while on the mountain even), and practice what I just saw demonstrated. One example that would support your argument, would be my experience learning golf. Since it’s a “quiet” sport, and since I pay for one-on-one lessons, I can hear the instructor and apply the learning immediately. I did try to take group lessons one summer, and had zero improvement in my game.


      1. Great point. All models should be evaluated in relation to the learners needs. Substitution seems to be the first point of consideration for educators to evaluate as we constantly seek ways to best leverage technology to enhance the learning experience


  3. I think it’s easy to see how ‘substitution’ is valuable. Simply because we apply a progressive model, like SAMR, shouldn’t mean we discredit substitution applications. In many ways, ‘substitution’ represents a small fraction of how tech is applied and the same technology traverses the SAMR model up and down. For example, Google docs could be used for writing a paper, but it could also be used to create a collaborative live document, shared with select others or anyone who has the link. The Google doc could also be reviewed and commented by an instructor, mentor, or person of expertise outside of the typical course setting. The ability for this same tech to be ‘open,’ collaborative, and formative means there is potential for it to move into the realms of ‘augmentation,’ and ‘modification.’ In effect, ‘substitution’ is a necessary gateway to a broader use of tech.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your thoughts! It is in fact a gateway to the broader use of technology in the classroom. My argument would be that sometimes the Substitution level is quite enough, and there would be no reason to move up the level in the SAMR model. For example, a lack of funding, a lack of teacher knowledge on technology, a lack of time to learn and implement the technology, rural/not connected classrooms. I fully embrace the highest use of technology, and thoroughly enjoy learning new technology, but I know that many do not feel the same way. I think that as time progresses, the hesitant teachers will have no choice but to embrace technology, and all that it can do to enhance their classrooms and their student’s learning processes.


  4. I like your special focus on Substitution – it’s usually dismissed as no worth doing. Two questions to consider:
    1. Is there ever a true substitution where the task doesn’t change at all? Seems like changing a technology is always going to change the task somewhat – e.g., Google Docs or MS Word instead of writing long-hand – some significant cognitive difference there.
    2. SAMR seems to say that tech usage MOST different from traditional practice is inherently better. What if the original practice is awesome? Does it have to be transformed? You seem to be appreciate of Substitutions – are they really “basic” and “simple” – is that okay? In other words, the model seems unreasonably biased toward technology.


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