Does Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) actually enhance learning?

A few weeks ago, someone posted the following request to the ALT Mailing list that I am on:

‘…who on the list could point me to evidence of TEL enhancing learning/teaching.’

Women using a laptop, with chalkboard behindThe request kick started a very good debate and discussion about the weaknesses of research in this area, the merits of learning technology, and various other asides, and without taking this blog post down the same direction as the discussion, I want to focus purely on the wording used, and its strategic significance.

The term TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) has a clue in it’s name – in that it is where the use of technology has enhanced learning – and therefore the simple answer to the title of this blog post is ‘Yes – TEL, enhances learning’. The problem is that people use the term TEL, to describe any use of technology within education – not just the uses that enhance the learning. People that are anti progress in this area, often cite examples of negative impacts of using technology: ‘I used the interactive whiteboard, but it wasn’t calibrated, so nothing worked, I would have been better off with a whiteboard and pens’, ‘I uploaded my PowerPoints to the VLE, but no students accessed them’ etc. But these are not examples of Technology Enhanced Learning, these are simply examples of bad learning (or bad teaching if being technically correct).

Some may accuse me of getting hung up on simple semantics, or even being flippant here, but I can assure you that this post is written in up-most sincerity, and is an issue that I feel very strongly about. If we are going to use the term TEL – then we have to be prepared to differentiate the difference between good use and bad use. Yes there is a retort that ‘how can one make the judgement without empirical evidence based on academic research’ – but at the simplest level, if a tutor has used technology, and they know that it hasn’t improved the learning experience, then it wasn’t TEL – it doesn’t require research to determine that. Yes there is another possible scenario, where they think the use of technology has enhanced the learning, but in fact it hasn’t, and this is where research does come in – but the research has to avoid getting itself warped by only looking at TEL – instead it has to look at all uses of technology.

There are two main morals to this story:

  1. If organisations are going to use the term TEL as part of their strategies, objectives, etc. are they somehow able to differentiate the genuine TEL from just bad practice?
  2. If people are going to research what evidence there is that technology enhances learning/teaching – then they have to look at the wider use of technology, not just the ‘Enhancing’ use.

As usual, I expect my blog post to upset or unease a few people, but I think there is value in posts like this, which if nothing else, will make people think a little bit about the language used, and its significance.


Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/learn-school-student-mathematics-1996845/

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10 Responses

  1. An interesting post. I would just comment that Loughborough University did do some research a number of years ago and determined that retention levels were greatly increased by the use of TEL. I have seen many examples of TEL being used which is of no value at all mainly because the technology has been used mainly to duplicate already written text and no effort has been used to engage learners by the use of interactive processes; maybe because many tutors have not been instructed in how to do this.

    I have also seen many face to face learning situations which have also been useless; usually caused by poor, ill considered material delivered verbatim using flip charts or the inevitable poorly prepared PowerPoint presentation.

    I am saying that these two methods can both be of little use if the preparation and delivery is poor.

    I do believe that TEL has a very significant role in ensuring: inclusion, self paced development and safe meaningful feedback. It is in many instances not tied to a rigid time-frame.

    Just do it properly.

  2. I too am in no doubt (from first hand experience) that TEL increases retention levels, and glad that research at my local uni confirmed this. As you say there are example of use of technology which has no value – my argument here, is that they shouldn’t be called TEL, if they are not adding value.

  3. I agree and neither should teaching be called teaching if learners are not provided with well reasoned, well prepared, well managed face to face sessions. TEL does offer many advantages, even more if blended with face to face. Most of my TEL productions are for industry and commerce where a number of factors make it acceptable for instance: trackable accountability, time flexibility, easily updated, dispersed site access, CPD inclusion, etc. etc. Do find your blogs interesting and will be directing some of my clients to your site.

  4. I totally agree that the most effective option is a good blend of online and face to face. Glad you like my blog. I don’t post as often as I ought to, or would like to, but I aim for quality not quantity, and hope that my posts ask questions, if they don’t always answer them.

  5. Interesting post. The term ‘enhanced’ is loaded with values. Good old ‘educational technology’ avoids a value judgement more so than ‘e-learning’ which is also widely used.

    • The purpose of this post, is to highlight that the term ‘Technology Enhanced Learning’ is by the nature of its name adding in a judgement element (whether that is right or wrong, I won’t comment here).

  6. Technology Enhanced Learning, e-learning and also distance learning are all concepts regularly mentioned but rarely defined. I think the question is: do they all refer to the same concept or are there definable differences? I don’t know but would love to hear from people who have an opinion.

    • My next post (which I am working on at the moment) is along the lines of do we need terms at all to describe this area of work – so won’t necessarily differentiate the 3 terms you have listed, but will make for interesting reading (I hope). Hopefully out by the end of the week.

  7. Maybe we should just use the term learning or better still teaching as educators we can teach and help others to learn. Technology is just an element in the mix. Looking forward to your next post

  8. […] The terms ICT, ILT, eLearning and Learning Technology make no quality judgements about the use of technology (e.g. the use could be good, bad or indifferent), whereas the term Technology Enhanced Learning does make a judgment (e.g. it only refers to the uses that actually enhance the learning) – and this was discussed in my last blog post – Does Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) actually enhance learning? […]

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