Enhanced-learning – a spatial perspective #TEL

TEL-iconI believe there is some confusion about the term technology-enhanced learning (TEL) and in general the idea of enhanced learning. In a recent post on Twitter @alejandro (12/06/18) says,

“We should be critical of ‘technology-enhanced’ learning. Default setting: technology enhances things. Does it always? Should we therefore talk about book-enhanced learning? Pencil-enhanced learning? What matters is how & why we use things, not the tech itself #FutureEdTech #LTSF18”

I would strongly agree that there needs to be a critique of the term and the way it is used, but I also believe there is a misunderstanding evident in the discussion that followed around what technology-enhanced learning means.

Before continuing let me say that I think the term is worn out, misrepresented and generally abused. Its continued use is at least unhelpful and, in terms of its use in the advocacy of academic innovation, potentially detrimental and self-defeating. Even more importantly, it is not helpful to distinguish learning with digital technology from learning in any other context – after all these years, we must see the learning space holistically and as having many facets. Until we accept this we will struggle to understand and use ideas like blended learning, hybrid or augmented learning space – ideas that are fundamental to progressing teaching and learning in higher education in this age. Academics, as learning designers, must understand and reflect on their context and be able to manipulate the facets of which it is composed, however, it is now unhelpful to set digital technology apart from any other spatial facet. This is why an examination of spaces for learning and thinking about capabilities is so useful.

We are all convinced, to use the cliche, that curriculum design should be ‘pedagogy first’. That is, teaching should be driven by the need to engage the learner and to ensure that the learner attains the desired and intended learning outcomes. Continuing to make this point of ‘pedagogy first’ only highlights that there are some people who do not get this. If that is the case I suggest you have a quiet word with them!

The implication of the current discussion is that TEL implies technological determinism (a ‘technology first’ philosophy). It doesn’t mean that. Taking a spatial perspective, enhanced learning refers to the context we create for learning; how the many facets of our learning environment create a conducive space for learning, which are ideally active and student-centred. Technology is ubiquitous, takes many forms and is part of that spatial mix.

I strongly urge that we put ideas of technology determinism to one side now – it is a ‘bad’ thing. Period. Instead, enhancement remains useful where it is understood spatially in terms of the potential to extend, improve and adapt the spaces we use to foster engagement and learning. This begins to focus us on blended learning and hybrid learning space.

This paper, shared by @BeccaMcCarter, by Sian Bayn is very helpful.


Bayne, S. (2014). What’s the matter with ‘technology-enhanced learning’?, Learning, Media and Technology, 40:1, 5-20, DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2014.915851

About Andrew Middleton

NTF, PFHEA, committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.
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