Bayne – What’s Wrong with TEL – IDEL Summary Repost

What’s the matter with ‘technology-enhanced learning’?
Learning, Media and Technology
Volume 40, 2015 – Issue 1

Pages 5-20
Sian Bayne

In this article Bayne analyses the rise of the term “Technology-Enhanced Learning (TEL)“ within the field of UK and European education. She then suggests that the coining of TEL as a neologism is more problematic than had previously been widely considered as TEL is, in her opinion, far from value free and neutral.

Bayne argues that such a critique is necessary as TEL is an inherently conservative term that does not reflect the multiplicity and complexity of digital academic practice. She draws upon postmodernist ideas on the importance of language in defining the direction and limits of thought leading her to state that by using the term TEL researchers may be preventing them from engaging properly with the relationship between education and technology.

Bayne’s evidence for the adoption of TEL as a terminology comes from three sources, firstly the incorporation of TEL in the titles of several national research programmes, individual university research units and postgraduate courses. Secondly, the use of the term TEL in public documents by other key institutions in UK HE such as the University and Colleges Information Systems Association national survey. Lastly, her own google trends frequency analysis which showed a correlation between the decline of “e-learning” as a search term and the rise of “TEL”. In order to appear more authoritative it would have been useful to have the results of the frequency analysis referenced but there is certainly enough evidence to suggest that the term is currently used widely within the UK. Bayne suggests that the term TEL remains specific to the UK and Europe however it appears to have currency in South Africa at the very least (Ng’ambi et al. 2016).

To make her critique of TEL Bayne use a different analytical framework for each word in the term to better reveal its hidden values. Bayne deems “Technology” in TEL to be vague and ill-defined concept which only seemingly exists to support existing pedagogic practice. Bayne suggests that it would be beneficial to take a critical technology studies approach, such as the work of Hamilton and Friesen (2013). This would allow us to avoid essentialist and instrumentalist fallacies with regards to technology as well as allowing to properly position technological development as a social practice.

Bayne then takes issue with the term “Enhanced” suggesting that this reveals a philosophical debt to transhumanism. Bayne posits that there are parallels between transhumanism’s refusal to interrogate the human subject in depth and TEL’s obscuring of the social factors in Education. This obfuscation prevents researchers from discussing the context of what is being “enhanced” and who the beneficiaries are. She suggests that critical posthumanism would be a better model for TEL to draw upon as we would produce a more valid account of education as an assemblage of the human and non-human.

Finally, Bayne questions TEL’s privileging of “Learning” over teaching. Bayne states that this focus on learning is misleading as technology is more often applied to teaching and administration than the aims of individual learners. She then suggests that this focus on learning is emblematic of wider educational trend that Biesta termed “learnification” (Biesta, 2012). This once again leads TEL to obscure the social context in which education happens. By using the term TEL to define the field of research little room is given for questioning the purpose and function of education, as well as the power relations that are constantly being contested.

Whilst Bayne makes a strong case that the term TEL should be treated with greater caution she does not take the next logical step and propose other terms which could stand in its place. It would be interesting to see if a more flexible, open term could be formulated. A further avenue of critique would be to pose the question whether previously popular terms such as “e-learning” were equally conservative and limiting? It is of course entirely possible that we are trapped by language and that rather than calling for a new term Bayne is aiming to promote a critical, postmodern approach amongst the readership of this journal.


Bayne S., (2015), “What’s the matter with ‘technology-enhanced learning’?”, Learning, Media and Technology, Volume 40, Issue 1

Biesta, Gert. 2012. “Giving Teaching Back to Education: Responding to the Disappearance of the Teacher.” Phenomenology & Practice 6 (2): 35–49.

Hamilton, Edward C., and Norm Friesen. 2013. “Online Education: A Science and Technology Studies Perspective.” Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology 39 (2).

Ng’ambi D., Brown C., Bozalek V., Wood D. (2016) “Technology enhanced teaching and learning in South African higher education – A rearview of a 20 year journey: 20 years reflection on technology enhanced learning”, British Journal of Educational Technology Volume 47, Issue 5