Bayne – What’s wrong with TEL – Notes


Tech Enhanced Learning is not a neutral term. It has biases. This paper explores them.


TEL is a UK specific term. Evidence for it’s usuage – google trend shows uptick. Loads of unis establishing TEL centres and offering degrees that have TEL in the name. Funding bodies and projects use the term (UK research council). There is TEL journals, it’s used in nationwide uni surveys.


HEFCE and UCISA in favour of a notion of ‘TEL’ which is claimed by one to be ‘more explicit’ about the enhancement value of technology (UCISA 2008 UCISA (Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association). 2008. “2008 Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning for Higher Education in the UK.” and by the other to be ‘less narrowly defined’ than the previously dominant term ‘e-learning’ (HEFCE 2009 HEFCE. 2009. “Enhancing Learning and Teaching through the Use of Technology: A Revised Approach to HEFCE’s Strategy for e-Learning.”


2013 Kirkwood, Adrian, and Linda Price. 2013. “Technology-Enhanced Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: What is ‘Enhanced’ and How Do We Know? A Critical Literature Review.” Learning, Media and Technology. doi:10.1080/17439884.2013.770404[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®],

Kirkwood approach empirical literature review

Tech enhances in 3 ways 1.) Operational – more flexibility in teaching styles

2.) Quantitative – improves scores

3.) Qualitative – makes students happier



Term is too neutral. Terms are important as they help decide the direction of a field.

Doesn’t do justice to the disruptiveness of the digital in the academy.

What’s wrong with technology:

When tech is ever clearly defined it’s always seen as “supportive”. By doing this Tech gets “black boxed” and cut off from social usage. Technology studies no longer ignore social usage so EdTech studies shouldn’t either.

This see’s tech as instrumentalist.

i.e. it contains no biases or values. It’s neutral and can be used unproblematically for whatever ends the user decided

Tech is essentialist.

i.e. tech embodies essential qualities. KEY PHRASE “harnessing technology”


The rising popularity of ‘TEL’ as a phrase can perhaps be partly explained by the alluring and efficient neatness of its division of the social and the technological, and by the reduction of their complex entanglements to a clear relation of subordination: technology can be utilised to enhance pre-existing personal and societal educational objectives (instrumentalism); equally ‘learning’ can be transformed by the immanent pedagogical value of certain technologies simply by allowing itself to be open to them (essentialism).

Don’t ask – how can tech make education better. Instead ask – what do we want education to be? How can current tech be used to fulfil those values?

What’s wrong with enhance:

“enhance” is inherently conservative. Means no radical change.

It hides a problematic link with transhumanism i.e. Education is to enhance brain processes and output.

This needs to be debated. Do we want enhancement? Equality of access to enhancement?

The term enhancement is entirely contextual. A judgement is needed to see if something is getting better. It cannot be assumed.

(What is transhumanism? The primary concerns of the transhumanist worldview are with the perpetuation of the humanistic values of rationality, autonomy, dominance over ‘nature’ and human perfectibility via technological enhancement and the power of scientific progress

This leads to capitalism, patriarchy, colonialism.

Posthumanism critiques all this. It denies a universal “core of humanity”. Everything is mediated through history and social experience.)

As Thacker (2003 Thacker, E. 2003. “Data made Flesh: Biotechnology and the Discourse of the Posthuman.” Cultural Critique 53 (Winter): 72–97. doi:10.1353/cul.2003.0029[CrossRef], [CSA]) points out, such a view is blind to the ‘ways in which technologies are themselves actively involved in shaping the world’


A critical posthumanist position on technology and education would see the human neither as dominating technology nor as being dominated by it. Rather it would see the subject of education itself as being performed through a coming together of the human and non-human, the material and the discursive. It would not see ‘enhancement’ as a feasible proposition, in that enhancement depends on maintaining a distinction between the subject/learner being enhanced and the object/technology ‘doing’ or ‘enabling’ the enhancement. And where ‘enhancement’ discourses have a tendency to decontextualise – to fail to interrogate in which contexts, and for whom, ‘enhancement’ is desirable – a critical posthumanist position would be committed to a detailed account of the social and political ecologies and networks through which technological innovation is performed.


What’s wrong with learning?

Most of the time the tech is being applied to teaching not learning.

to reduce ‘education’ to ‘learning’ prevents us from asking critical questions about how educational goals are negotiated and how its power relations are constituted

This makes education instrumental.

fails to take account of the fact that ‘a major reason for engaging in education is precisely to find out what it is that one actually needs’