TEL Communities

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TEL Communities
Definitions: Theoretical background relevant to technology facilitated social learning
Research evidence: Systematic literature reviews on the theme of technology facilitated social learning

Technology-enhanced learning and teaching in higher education

This is a review of 47 articles from a sample of technology-enhanced learning interventions in HE.

Enhanced learning imageSummary and key points

‘The term technology-enhanced learning (TEL) is used to describe the application of information and communication technologies to teaching and learning. Explicit statements about what the term is understood to mean are rare and it is not evident that a shared understanding has been developed in higher education of what constitutes an enhancement of the student learning experience.’ (p.1) Relationships are explored between the aims of TEL interventions, the evidence presented, and the ways in which enhancement is conceived. Rather than asking ‘does technology enhance learning’ a better question might be ‘how can we design technology that enhances learning, and how can we measure that enhancement?’ (p.7).

Three levels of potential benefits that TEL might bring (HEFCE, 2009):
    Efficiency – existing processes carried out in a more cost-effective, time-effective, sustainable or scalable manner.
    Enhancement – improving existing processes and the outcomes.
    Transformation – radical, positive change in existing processes or introducing new processes.

Questions guiding the  thematic analysis:
    What types of technology intervention might be connected with teaching and/or learning enhancements?
    How is enhancement conceptualised in relation to teaching and learning processes and experiences?
    What evidence is considered necessary or appropriate to demonstrate the achievement of enhancement(s)? (p.11)

Categories of analysis included: whether the studies replicated or supplemented existing practices, or whether they transformed the learning experience by providing active learning opportunities or qualitatively richer learning. The transformational category accounted for less than one third of the interventions. In the first two categories quantitative measures tended to be used, whereas the transformational category tended towards qualitative measures of learning experiences. There was a distinction between ‘doing things better’ in the first two categories, while the third goal appears to be focused on ‘doing better things’ (Reilly 2005). A question that was important for self-reporting data was whether there was a shared interpretation of ‘enhancement of learning’ between teachers and students.

Differing data collection methods of participation in online discussions or group collaborations meant that nature of the evidence varied: ‘Measures that are sensitive to the complexities of human interaction are more appropriate for gathering evidence of enhancement’ (p.24). A difficulty in analysing evidence of TEL leading to transformation of learning is the that the substantial curriculum changes meant that several variables were altered in the interventions. Although richer forms of evidence were often collected in these examples, it was acknowledged that many interrelated factors influence student learning in such ‘real’ learning contexts (Price and Richardson, 2004). In addition, published reports often provide insufficient detail about the context in which the technology is used, making it difficult to generalise across contexts. A clearer articulation of what is meant by TEL is needed and about whether the technologies were used in response to a genuine learning need.


The term TEL is often used without sufficient consideration.
The study did not reveal a substantial uptake of the transformational potential of technology.
Researchers in the field of educational technology need to explicitly state the limitations and the generalisability of their studies.

Key ideas

- There are three levels of potential benefits that TEL might bring: Efficiency, Enhancement, Transformation   
- In this review, the transformational category accounted for less than one third of the interventions
- There was a distinction between ‘doing things better’ in the first two categories, while the third goal appears to be focused on ‘doing better things’, however this is difficult to analyse because of the substantial change in practice.


HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England). 2009.Enhancing Learning and Teaching Through the Use of Technology: A Revised Approach to HEFCE’s Strategy for e-Learning. Bristol: Higher Education Funding Council for England. Accessed January 18, 2013.

Kirkwood, A. and Price, L., 2014. Technology-enhanced learning and teaching in higher education: what is ‘enhanced’ and how do we know? A critical literature review. Learning, media and technology, 39(1), pp.6-36.

Price, L., and J. T. E. Richardson. 2004. “Why Is It Difficult to Improve Student Learning?” In Improving Student Learning: Theory, Research and Scholarship, edited by C. Rust, 105–120. Oxford: The Oxford Centrefor Staff and Learning Development.
Reilly, R. 2005. “Guest Editorial – Web-Based Instruction: Doing Things Better and Doing Better Things.” IEEE Transactions on Education 48 (4): 565–566. Roberts, G. 2003. 

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