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  Technology Enhanced Learning Overview

Roland Klemke, Open University of the Netherlands
Mikhail Fominykh, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Abstract: This chapter aims at introducing the field of technology enhanced learning (TEL) with a bird’s eye view on the whole field by looking into some of the overall approaches that we have without covering all of the different aspects that we have in this field in detail. We want to highlight some of the challenges that we are facing in TEL Further, we want to focus on the typical “entry situation” that new PhD candidates find when they approach their PhD research in TEL, given that TEL is an interdisciplinary field, where ideas, approaches and methods from various fields come together and potentially collide.

What is TEL - definitions

The term Technology-Enhanced Learning (TEL) was coined in the context of working groups initiated by the European Commission in 2000. It is now broadly used to designate “a field of research aiming at improving learning by integrating current technologies and designing innovative ones(Bourdeau & Balacheff, 2014). According to Kirkwood and Price, the term has been used since around 2005 to describe a research focus concentrating on the impact of technology on learning (Kirkwood & Price, 2014). While TEL is a standing term in European research, sometimes its related expressions are preferred internationally, such as Educational Technology, Digital Education, and Learning Engineering.

Interdisciplinarity of TEL

All terms and definitions recognize the need of epistemic fluency to facilitate interdisciplinary dynamics, in which participating professionals have “the capacity to understand, switch between, and combine different kinds of knowledge and different ways of knowing” (Lina Markauskaite, 2016). TEL is an interdisciplinary field that connects Computer Science with the Learning Sciences, Psychology, and other Social Sciences, Humanities, or Engineering Sciences (Meyer et al., 2013), (Tchounikine, 2011), (Kalz & Specht, 2014).

According to Conole et al., Kalz & Specht and Scanlon & Taylor, the research focus of TEL has led to interdisciplinary perspectives integrating theories and methods (Conole et al., 2010), (Kalz & Specht, 2014), (Scanlon & Taylor, 2016). Pammer-Schindler et al. describes TEL research as an intersection of Learning Sciences, Educational Psychology, and Computer Science, investigating interventions based on digital technologies in education and training settings (Pammer-Schindler et al., 2020).

TEL as a field of study and research

The term TEL has not only been used to describe a research domain, it has also been the foundation for a number of higher education study programs (Orey & Branch, 2017). This landscape has been characterized as continuously changing (Dennen & Spector, 2007), (Spector, 2015). A systematic analysis of master study programs in TEL found that their curricula rely on subjects of educational sciences and management of TEL in an organization, while the share of technological subjects is relatively small (Fominykh et al., 2022).

TEL in practice and digitalization

The term TEL also refers to a learning activity when it is supported by technology in practice. Such practical application of TEL has become known as digitalization of education that is implemented on all levels across Europe. However, digitalization trends are diverse, rapidly changing, and often without a clear application idea for practice. Thus, educators continue traditional forms of teaching. Often no sufficient consideration is made of the long-term consequences that investments in technology entail. There is thus an increased need for experts in TEL covering pedagogical expertise on using technologies for learning, technological expertise in designing technologies for learning, and strategic expertise in policy making and change management at institutional and societal levels. These TEL experts thus need “the capacity to understand, switch between, and combine different kinds of knowledge and different ways of knowing(Lina Markauskaite, 2016).

Why doctoral education in TEL is needed

Digitalisation requires pedagogical expertise on using and technological expertise in designing technologies for learning, and strategic expertise in policy making and change management. However, stakeholders currently lack combined knowledge from all three perspectives, on how to strategically drive and operationally implement digitalisation of learning and training, envision innovative technologies for learning, and rigorous methods to create evidence for the effectiveness and efficiency of technologies as part of socio-technical interventions. Such expertise is required at all levels and at all types of organizations. There is also a growing, recognised understanding by all relevant stakeholders from EU policy makers to local schools that the potential of technologies with respect to learning is to provide ubiquitous access to learning materials,and an engaging, personalized and scalable learning experience.

Doctoral education in TEL aims to develop such expertise in doctoral candidates. It provides knowledge from multiple relevant perspectives and allows taking empirically-based decisions in implementing TEL solutions in practice.

Technology enhanced learning: how do we approach it?

Further in this chapter, we will explore two problem areas: the TEL field itself and its research approaches. The essence of this section is also available as a recording of a webinar organized in 2021.

We will use the keywords technology, learning, and enhanced and the corresponding abbreviations T, L, and E as a guideline throughout this chapter. We will look at them in different orders and this order matters. Technology and learning are typically quite clear, as they refer to disciplinary approaches from e.g. computer science or educational sciences. We do not yet really know what the enhancement is about from a research perspective.

TEL overlap

Problem area 1: TEL field itself

Interdisciplinarity vs individual background

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the field, people working and researching in TEL usually either have a technological background in computer science or related fields, or they come from educational science related fields. Some people are rather on the “T”-side, others are on the “L”-side. The mysterious field in the middle is something that we need to look into. So what is happening here? What does “enhance” mean?

As TEL is a field where we work in an interdisciplinary manner, we combine aspects of technology with aspects of learning: theories, technologies, innovation, ideas, concepts, research methods and approaches.

At the same time, TEL covers emerging fields and rather traditional fields, which comprise e.g.: how do design online learning and assessment? How do we use artificial intelligence for online learning? How do we use augmented & virtual reality? How do we structure learning materials to keep them motivating, to keep them attractive, to have interaction in online learning?