Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What's in a name? Why call it Technology Enhanced Learning?

What is now commonly called technology enhanced learning has gone by many names in the past including e-learning, online learning, blended learning and I am sure that there must be others that I no longer remember.

Names are important, at least names for things, because they tell us something about that thing.  So lets look at these names and see what they say to me, and maybe why they were chosen and why they were subsequently dropped.  No doubt technology enhanced learning (TEL) will eventually be replaced by something else for a perfectly good reason too.

The first name I remember was e-learning, and that was never a name I liked.  The focus is on it being different from "real" learning.  e was all the vogue at the time.  e (always lower case for some reason or other) was for everything.  e was for new and e was about replacing the current with new business models and destroying the old.  At the time a wrote a short piece (e-learning, b*****-learning and f*****-learning or what is wrong with e-learning) which poked fun at the idea by comparing e-learning with b-learning and f-learning which were the real thing.  they were book-learning and face-to-face learning.  Neither perhaps particularly well named, but it made for the nice b**** and f****.   

Online learning was no better that e-learning, and in some ways I think even worse, as what happened to offline, but at computer, learning? In those days there were lots of CD-ROMs (as we called them) and DVDs as an easy way to distribute content.  Now, there are plenty of e-books, podcasts downloaded for offline listening etc etc.  So, again it suggests that it is something different from "real" learning, and that it something that has to be done online.

Blended learning was all the rage for a while, but really (almost) all learning these days is blended.  The proportion and ways in which technology and non-technology learning and teaching are very variable from mostly work in classrooms with little use of computers to mostly online distance courses with very little of the teaching not being mediated by technology.  At that point blended learning comes to mean very little.  Blended between what and what? and for what purpose.  To me it always sounded a bit mushy (put it all the blender and out comes baby food or soup).

Technology enhanced learning is a big improvement.  We have learning, as before but we are about enhancing it through the use of technology.  I have seen some people complain about the word technology coming first, but learning enhanced by technology is really not going to work (for a start it is in the passive voice).  So, it says what we are trying to do. Although, I do accept that some people might want something more like technology transformed learning, which may perhaps be what the next name relates to.  On the other hand, the focus might move towards teaching (but I doubt it) and it might be technology enhanced teaching.

1 comment:

amberthomas said...

Agreed! I like the "TEL" label because it includes classroom technologies like lecture capture and personal response systems etc: its starting point isn't online, it's more holistic.