The challenge in choice of terminology

Bayne, S. (2015). intertwines with similar themes as the paper I critiqued, namely Hamilton, E., and Friesen, N. (2013). While Friesen looks at the approaches to research in the relationship between technology and education, Bayne raises some another difficulty (and one that could be argued that contributes to the same blinkered viewpoint) in the term ‘Technology-Enhanced Learning’, or TEL for short. Indeed when reviewing one, it’s difficult to not look at them as a pair, or at least with common concerns about research, discussion and labels in this area.

A couple of key themes I took from the paper were:

  • ‘TEL’ is intended as a rather broad description, yet despite being intended as quite an innocuous and neutral tag, actually has some significant repercussions.
  • Much like Friesen suggests with the constructivist approach (vs essentialist or instrumentalist), there’s a richness in the social, historical and intertwined aspects of TEL that this fails to capture. Bayne argues this is as a result of the each of the descriptors in turn – Technology, Enhancement and Learning.

Given these recent readings (and the others suggested as part of week 4), it seems there are some really intense debates going on, which can only be healthy! My view is they could be seen as ‘growing pains’, and it seems to me that these important challenges to current ways of thinking are particularly pertinent given the current pace of change. I guess the challenge is can the research keep up with this pace, particularly if any changes as a result of these arguments may require time to gain traction and be adopted by the community?

Going back to Bayne’s core argument, that TEL fails to capture the complexity of the situation, does strike a chord with my current professional work. We hear a variety of terms being bandied about – elearning (with and without the hyphen!), online learning, online courses, digital learning – all with their own history, connotations and reason for being.

Heading up a commercial organisation, we often find ourselves having to use the language our customers use (externally at least). We can contribute to influence change with our choice of terminology, but the pragmatic aspects of being able to found online for the search terms our customers are using and also finding common ground in conversations mean we could actually be part of the issue here, rather than the solution! It’s very much a vicious circle however, as Bayne quite rightly points out that terms such as TEL (or elearning or online training) create pre-ordained expectations before conversations actually begin.

I certainly recognise many of the themes in Biesta, G. (2012) in my professional practice, the ‘learnification’ of education in particular. This really struck a chord. This ‘student-centerness’ is prevalent in the circles I work in, and this could be driven by the efficiency angles referenced in many of the recent readings.

This quote resonated, that is referenced in Bayne:

that is, a transaction in which (i) the learner is the (potential) consumer, the one who has certain needs, in which (ii) the teacher, the educator, or the educational institution becomes the provider, that is, the one who is there to meet the needs of the learner, and where (iii) education itself becomes a commodity to be provided or delivered by the teacher or educational institution and to be consumed by the learner. (Biesta, 2005)

Perhaps the very commercial nature of the training/learning (whatever you want to frame it as) I’m involved in is helping to drive this. The lack of human tutoring (much of the training we’re involved in is asynchronous knowledge transfer), and therefore reduced costs is seen as a way of delivering cost-effectively at scale, but ultimately at what price to the student’s experience (and overall impact of the training itself)?