Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Deficiencies in Current TEL Models

In my opinion, the failures of current Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) models basically result from the heavy emphasis on:

  • Knowledge as a thing.
  • Learning as a predetermined process.
  • TEL as a technology issue.

Knowledge as a Thing

Current TEL approaches are following a static and predefined representation of knowledge and are mainly focusing on content delivery. The view of knowledge as an object that can be stored and reused makes that what is presented as learning management is simply content management under a new label. Content, however, represents only one side of the knowledge equation, namely the information side. Information is explicit knowledge that is easily expressed, captured, stored and reused. In the KM literature, there is wide recognition that explicit knowledge represents only the tip of the iceberg. Only a small fraction of valuable knowledge is explicit and there is a huge mass of high-quality knowledge embedded in people, which is not easily expressible and cannot be recorded in a codified form. This hard-to-articulate knowledge is what Polanyi called tacit knowledge.

Furthermore, capturing and storing knowledge as reusable learning objects in centralized repositories makes that knowledge can be isolated from its context. In the KM literature, it has already been pointed out that knowledge is context sensitive. Nonaka & Konno (1998), for instance, point out that "knowledge is embedded in ba" (p. 40); i.e. the shared space or context. "If knowledge is separated from ba, it turns into information" (p. 41).

Learning as a Predetermined Process

Traditional LMS-driven TEL approaches share the view according to which learning is regarded as a process limited by the duration of the semester or term. The view of learning as a semester-bound process conflicts with the nature of learning. Learning is continuous and fluid and cannot be reduced to a process with clearly defined beginning and end.

Moreover, current TEL solutions share a primary focus on the automation of the learning process. A strong emphasis has often been placed on how to control, centralize, and standardize the learning process using technology. The view of learning as an institution-controlled process has led to the development of instructional design specifications that aim to describe a learning flow in a standardized manner, such as IMS Learning Design (IMS-LD).

The automation of the learning process fails to address the complex and uncertain dimensions of knowledge and learning. The learning process cannot be reduced to a string of predetermined processes. It rather emerges through a series of processes that cannot be predicted or anticipated. Organizing the learning process into units with predefined content and learning outcomes is a clear view of learning as a linear process. The linearity of the institution-controlled learning process is not well adjusted to describing what is actually going on in learning in a world of radical discontinuous change. In each new context, learning is a unique process and is the result of emergent processes that do not follow any particular order.

TEL as a Technology Issue

TEL has been often perceived as merely a technological solution to support and supplement institution-led instruction. Consequently, a significant amount of attention has been placed on implementing repositories to capture, store, manage and reuse learning objects and developing platforms to control and automate the learning process.

There is much evidence that current TEL approaches use technology to increase the efficiency of existing practices rather than to improve the effectiveness of the learning experience.

The LMS is designed with the primary focus on management and control and is driven by the needs of the educational institution. LMS-driven TEL solutions follow a one-size-fits-all approach and suffer from an inability to give learners the opportunity to contribute to the learning process in significant ways, and to satisfy the heterogeneous needs of many learners. Similarly, current TEL 2.0 solutions continue to privilege the teacher/institution, rather than the learner, as the central element in the learning experience. These solutions share a common emphasis on how to best integrate the emergent Web 2.0 technologies into the learning process without influencing the traditional pedagogical principles and policies imposed by formal educational institutions. The result is that technology is often applied in the existing institutional context of learning controlled by the institution and organized into courses with preselected tasks, prescribed tools, and predetermined learning outcomes.

In sum, current TEL models, driven by technology-push, might make the learning experience faster or cheaper but not necessarily better. They aim at efficiency (i.e. doing the thing right) rather than effectiveness (i.e. doing the right thing). They use technology primarily to make the traditional institution-centric learning model more efficient. This model, however, remains untestable, unchallenged, and consequently unchanged.


Nonaka, I., & Konno, N. (1998). The concept of “ba”: Building a foundation for knowledge creation. California Management Review, 40(3), 40–54.

1 comment:

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