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Advance HE Scotland Thematic Series: Technology-Enhanced Learning (TEL)

The Advance HE (AHE) Scotland Thematic Series focuses on specific learning and teaching themes. It brings together existing select AHE and non-AHE resources and sources new case studies of practice. It aims to guide practitioners to relevant material and experiences to support them in developing their own teaching practice. The theme for this series is Technology-enhanced learning (TEL).

This Thematic Series resource is an output of the Advance HE Scottish National Priority Plan. 

The aim of the Thematic Series are to strengthen core academic capabilities of staff through the sharing of effective practice and focused theory, and to support institutional enhancement of learning and teaching, complementing and further building on their existing in-house work. Topics are identified by the Scottish sector, and resources are authored and curated by colleagues from Scottish institutions and aim to guide practitioners to relevant material and experiences to support them in developing their own teaching practice.


  • Dr Vicki Dale, CMALT SFHEA, Senior Academic and Digital Development Adviser, University of Glasgow
  • Professor Jo-Anne Murray, PFHEA, Professor of Educational Innovation and Assistant Vice-Principal (Digital Education), University of Glasgow
  • Professor Frank Coton, Vice Principal (Academic Planning & Technological Innovation), University of Glasgow
  • Professor Moira Fischbacher-Smith, PFHEA, Vice-Principal (Learning & Teaching), University of Glasgow
  • Mr Liam Brady, Vice President Education, Students Representative Council, University of Glasgow
  • Mr Nigel Hutchins, Learning Materials Development Coordinator, University of Glasgow


  • Senior management within the University of Glasgow for encouraging and supporting innovation in digital education, academic staff and students for their contributions as dedicated teachers and learners, and learning technology and academic development colleagues who have enabled this work
  • Colleagues in Arizona State University for allowing us to share their experiences of, and aspirations for, digital education.

Technology-enhanced learning (TEL)

Technology-enhanced learning (TEL) can be defined as any form of digital education either in or outside a physical classroom, to support active student learning. 

As well as fully online distance education, TEL includes blended learning. Garrison and Kanuka (2004, p.96-7) define blended learning as the “thoughtful integration of classroom face-to-face learning experiences with online learning experiences”, acknowledging that this approach leads to a reduction in face-to-face contact (Graham, Woodfield and Harrison, 2013), especially where that contact time has traditionally been used for didactic information transmission.

TEL puts students at the heart of learning, teaching and assessment, giving them flexibility and control over their learning, facilitated by considerate educators who offer their students opportunities for authentic, deep learning and application of knowledge through problem-solving. While there may be a need to induct students and staff into such new ways of digital learning, teaching and assessment, the outcome should be an enhanced learner experience and learning outcomes, an improved teaching experience, and a positive institutional reputation with a global reach.

Student considerations

In this video, Liam Brady, VP Education, Students Representative council at the University of Glasgow, talks about the student perspective on TEL.

Digital literacies

There is an assumption that all students enter tertiary education as the digitally literate ‘net generation’ who have expectations of an increasingly digital university. While this may be true for some students, many students enter university or college with less confidence in using institutional technologies to support their learning, regardless of their engagement with smart devices and social media for personal purposes. There is therefore a need to appropriately induct students into using technology for their learning. It is acknowledged that the typical ‘fresher’s week’ activities on arrival at campus are overwhelming, with various clubs and societies promoting their activities alongside attempts by various academic support units to orientate students in using their services. At the same time, distance learners are often left out of this social whirlwind, and may feel comparatively isolated as a result. For this reason, it is important that all new students, whether on-campus or online have an induction to introduce them to the types of educational technologies they are likely to use during their studies. In the case of distance learners, this induction is crucial since all their learning will be done online. Thus, it is recommended that online distance learners have an induction period (usually a week) dedicated to using learning technologies effectively, alongside an academic induction.

Independent and personalised learning

As well as learning to use technologies effectively to support their learning, not all students may be comfortable with the idea of learning independently, which TEL strives to encourage. It is therefore important to have conversations with your students at an early stage to align staff and student perspectives about students’ responsibility for their own learning. For example, if introducing a flipped classroom, students are required to complete activities online before coming to class where they will engage in higher level discussions and problem-solving. Thus, it is important to ensure that learners know that they will be expected to complete the pre-session work, and what that work involves. The flipped classroom model often takes time for students to appreciate the benefits, there can be some initial scepticism around the lack of face-to-face lectures; however, once the students begin to realise the benefits of using the face-to-face time to apply, discuss and collaborate on their learning both their perception of this approach and their course/programme outcomes are improved. The use of digital approaches can also help personalise the learning experience even in very large class sizes. Adaptive learning, for example, is an educational approach that uses computer algorithms to deliver personalised resources and learning activities to support the unique needs of each learner (see the 'International Perspectives' section of this resource).

Digital equity

It is also often assumed that students all have access to smart phones or personal devices, such as tablets and laptops, which may not always be the case. Therefore, institutions need to provide equality of opportunity to students to avoid digital exclusion – this could be laptop lending facilities in libraries or student hubs, iPads in teaching rooms, or even encouraging students to share access to a device in a lecture theatre where interactive polling software is being used to encourage active learning.

Student video commentaries

Student video commentaries, created as part of the QAA Scotland funded ‘Transitions to blended learning’ project, reveal students’ experiences of blended courses, and technology-enhanced active learning (TEAL) spaces. An inter-institutional collaborative product also funded by QAA Scotland also provides a suite of resources for supporting student transitions into and through online learning, which are openly available for reuse.

Staff considerations

Teacher using technology in lecture
Lecturer using technology in seminar

Transforming education

TEL has the potential to transform teacher experiences, enriching their interactions with students online and in the classroom. Digital pedagogies such as the flipped classroom, and students as producers (e.g. through digital storytelling or digital artefact production), place a greater emphasis on the teacher as facilitator as opposed to transmission of information (‘the guide on the side versus the sage on the stage’). This allows staff to take a more flexible, creative approach to their teaching, developing digital capabilities along the way. For example, it has been observed, that staff who are involved in some aspects of TEL, such as massive open online courses (MOOCs) or fully online courses or programme, see opportunities not just for reuse of digital content, but also a transfer of digital teaching skills to other courses and programmes.

Learning technology support for teachers

Although exciting, it can also be daunting for staff that are new to TEL to embrace the affordances of learning technologies and digital pedagogies. The 2019 Jisc Digital Insights survey indicates that only 55% of teachers in higher education use live polls or quizzes in class, only 25% teach in a live online environment, and 62% would like to use more digital technologies in their teaching as they do now. While some lack of engagement with digital education may be attributed to an inadequate digital infrastructure (e.g. 84% report access to reliable wifi and 85% report access to a virtual learning environment (VLE)), some reticence to engage is due to lack of time and/or support.

Academic staff need to be adequately supported to engage in TEL, and while early adopters in institutions play a critically important role in supporting their peers, this is not their responsibility. The employment of learning technologists at a local (e.g. school) level, who can provide just-in-time assistance for staff using VLEs and other educational technologies is crucial for the wider adoption of TEL in institutions.

Staff video commentaries

Staff video commentaries reveal academic experiences of blended courses, and recommendations for sources of support. 

Learning design

While learning technologists can help academics to use technology in pedagogically effective ways, academic developers also play a role in working with academics to them with digital learning design. The ABC approach to learning design (developed by University College London) is often used to assist staff in thinking about blended and online courses, as this helps academics to plan their courses in terms of a combination of learning types to promote an active learning experience in a curriculum where the intended assessments and learning activities are constructively aligned with intended learning outcomes. In practice, any evidenced-based learning design toolkit should be an asset to the design of TEL.

One of the biggest misconceptions around TEL is that it saves time. Rather, it is often the case that while a blended or online approach can save effort in the longer term, staff need to invest in a ‘front-loading’ of time and effort, in terms of designing and developing TEL materials. It is therefore important that the institution lends its support to academics who champion innovations in TEL.
ABC approach to learning design

Institutional considerations

In this video, senior managers and educators from the University of Glasgow present their reflections and aspirations for TEL.

Innovation and infrastructure

An enabling institutional culture, which is open to innovation and taking calculated risks, is a necessary enabler for staff to engage meaningfully with TEL. Through a five-year project (2013-18) entitled BOLD (Blended and Online Learning Development, culminating in a showcase event), the University of Glasgow observed that policies and processes needed to evolve in order to enable strategic change. TEL requires that a robust digital infrastructure is in place, complemented by a physical infrastructure that is fit for purpose in supporting blended and active learning.
Find out more about the showcase event

Agile systems and processes

Administrative systems and processes to support student transitions into, through and out of higher education need to be appropriately responsive to support an increasingly diverse body of students, including online distance learners that have different support needs to on-campus learners. Student registration and enrolment, fees, certification and graduation for different entry and exit points of an online distance learning degree are all areas that need to be considered. Additionally, timetabling blended and active learning classes appropriately can also be challenging. Quality assurance systems, processes and policies, including course and programme specifications and approvals, may also need revised to ensure they are fit for purpose; for example, capturing notional learning hours for a blended or online course may be difficult within some institution’s current course approval documents. It can also be difficult to capture contact hours for blended learning and online courses within existing workload models, especially if these are linked to timetabling.

Another aspect of TEL is supporting the lifelong learner. Changes in government funding in some parts of the UK is driving universities to deliver short courses to upskill learners in the workplace. This necessitate further institutional changes to systems to support this type of learner; for example, registering and making payment for single courses, micro-credentialing and the “unbundling” of degree provision.

Recognition and reward

As well as removing barriers to TEL, the institution has an obligation to recognise and reward the efforts of staff involved in TEL. Whether on research and teaching, or learning, teaching and scholarship career routes, there needs to be recognition of the work that academics undertake to enhance the quality of student learning.

The international perspective

In this video, colleagues from Arizona State University present an overview of their aspirations for TEL.

Learning from the research


In terms of sector-wide consultations, the Jisc Digital Insights work presents the outcomes of staff and student surveys regarding TEL in the UK; this gives an insight into tertiary education sectors’ engagement with technology-enhanced learning and teaching, and some of the barriers and enablers that exist. The NMC Horizons Report for Higher Education, assembled by global experts in learning technology, forecasts key trends, significant challenges and important developments in educational technology in the short, mid and long terms, which can be useful in guiding strategy and opportunities for academic development.

Academic texts

In terms of the peer-reviewed articles, monographs and books, we would recommend:

Adekola, J., Dale, V. H. M., & Gardiner, K. (2017). Development of an institutional framework to guide transitions into enhanced blended learning in higher education. Research in Learning Technology, 25, 1-16. doi:

Garrison, D. R. (2011). E-learning in the 21st century : a framework for research and practice (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.

Garrison, D. R., & Kanuka, H. (2004). Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 7(2), 95-105. doi:

Gordon, N. (2014). Flexible Pedagogies: Technology Enhanced Learning. Retrieved from

Johnston, B., MacNeill, S., & Smyth, K. (2018). Conceptualising the Digital University: The Intersection of Policy, Pedagogy and Practice: Palgrave MacMillan.

Young, C., & Perović, N. (2016). Rapid and Creative Course Design: As Easy as ABC? Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 228, 390-395. doi:

Common myths in TEL

1. TEL saves staff time

While there may be efficiencies created as a result of reusing digital educational assets, such as reusable content or even courses, TEL requires an investment of time on the part of learners, teachers and the institution. From an academic staff perspective, it is not acceptable to expect staff to develop blended or online courses in their own time on top of a demanding academic workload. Time must be made available, potentially through staff-buyout. However, this only works when a suitable temporary replacement has been appointed to effectively backfill that staff time. While efficiencies can be accrued in the medium to longer term, any engagement with TEL requires time and effort, from introducing polling technologies into a lecture, to creating online resources for blended learning, or to providing completely online distance learning. It also takes time for an institution to evolve its policies and processes to fully support TEL.

2. TEL is solely for teachers with a technical background

There is often an assumption that only the ‘early adopters’ engage with blended and online learning; however, TEL can be introduced at three levels; the micro stage, where innovations are tried out to establish proof of concept, the meso level of expanding the use of proven innovations across a larger area, or the macro level where established technologies (e.g. the VLE) are embedded in day to day learning and teaching (Dale, V. H. M. (2014). UCL E-Learning Evaluation Toolkit. Retrieved from Consistent with this idea of scale, staff can experiment with TEL at different levels; creating additional online learning materials to supplement traditional teaching, replacing elements of traditional teaching with online activities as part of a blended approach, or adopting a wholly online mode of learning and teaching.  In terms of advice on how to approach this, it is generally considered sensible to start small and think big.

3. TEL is a fad

TEL is here to stay. Notwithstanding the recognised benefits in terms of i) enhanced student experience, ii) optimised learning outcomes, and iii) transformative teacher experiences, TEL is necessary to achieve the economies of scale that higher education institutions, in today’s socioeconomic climate, need to achieve in order to stay competitive in a global marketplace.