EdTech & Design, Engagement

Designing Technology-Enhanced Learning

Do you recall the unprecedented demand for technology “how to” sessions in the 1990s? I remember training sessions that were often packed over-capacity. Participants would even pair up and share one computer station while being guided through a demonstration of how to search the worldwide web or how to create electronic slide show presentations.

Fast-forward almost three decades. Training sessions are replaced by YouTube videos and other on-demand learning options. Technology is mobile and more accessible than ever before. Does this mean contemporary learning designs with technology now provide appropriate and meaningful learning experiences for students? Are we there yet? I don’t think so.

Recently, I was invited to unpack the term “technology-enhanced learning environments” (TELEs) and suggested TELEs can be defined as “complex learning environments that enable appropriate use of technological resources in order to continually enhance the conditions conducive to learning.”1 The emphasis is on appropriate use of technology. What is appropriate use?

Imagine the following scenario: The students are going on a field trip and will use technology to prepare a slide show to share highlights from the field trip and to demonstrate their learning. The slide show will be shared with the school community and other students who were not able to experience the field trip or learn about the given concept. In other words, the students will create slides to document and share their learning. At first glance, this may seem like a technology-enhanced learning environment, with technology being used appropriately. But let’s consider how this scenario could be improved.

When designing learning experiences, teachers may find it useful to consider the following five questions, drawn from the “Teaching Effectiveness Framework,”2 as a lens for strengthening technology-enhanced learning environments:

  1. How might an expert in the field use technology?
  2. How does the work foster creativity, collaboration and innovation?
  3. How does the technology-enhanced learning environment support the teacher and student when engaging in formative assessment practices to help strengthen the work while the learning is occurring?
  4. How are students emotionally and intellectually invested in the work?
  5. How does this design demonstrate how these technologies are used in today’s world?

How can these questions be used to strengthen the slide-show scenario described above?

Design of the work is informed by disciplinary expertise.

How might an expert in the field document experiences from a field trip? Consider how the curator, museum, operator, scientist, would use technology to document their findings or experiences in the field? Perhaps students could video record the fieldtrip while on location to create a virtual or augmented reality artifact, or a time-lapse representation of the experience with audio narration.

The work needs to be worthwhile.

How can this work foster creativity, collaboration and innovation? How might the students combine their multimedia artifacts of the experience for others to use? How might the creations support learning for those who were part of the field trip, for those who were unable to attend, and even for audiences from other parts of the world that may be interested in the experience? Perhaps students could work together to capture multiple images for stitching, photogrammetry, or developing a photomontage that could be shared beyond the classroom.

Assessment practices need to strengthen the work. 

How can a TELE support formative assessment to help improve the work while the learning is occurring? The teacher and peers can provide feedback on draft versions of the multimedia creations and seek guidance from experts (professional or amateur) in the field, such as videographers, photographers, fieldtrip personnel, etc. Might students also seek guidance from experts to develop criteria for high-quality work, and then use these criteria for assessing their work?

Foster relationships with the work.

What might be a cause for students to deeply invest in the work, both emotionally and intellectually? Perhaps students could discuss the purpose for sharing the work and create a multimedia experience to take an active stance about a related issue that needs attention.

Designing for learning. 

How does this design demonstrate the appropriate use of emerging technologies for learning and how these technologies are used in today’s world? Perhaps teachers could look for ways forward with learning designs beyond the slide show presentations from the 1990s. Next time you are designing or re-designing a lesson, consider how you might use the five questions provided as a lens for strengthening technology-enhanced learning environments.


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First published in Education Canada, March 2018



1 B. Brown, “Technology-Enhanced Learning Environments,” Encyclopedia of Terminology for Educational Communications and Technology (Springer, 2013).

2 S. Friesen, What Did You Do in School Today? Teaching effectiveness: A framework and rubric (Toronto: Canadian Education Association, 2009).

Meet the Expert(s)

Barb Brown

Dr. Barb Brown

Instructor, University of Calgary

Dr. Barbara Brown has experience as a K-12 teacher and as a school- and district-level leader in Alberta, and is currently Director of Professional Graduate Programs in Education and Partner Research ...

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