Theory disputes and the development of the technology enhanced learning research field

Bligh, Brett (2020) Theory disputes and the development of the technology enhanced learning research field. Studies in Technology Enhanced Learning, 1 (1). pp. 115-169.

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This paper contributes to ongoing debates about theory application in technology enhanced learning (TEL) research. Such debates routinely highlight that the use of theory in the TEL field is problematic, and suggest that the issue is of fundamental importance to the development of the field. Yet different accounts within these debates are oriented towards ostensibly disparate issues and often, in themselves, have a somewhat fragmentary nature. This paper, therefore, seeks to synthesise and systematise a wide range of the arguments that are evident in the literature. A preliminary analysis highlights that the debates are occurring against a particular backdrop: a desire to newly re-constitute TEL as a bona fide scholarly discipline. Four key points of dispute are subsequently identified, which, it is argued, should understood against that backdrop. Those key points of dispute, whose analysis constitutes the core of the paper, are concerned, respectively with the continued implications of a theoretical ‘canon’ whose pre-eminence in the field is long-established; the problematic relations between the field’s ‘empirical’ and ‘theoretical’ discourses, which are positioned as often occurring in parallel; a need to better recognise the varied functions that different theories might play, whether in research projects or across larger research agendas; and the extent to which the TEL field should be theoretically aligned with other academic fields of enquiry or seek to position itself as, in some way, ‘exceptional’. Those four points of dispute are each disaggregated, within the analysis, into a range of distinct stances, and the relations between the stances and the points of dispute themselves are discussed. The paper concludes by considering the implications of the analysis, both for those TEL researchers wishing to engage with theory, and those scholars for whom theory application in the field is a distinct research object.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Studies in Technology Enhanced Learning
Additional Information:
Brett Bligh is a Lecturer in the Department of Educational Research, Lancaster University, and co-Director of the Centre for Technology Enhanced Learning. His research interrogates the nexus of technology mediation, physical environment, and institutional change in higher education. Brett’s work prioritises Activity Theory conceptions of human practice, and interventionist methodologies.
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05 Nov 2020 11:10
Last Modified:
18 Sep 2023 01:51