Before the 1980s distance learning was restricted by the limited technological affordances of the time. The interaction between students and teachers could be characterized as ‘singular’. Students received the learning materials from their tutors, and in return tutors would send the feedback back to the students. The introduction of internet in the 1990s changed the scene. It allowed teachers to introduce teaching methods that were previously impossible. Internet, offered connectivity, synchronous and asynchronous communication and a vast potential for educational growth and realignment.
The theoretical models that were used in ICT’s infancy (1960s-70s) were informed by a behaviouristic view of knowledge. Using language learning as an example, it was believed that drills and repetitions were enough for learners to acquire knowledge. Technological milestones such as the introduction of the world wide web, moved theory away from behaviourism and closer to communicative approaches to language learning. During 1990s teaching and knowledge acquisition were informed by a new movement that had its foundations built upon social constructivism. The basic tenets of constructivism were that:
- Understanding is in our interactions with the environment.
- Cognitive conflict or puzzlement is the stimulus for learning and determines the organization and nature of what is learned.
- Knowledge evolves through social negotiation and through the evaluation of the viability of individual understanding” (Savery & Duffy, 1995).
Constructivism was heavily influenced by Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory and most importantly from the concept of Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). According to ZPD, ‘collaboration and peer interaction are prerequisites for cognitive development. Vygotsky also suggests that internalization is the result of social experiences and occurs when students participate in actively processing adapting and integrating experiences until their way of thinking is changed (Doolittle, 1997, pp. 84–85).
It was the first time that learners became the epicentre of education, transforming them from passive receivers of knowledge to active participants of their learning efforts. The implementation of online collaboration, the freedom to explore challenge ideas and concepts, work with more experienced learners, prioritise learning outcomes and self-reflect upon performance had a significant effect on students’ emotional response to education. The Self Determination theory that Ryan and Deci conceptualized finds solid ground in social constructivism. To their view, learning tasks that encourage competence, allow autonomy and are relatable to learners can lead to intrinsic motivation which is responsible for higher quality learning outcomes’(Reiners, 2015, p. 178).
Technological limitations, a lack of digital literacy, the cost of computer and internet and the fact that technology was used in an ad hoc and disconnected fashion made teachers believe that the educational potential was not fulfilled. Consequently, the communicative aspect of teaching was reassessed. That brought us today, where Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are used in an integrative way, or as theory suggests, a post constructivist manner. ‘The introduction of Multimedia allows a variety of media to be accessed on a single machine. Their hyper connectivity allows students to navigate their own learning path by simply pointing and clicking a mouse. For the first time, learners can communicate directly, inexpensively, and conveniently with other learners 24 hours a day, from school, work, or home. This communication can be asynchronous (not simultaneous) through tools such as electronic mail (email), which allows each participant to compose messages at their time and pace, or in can be synchronous (“real time”), which allow people all around the world to have a simultaneous conversation by typing at their keyboards. It also allows not only one-to-one communication, but also one-to-many, allowing a teacher or student to share a message with a small group, the whole class, a partner class, or an international discussion list of hundreds or thousands of people’(Warschauer: Computer-Assisted Language Learning, n.d.).
‘The potential of ICTs in teaching and learning is the perception and enactment of learning affordances of the environment by designing and implementing meaningful learning activities that can lead to learning outcomes. These learning activities implement a series of instructional strategies that are based on certain didactic models and learning theories (fig. 1). Therefore, the introduction of ICTs in education has two sides, that of the technologies and the other of the pedagogical approach. There are different approaches to the pedagogical use of ICTs and in particular for each one of the different technologies.
Nowadays, researchers propose theoretical approaches, develop ICTs tools, design e-Learning environments, conduct instructional interventions, and evaluate both the approaches and the tools.’(Research on E-Learning and ICT in Education, 2018).
The development of such tools looks at the teacher’s role from a different educational perspective compared to behaviorism and social constructivism. Post constructivism and the accompanying educational theories propose that teachers are not the only bearers of knowledge. They act as facilitators, guiding students in collaborative activities where they work together to co-construct knowledge.
‘Current research has indicated that ICT assists in transforming a teaching environment into a learner-centred one. It provides both learners and instructors with more educational affordances and possibilities. The merits of ICT in education have been extolled in the literature. The use of ICT has been found to:
Assist students in accessing digital information efficiently and effectively
Support student-centered and self-directed learning
Produce a creative learning environment
Promote collaborative learning in a distance-learning environment
Offer more opportunities to develop critical (higher-order) thinking skills
Improve teaching and learning quality
Support teaching by facilitating access to course content’(Fu, 2013).
Since its infancy, e-learning has been reconceptualized, grew (although not always in a linear way) together with technology and its affordances, follows educational trends and theories of learning with the utmost purpose to accommodate acquisition. As technology evolves and gets more sophisticated, new tools will emerge and new ways to teach will be introduced. History has shown that the foundations of e-learning are the same as traditional learning, with instructional adaptations to align with the mode of learning. The empirical research regarding e-learning yield mixed results over efficacy but the general consensus is that there are certain benefits and downsides depending on a number of factors (digital literacy, access to technology and equipment, freedom over teaching, curriculum design etc.) that directly affect the quality of digital learning. Given the fact that both traditional and online classes use technology in various degrees and current (and future) generations are adept technology users, we can safely assume that ICT will be a decisive factor over the curricula direction educational institutions take in the future; this can only be realised if educational institutions, stakeholders, national and international educational bodies address issues such as lack of equipment and teacher training in the use of digital tools (Pelgrum, 2001).
Doolittle, P. (1997). Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development as a Theoretical Foundation for Cooperative Learning. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 8(1), 83–103.
Fu, J. (2013). Complexity of ICT in education: A critical literature review and its implications. International Journal of Education and Development Using ICT, 9(1), 112–125.
Pelgrum, W. J. (2001). Obstacles to the integration of ICT in education: Results from a worldwide educational assessment. Computers & Education, 37(2), 163–178. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0360-1315(01)00045-8
Reiners, T. (Ed.). (2015). Gamification in education and business. Springer.
Research on e-learning and ICT in education: Technological, pedagogical and instructional perspectives. (2018). Springer Science+Business Media.
Savery, J. R., & Duffy, T. M. (1995). Problem Based Learning: An Instructional Model and Its Constructivist Framework. Educational Technology, 35(5), 31–38. JSTOR.
Warschauer: Computer-Assisted Language Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved 23 April 2020, from http://www.ict4lt.org/en/warschauer.htm