No. 19




The Revolution that Never Was: Developments in ICT-supported Learning in Primary and Tertiary Education

18 June 2009


RiTo No. 19, 2009

  • Anu Toots

    Tallinn University, School of Governance, Law and Society

  • Tõnu Idnurm

    Tallinn University, School of Governance, Law and Society

E-learning has been high on the political agenda in Estonia for more than ten years due to unusual consensus on the issue amongst political parties.

Also, there is a widespread belief that information-communication technology (ICT) radically enhances the quality of teaching and learning. However, several studies have demonstrated that using educational technology per se does not make a difference in learning outcomes. The current article aims to analyse why the use of ICT in education has so far resulted in incremental rather than paradigmatic change. The discussion is based on the data from international studies (TIMSS, SITES, PISA) and national surveys (Tiger in Focus, three waves). These rich data allow us to make comparisons within lower secondary schools and universities in Estonia, and within lower secondary schools in Estonia, four East Asian and four Western European countries. The general conclusion is that development of e-learning across educational levels and selected countries has surprisingly many similarities, including similar barriers to the development of e-learning (heavy workload of teachers, low support from headmasters and unclear work regulations). On the other hand, important variations also exist. International comparison shows that Estonia, Japan, Taiwan and Finland form a group of countries that score high in student achievements but are only at a medium level in the use of ICT in teaching. Within this group Estonia stands out as a country where teachers use ICT in their personal practices innovatively, but in students’ ICT-supported practices the conventional pedagogy is dominant. Thus, in Estonian lower secondary schools traditional learning and e-learning tend to converge towards a conventional style of teaching. Converging tendencies can be found also at the university level. Yet here innovative methods, typically attached to the web-dependent courses such as dissemination of study materials and freedom of choice, become widely used also in traditional face-to-face courses. This phenomenon can be explained by the neo-liberal thinking in higher education that stresses client orientation and easy access to learning. The article comes to the conclusion that despite remarkable progress in the quantity of e-learning, some worrying tendencies are apparent. E-learning has not succeeded in switching the teaching and learning from simply dissemination of knowledge to the cooperative construction of knowledge. Until this paradigmatic change occurs, the potential of ICT-supported learning in building a socially coherent knowledge-based society cannot be fully used.

Full article in Estonian