This and practice. This will provide context for

                              This
essay will aim to examine the role of e-learning within the modern education
system, principally relating to its applications, and implications for contemporary
learning and teaching practice. This will be accomplished through a combination
of applied government policy and key theoretical learning frameworks, predominantly
concerning Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the constructivist model of learning,
and the United Kingdom’s (UKs) Department for Education and Skills (DfES).
First, the concept of e-learning will be defined, introduced and discussed,
with specific reference to its purpose, origins and importance to an
individual’s education. As well as its influences on modern teaching pedagogy
and practice. This will provide context for subsequent paragraphs, which will
look more explicitly into e-learning within the education system as a whole, both
in terms of real-world practice and educational theory. Next, the impacts of
e-learning on the teacher’s role within, and without the classroom will be
examined, with clear reference to government policy, research evidence and educational
theory. Culminating with their collective implications for changing pedagogical
practice within education systems, both intranationally and internationally. Following
this, the effectiveness of e-learning in improving student educational outcomes
will be discussed in detail, largely pertaining to its links with either impairing,
or improving academic attainment and educational engagement. This will be
viewed equally from the perspectives of ‘e-enhanced’ models of traditional
learning and child developmental theories, supported by contemporary research
and educational policy changes. This essay will conclude with a brief overview
of the main ideas delineated throughout the text, followed by a summary of the
extent of the role that e-learning has played within the contemporary education
system, and a synopsis concerning whether the implications of this role have
predominantly enhanced, or undermined the quality of learning and teaching
practice within schools.

                              The term
‘e-learning’ as we recognise it today has only really existed since the late
1990s, when it was first referenced within a professional environment, during a
computer based learning seminar (Corbeil and Corbeil, 2015). At the time, it
was meant to express a means of learning, based upon the increasingly prevalent
access to, and use of, new digital technologies (Littlejohn and Pegler, 2007). These technologies were allowing students
to independently connect with online training, which was both interactive and personalised
for the first time, via the internet and electronic media. It was believed that
this technology would help in developing competencies among learners. Building
upon new developments and trends in the process, which, given the nature of
technologies dynamic outcomes and rapid advancement, would eventually lead to
systemic pedagogical change to teaching practice (Cochrane, 2012). This change
would allow learning to take place, independently and without the need for a
fixed time, specialist or location (Arkorful, 2014; Kirwan, 2016). The
practice and meaning of e-learning has undertaken substantial amendments since
its preliminary conception towards the end of the 20th century. However, considerable debate still encompasses the term, mainly
regarding the importance of the internet in the process (Johnson and Hall,
2007). This debate has meant that ‘e-learning’ is regularly used contradictory and
inconsistently across a multitude of diverse academic literature. With each
author, modifying, adapting or outright changing the definition based upon
their own findings, context or beliefs (Mason and Rennie, 2006). Without even
the simple foundation of a clear definition, a considerable amount of research concerning
e-learning is frequently confusing and often inconsistent. One of the most significant
instances of this can be seen in the overarching divide between two of
e-learning’s earliest researches, Allison Rossett and Marc Rosenberg. Rossett
and Sheldon (2001) argue that since access to the internet is itself,
fundamentally linked to a host computer, it is digital hardware, and not the
World-Wide Web that is most essential to the notion of e-learning. This concept
is supported by Lehmann and Chamberlin (2009) who argue that, when e-learning
first began to appear, much of the learning conducted in the area employed
computer software such as plugins and desktop applications. As well as hardware
mainframes and CD-ROMS, not network technologies. Since the internet itself was
still a reasonably expensive and new invention, especially in rural areas. If
network technologies really were essential for such learning, it would not have
been understood and defined, as it was, so early amid those progressive, but
still retrograde circumstances (Corbeil and
Corbeil, 2015). Garrison (2011) expands
upon this notion, arguing that, while currently, the internet is the cheapest
and most efficient means of e-learning, that by no means made it the most
common practice in the past. Particularly when considering the fact that plenty
of e-learning did, and still does take place without internet access, even in
the modern day (Banfield and Kay, 2012). Conversely though, Rosenberg (2001) reasons
that e-learning as a concept is fundamentally tied to the rise of the internet,
and as such it cannot take place, in any form without the use of networked
technologies, since, they alone are essential to the entire premise. Thus, it
is the World-Wide Web, and not digital hardware that is most vital to the
concept of e-learning. Indeed, this does seem to hold true within the context
of modern schooling, given the fact that, the internet does appear to be the
primary medium though which students work on e-learning tasks, going well
beyond the capabilities of simple interactions with a single computer
(Baporikar, 2014). Merrienboer, Bastiaens and Hoogveld (2004) further this
point, asserting that if internet access really was not necessary for e-learning,
then it would have made little sense calling it ‘e-learning’ in the first
place.

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                              Though conflicting,
Rossett and Rosenberg’s definitions come the closest to explaining how most education
professionals understand e-learning. With more prevalent support falling upon
the formers notion of the internet as a useful extension of e-learning, as
opposed to its most defining characteristic (Bhatia and Mittal, 2009). The UK
governments DfES consultation document adds additional credibility to this perception,
recognising the relevance of the internet in e-learning, but ultimately reaffirming
the overriding importance of joint information and communication technology
(ICT) tools (Department for Education and Skills, 2003). Balancing these
conflicting definitions, for the purpose of this essay, the term e-learning
will be understood to mean the delivery of learning within an educational setting
that is conducted through the use of electronic media. This learning is possibly,
but not essentially, directed via the use of the internet, with technology
acting as an enabler of the educational process, rather than a totally new
means of learning.

                            The role of the teacher within
the contemporary education system has experienced significant change throughout
the latter half of the 20th century, and early 21st
century. A process catalysed considerably, if not entirely by the introduction
of new digital technologies and e-learning into the classroom (Hughes, 2005).
Through the innovations of e-learning, large volumes of relatively cheap and
high-quality, learning resources and materials were made readily accessible to
the international community for the first time (Downes, 2007). This level of worldwide
change and interconnectedness, was like nothing ever seen before in the history
of education. It permitted better availability of training and education
programmes, to a wider variety of subjects and to a numerically greater
audience. In addition to the fact that, the learning itself lowered the overall
level of strain placed upon individual educators and was simultaneously higher
in quality (Dalsgaard, 2006; Selwyn, 2011). This scale of educational development,
not only in terms of increased teaching quality, but also in the improvement of
welfare for both educators and students, is far more anomalous and substantial
than most traditional models of education can competently support, or
accommodate for (Naidu, 2006). Before this technologically driven, pedagogical
shift, educating was principally seen as a solo endeavour, with little support
for teachers beyond their own institutions, especially before the introduction
of the UK’s first national curriculum in 1988 (Watson, 2001). Schooling was predominantly
viewed as ‘a means to an end’ for pupils, a system to be progressed through as quickly
as possible. Rote learning and didactic teaching were seen as the most effective
means of conveying the material necessary of this process, and so they were the
typical practice. Within this traditional environment, learning would almost entirely
take place in a fixed teaching space.  In
which the physical presence of the educator was paramount, and any efforts to
bring about more liberal practices were at best questionable (Hay et al., 2008). These traditional
attitudes are conceivably the reason that the introduction of e-learning was so
significant, and plausibly explains why it led to such rapid pedagogical change
on such a large scale, in such a comparatively short time. During this period,
the very foundation upon which the international community regarded teaching
began to change and adapt on a fundamental level, to suit the new requirements and
trends of an internet and digital dominated era (Bates, 2005).

                            According to academic research
the positive effects of e-learning on contemporary teaching pedagogy are clear.
Recent research has shown that the use e-learning by teachers as
‘question-and-answer communities’ can meaningfully lessen the burden placed
upon educators. Who are free to act more as a facilitator of the education
process, while also encouraging pupils to communicate and share more willingly
with each other concerning their course content (Mazer, Murphy and Simonds,
2007). Luppini and Haghi (2012), further this point arguing that e-learning can
offer practitioners unique pedagogical opportunities to supplement pupil
learning. As such, it could be employed as a means to progressively alter
existing approaches and motivate more active learner interest and involvement
in their own education. In contrast though, Pierson (2014) claims that exploiting
e-learning within educational practice requires a level of technological aptitude
that few practitioners, especially older teachers possess. Without this expertise,
the work burden placed upon certain teachers can rise, worsening the very
stressors that the integration of e-learning was intended to lessen (Al-Fudail,
2008; Steen, 2008). Within the context of e-learning the role of the teacher
remains a central one, remaining an essential factor in their pupil’s education,
though acting more as a facilitator of the educational process, rather than its
instructor. Perhaps the foremost influence being in the global accessibility of
shared, high-quality education materials and resources (Downes, 2007).

                            As the use of
e-learning in education becomes increasingly prevalent, it is becoming
progressively more important to observe the impacts that it is having on pupil
engagement in the schooling system (Roffe, 2002). Without adequate engagement, pupils
cannot properly thrive within the schooling system. As a result, it has been a key
concern of consecutive UK governments, a concern which has been mirrored in
their national curriculums (Cullen, Harris and Hill, 2012). The most evident instance
of this initiative for pupil engagement, was the introduction of ‘pupil
centered’ learning paradigms into educational pedagogy. An educational model
that is seamlessly accounted for by e-learning (Davies and Graff, 2005).
E-learning is regarded as such an efficient means of realizing this drive for
student engagement, that it has been universally standardised across every
level of the UK schooling system, from primary and secondary, to higher
education (Department for Education and
Skills, 2003). Indeed, a substantial body of academic
research supports this idea, showing that e-learning can improve knowledge
retention by up to sixty percent among students when compared to traditional educational
practices (Turban, King and Lang, 2009). Suggesting that it is not only a time
efficient, but also cost-effective method of learning (Sekhon and Hartley,
2014). Furthermore, e-learning also provides opportunities for pupils to take a
degree of agency in their own education, learning at a speed which they
consider suitable, through a self-developed zone of proximal development
(Vygotsky, 1987; Palacios and Evans, 2013). This level of choice within the educational
environment, though superficial, can also be an effective means of re-engaging formerly
disinterested pupils. Or even adults who are no longer involved in the system
at all, since it so easily adapts to, and accommodates for their specific personal
needs (Rennie and Morrison, 2013).  Henrie,
Halverson and Graham (2015) summarise that while existing e-learning software greatly
underexploits the full potential of current technology. It still facilitates numerous
opportunities for the creation of educational challenges and activities,
whether for large groups, small groups or individuals. Activities which, even
through partial exploitation, would account for a noticeable increase in
student engagement inside any learning environment, particularly when the
activities are personalised to specific classes by individual educators
(Carliner and Shank, 2008).

                            The
constructivist theory of learning may add further support in explaining these
benefits, since within this framework, pupils acquire new knowledge by building
upon their prior competences and experiences, which are founded upon their
pre-existing schemata (Piaget, 1952; Holmes and Gardner, 2006). Contemporary pupils
are raised as digital natives, surrounded by the internet and digital
technologies from an early age. Consequently, educating them through these
e-learning approaches is rational, providing a more familiar and larger
scaffold upon which to ground their learning (Desai, Hart and Richards, 2008). This
closely links to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which shows that e-learning can
only be truly effective in improving engagement, once the learner’s lower needs
have been addressed. Of particular concern is step four of Maslow’s theory,
‘esteem needs’ which is easily accounted for by e-learning within schools. Since
most modern students, in the developed world, are very comfortable and
confidence with the use of digital technologies (Milheim, 2012). Conversely
though, research has also suggested that the technologies associated with
e-learning can hinder student engagement, offering the temptation of
distraction and promoting procrastination, even amongst formerly well behaved pupils.
This idea is furthered by Issa, Isaias and Kommers (2015) who go so far as to
contend that the persistent availability of online social networks. Including
those intended for learning purposes, are impairing the capability
of their users to properly focus. Scattering their attention to such a degree
that they may no longer be able to efficiently concentrate on individual tasks
at a time, as is typically mandatory within a traditional classroom setting.
Moreover, some research suggests that a critical failing of e-learning within modern
policy and practice, is its failure to sufficiently account for the fact that
not all students, have the same access to, and aptitude in, the use of the
digital technologies associated with it. Disadvantaging those pupils without,
and preventing them from fully engaging with the rest of their peers (McArdle et al., 2015).

                            Student
attainment within the contemporary education system has become a key concern
for most national governments, especially following the introduction of the Programme for International Student
Assessment (PISA) league tables and other international
ranking systems. Several models of learning attempt to clarify the main success
factors necessary in improving student attainment in an educational setting,
and thus, may help in explaining and supporting the effectiveness of
e-learning. As previously mentioned, the constructivist theory of education
offers considerable support to the concept of e-learning, appreciating it as a
familiar tool upon which students can scaffold their personal learning (Desai,
Hart and Richards, 2008). This learning is founded upon the pupil’s prior experiences
and knowledge base, which in the case of digital natives, is primarily centered
on the use of the internet and digital technologies (Prensky, 2004). Moreover,
the freedom associated with e-learning can afford pupils the opportunity to
educate themselves, boosting their grades, and becoming more effective learners
in the process (Liaw, Huang and Chen, 2007). Gagne’s Nine Events of learning
further supports the potential benefits of e-learning, since most activities linked
with e-learning tie in well with its measures for effective educational pedagogy
(Corbeil and Corbeil, 2015). For example, e-learning is very effective at
gaining the learners attention, through graphical, audio and animation design,
while simultaneously delineating clear objectives for the pupil to follow, and
encouraging the practice and use of newly developed skills. Research evidence
has also supported the use of e-learning in education, finding that just one
hour of e-learning participation could increase academic performance by a
modest, but noticeable, one per cent (Rodgers, 2008). For these reasons, it
appears important for educators to utilise e-learning technologies whenever
possible. However, much of the research evidence supporting this link between
academic attainment and e-learning is largely circumstantial, with even the
Department for Education and Skills (2003) acknowledging that they have very
little conclusive evidence to support the effectiveness of e-learning in
enhancing academic performance. Indeed, this is likely because e-learning is
technically no different from regular learning, it is just an alternative means
of deploying it. Albeit one that proposes far more significant changes to the
education system than other models (Rossiter, 2013). Some current research
furthers these negative claims, finding that pupils involved in the use of the
internet and digital technologies for an average of thirty hours per week,
spent eighty-eight per cent less of their free time studying. Receiving test
results twenty per cent lower than those pupils who did not have digital
technologies readily available to them (Mallia, 2013; Tella, 2015).

                            Overall, within the modern
education system the role of e-learning is as clear as its impacts are
numerous. Through its introduction, e-learning has been irreversibly tied to contemporary
schooling and this is unlikely to change, so long as it remains the most
efficient and cost-effective means of conveying knowledge between students and
educators. While e-learning has not yet received the chance to truly
revolutionise the ways in which we teach and how we learn. It has utilised
modern interactive technologies and communication systems to improve the educational
experience of students substantially, from one of solitude, to one of
community. While simultaneously transforming the ways in which we learn and how
we teach, though to a lesser extent than they effectively could have. This is particularly
the case given the backing e-learning has received from the social constructivist
approach to learning, particularly Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development and
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, both of which easily accommodate for e-learning
within their theoretical frameworks. Almost two decades of existence has shown
that the use of e-learning can never fully substitute the role of the teacher,
since it is their emotional, and physical connection to the pupils that has
defined schooling since education as a concept first began. However, in
conjunction with pre-existing methods, e-learning can significantly improve the
reach and quality of an educators teaching, while concurrently reducing the work
burden placed upon them. Furthermore, e-learning also has the potential to
enable every learner, whether urban, rural, young or old, to realise their
fullest potential within the education system. Culminating in a workforce
empowered to make real change, whether for the detriment of the wider society,
or to its betterment.

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