Over-expectation or under-exploitation?
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For about ten years, eLearning has been a key part of the innovations characterising education and training systems throughout the world. After a phase of excessive enthusiasm and spectacularly excessive resistance, more reasonable expectations and attitudes have emerged, more attention is being paid to the issue of quality of the learning experience, and dissemination of e-learning best practices within educational systems is taking place, although not as quickly as originally expected.
Expectations are important in our lives, in the economic cycle and, of course, in the world of learning: the original expectations in relation to e-learning (of those who supported and promoted it) were that it would increase the efficiency of teaching practices in institutional education and the corporate training sector. This did partially happen, but not to the extent and in the way expected. Many policy-makers, teachers and learners questioned the quality of the e-learning experience achieved through first generation e-learning, attention was paid to the contextual and social dimensions of the learning process and, at the same time, social computing emerged as an interesting development for learning processes, especially those taking place on a more informal level.
The dream of lifelong learning is becoming more realistic as the majority of the population becomes familiar with the concepts of searching for information, establishing peer groups and learning about what they are interested in online.
What does all this have to do with the original expectations of e-learning? It is both less than expected in the traditionally structured way of teaching and more than expected in the area of informal learning. So, one could say that, yes, people expected too much, but essentially there was an erroneous expectation that ICT for learning would have the greatest effect within the formal learning/teaching environments. When the radio was invented, one of the main expectations was that it would bring opera to the masses; it probably did, but radio applications in the field of information were far more important.
Similarly, by studying in detail what happens in the different territories of e-learning, one gets the impression that the full potential of ICT for learning embedded in change has yet to be exploited.
ICT for learning must rid itself of a low profile image due to immature experiences at the start of this decade. A new and more mature expectation of e-learning is emerging, linked to the implementation of the lifelong learning concept. It is particularly important to reflect on how learning together online in organisations, professional communities and educational institutions is a necessary strategy to accompany and sustain the processes of transformation and innovation, enabling the circulation of a huge amount of tacit knowledge that can be shared only within a trust-based and knowledge-sharing relationship, to a significant extent out of the formal praxis (educational as well as organisational).
This figure, which represents the key message of Learnovation, shows how most of the policies, initiatives and e-learning practices have applied ICT to the teaching world of formal education and are progressively achieving innovative results. However, the real underexploited potential of e-learning lies in its close association with all of the major innovation/transformation projects that governments, enterprises, public authorities, education and training institutions and, of course, individuals undertake. It is difficult to imagine that these innovation/transformation projects can succeed as a result of a commitment to learn and achieve change, and it is difficult to imagine learning among individuals, groups and organisations taking place in 2010 and beyond without the use of the technology, educational resources and social networks used by people in their everyday lives.
This issue by the Learnovation project is about expectations of e-learning (in the past and in the present) and exploitation of the e-learning potential (particularly in the future). It is proposed as a basis for broad stakeholder consultation on the future impact of e-learning on lifelong learning and innovation. We are very grateful to the European Commission and the EACEA for their support of the implementation of this project within the Lifelong Learning Programme, and to all the experts and practitioners who have helped the project team achieve its results to date.
This article is part of a special publication by Learnovation in cooperation with the eLearning Papers to support the European Year of Creativity and Innovation 2009.