EDEN, the European Distance and E-learning Network, which associates several educative institutions from 38 countries, will be holding in Helsinki (Finland) the EDEN 2005 Annual Conference, which will take place from 20-23 June. In this edition, the Conference will be focused on e-learning from the perspective of lifelong learning.
Since education is a fundamental and permanent process that is not restricted to educative institutions, lifelong learning must be a key issue on the agenda of all institutions, organisations and communities. But lifelong learning situation in Europe is still far from being satisfactory. The European Commission considers that there are “Too few adults participating in further learning”. Despite the progress made, the rate of adult participation in continuing training in the European Union in 2002 has been estimated at 8.5%, while the objective is to achieve a 12.5% rate by 2010. This objective seems far away, particularly because that figure, which had been steadily rising since the mid-1990s, has been stable over the last years, according to the Commission Communication “Education and Training 2010 – The success of the Lisbon Strategy Hinges on Urgent Reforms”.
Other indicators show a similar path. For example, not enough people is qualifying through higher education: on average in the European Union, 23% of males and 20% of females in the 25–64 age range hold a higher education qualification, a figure well below that for Japan (36% of males and 32% of females) and the United States (37% for the overall population). And, at the same time, Europe attracts less talent than its competitors, although the Union "produces" more university qualified persons and doctors in sciences and technology than the USA or Japan (25.7% of the total number of higher education graduates for the Union compared with 21.9% and 17.2% respectively for Japan and the USA). But the percentage of researchers in the active population is much lower in the Union (5.4 researchers per 1 000 in 1999) than in the USA (8.7) or Japan (9.7), and particularly in private companies.
The importance of lifelong learning
The acquisition of knowledge and competences allows the individuals to develop a role in the life of their communities. This is why an engagement regarding lifelong learning contributes to the inclusion not only of those who are currently excluded of scholar and labour system, but also to different sectors in risk of exclusion —immigrants, handicapped people, older adults and people who live below the poverty threshold—.
Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) represent an opportunity to the acquisition of knowledge and the development of competences, which means that it is necessary to improve the access to and the use of them in the mentioned sectors in order to facilitate their social inclusion as active and participative agents.
To evidence the importance of lifelong learning, EDEN and the elearningeuropa.info portal have recently made a shared newsletter in order to diffuse in a wider context some contents regarding this subject. During the next days the portal will highlight some contributions and documents about lifelong learning issues in order to expose from different perspectives the key aspects of this field.
We have also opened the Forum Competences and Methods for Lifelong Learning. We invite our users to share their ideas and to follow the debate through this open platform.
At present, the majority of German schools are only open until midday, but they are soon to remain open until 5 pm. Students will spend more time learning in school, and the German government wants them to do so for the most part through internet and new media. The final decision depends on each federal Land, but the general trend is moving in this direction.
We spoke to Ursula Esser, Head of the International Unit of Schulen ans Netz, an initiative that was launched in 1996 to connect the 34,000 German schools to internet. This objective having nearly been reached, Schulen ans Netz is currently developing a series of innovative pedagogical and didactic programs to help teachers use new technology in daily schoolwork in a critical manner.
How will the extension of school hours be organised?
We want to offer material through internet that the teachers can use with their students in the afternoons. Furthermore, students will not continue in their usual classes, but will join groups divided according to specific topics. For instance, if a student has problems with mathematics or languages, he/she can attend the courses offered in the afternoon on those topics. We want students to spend their afternoons learning through new technologies.
How do you approach teaching students through the ICT?
We have developed the ‘Medien Konzept’ philosophy. This consists in the students making a portfolio of their knowledge in new media, such that if a new teacher walks into the classroom, he/she can see, for instance, that those students have already worked on mathematics with Excel, and for languages, they have used such and such a function of Word. Work with the media can be documented. In addition, students will receive a certificate when they graduate indicating their knowledge of the new technologies.
What type of training on new technologies do you provide to teachers?
The majority of teachers in Germany are slightly older and there is a certain sentiment of rejection of new technologies. At times, students know how to apply the new media better than their teachers and conflicts arise. Many of the teachers rejecting the use of new technologies in their classroom cannot see what value they contribute. Our task is to demonstrate the existence of added value, and that is why we offer the service, Weblotsen (web guides), which consists of having a team of trainers travelling throughout Germany and providing training. In the first phase, they travelled to all German Länder, and now we are especially addressing the ‘multipliers’, which are the school directors, the administrators and information technology teachers, that is, people who can train the remaining teaching staff.
I suppose you also do more specific training...
Yes, we do. For example, we have a workshop that lasts a day or two where teachers learn how eTwinning functions and how to work with internet using portals. We teach them how to create a ‘virtual’ class, how to organise a website and things of this sort. In the second part of the workshop, they reflect on the intercultural aspects of bi-national projects. Furthermore, we have developed the portal, Lehrer Online (www.lehrer-online.de ), with many pedagogical resources for all sorts of schools and subjects.
Do many teachers use the portals of Schulen ans Netz?
Thousands of teachers connect with our portal every day. And we have ascertained that they use our portals from their homes more than from school, which means that schools do not yet offer the facilities they need. There is still not enough equipment at the schools. Germany has a certain level of equipment, but it is not enough. More resources must be invested.
I believe that in Germany, gender issues have been worked on a great deal.
Yes, that’s true. We have created the portal, leanet, designed for female teachers, for women involved in the field of education. The portal motivates them to connect to internet and offers them courses, materials, information in the field of education and an account for their personal electronic mail. We have also created Lizzynet, a portal for women where users can create discussion groups on certain topics or create their own page to introduce themselves personally. These services are used a great deal.
Are schools motivated to create digital content?
In Germany, the number of students is decreasing and the schools have to demonstrate how attractive they are. This situation favours the creation of good websites. Practically all secondary schools have a website where they present their projects and activities. At Schulen ans Netz, we have developed a tool that is very easy to use for schools to create their own websites. It is called Primolo, and it is above all for primary schools.
And what role does the technological aspect play in all of this?
Our concept is that the information technology infrastructure must be outside of schools, so that they need not concern themselves with matters beyond their pedagogical task. We therefore try to have the information technology material located in other places, such as town halls or libraries.
You are the director of the international section of Schulen ans Netz. What do you offer teachers from other countries who are interested in making contacts?
We inform them of contents and educational trends in Germany. We also foster the exchange of ideas, know-how and new initiatives among European countries. It is very important to consider education – or rather learning – as something international, global. Furthermore, Schulen ans Netz is the National Support Service (NSS) of the eTwinning action, and we maintain close contact with the NSSs of other countries to put schools and their teachers in contact with one another. The information on our projects is available in English, French and Spanish.
In this interview Dr. Carol Strohecker give us her insights on a lot of subjects around the role of new media in the learning process. We thank her for her kindness to our users.
What is the difference of didactics or methodology between e-learning and traditional teaching/learning (such as face to face teaching)? Can you predict, in e-learning environment, which abilities/skills of human will be developed (or created) more specially, and which one will be reduced (or disappeared), compared with the traditional education?
HaTran (Rest of the world)
Digital capabilities have obviously revolutionised ways we can communicate, access information, construct ideas, and learn. But human experience is strongly dependent on relations among people. We can do some socialising in virtual worlds, and researchers and developers have devised ingenious ways for us to see, hear, and engage with others virtually. No doubt such channels will continue to improve. But we are a long way from achieving the range and subtleties of real-world interpersonal interactions. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology made a bold move in acknowledging the importance of face-to-face, real-time, real-place relating, through their establishment of the MIT Open Courseware movement. By putting syllabi, course notes, and related materials online they are providing a wealth of information to anyone who wants it, free of charge. But they continue to charge tuition fees for the experience of being a student enrolled on campus, because they understand the importance and added value of face-to-face interacting with professors, students, and other members of the MIT community. The most important characteristic of any learning situation, physical or virtual, is its support for people to make their own knowledge – to employ information and relationships in processes of creating their own meanings and understandings.
What are the current practices & methodologies used to teach Computing subjects online keeping in mind that they don’t have local support and are lone learners?
Abdul Rehman http://www.ecmit.ac.ae arehman2 (Rest of the world)
I would recommend the Open Courseware from MIT’s department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Logo, and Squeak. Also, this paper gives an overview of many available systems (but I would recommend checking the material that each of the systems’ developers provide for thorough descriptions of their theoretical bases, recommended uses, and example code.
Do you consider that e-learning should be complemented with Strategic Planning Systems?
Aida AIDUCA (Rest of the world)
I don’t know much about the field of Strategic Planning but I would only say that it would seem a good idea if the learners are the ones not just involved planning their own learning, but in charge of planning their own learning. Others may provide resources and recommendations, but each learner needs to develop self-awareness of how he or she learns well and must have the power to act accordingly.
If we replicate the real world learning situations into the digital environments, the learning process will be more productive? What kind of tools could we provide to create more human digital scenarios?
HaTran’s question prompted some consideration of social factors in learning. We can also consider how the increasing availability of sensing technologies enables a broader range of perceptual and conceptual involvement as people learn with digital technologies. Perhaps these sources would be useful for further consideration:
Do you envisage informal learning playing a greater role within the formal environment of traditional education? If so, what new skills will teachers need to learn to enable this cultural shift?
Paul Justice (United Kingdom) www.elearningscotland.org
Yes, I do think what’s become known as "informal learning" will play an increasingly important role in all sorts of educational settings and processes. It’s important to remember that "informal learning" does not mean "unstructured learning" but, rather, "differently structured learning" – learning settings and processes that have structures which may differ from those we recognise from traditional schooling. In my view, these differing structures come from identifying things that are important to know in the 21st century, examining and articulating the structure of that knowledge, and creating tools and environments that learners can use as they construct this knowledge for themselves. The world is changing so rapidly that there is no reason to assume that anyone, including teachers, will have learned everything they need to know through some initial professional development. Everyone, including teachers, needs to keep learning throughout life and career. The most exciting teacher development project I have seen is "Empowering Minds," conducted by Dr. Deirdre Butler at St. Patrick’s College, Dublin City University. In this project, practicing teachers learn about digital technologies side-by-side with their young students. The setting is transformed from classroom to studio, where learners of mixed ages work with a range of materials – colourful paper and fabrics, photographs and videos, writing instruments, building bricks embedded with tiny computers and sensors – to construct folkloric narrative scenes with figures that move in response to light and sound. Everyone is a learner, everyone is a teacher, all are creating things together – things that communicate, things that exercise cultural understandings, things that exemplify the deepest ideas in computation. The participants develop understandings of their own learning processes – indeed, they are learning about learning itself, as well as about the interdisciplinary range of ideas. It is a true "learning environment." For more information see:
Why the governments of Europe do not get hundreds of e-learning contents developer companies to develop all standard courses thought in European Schools from 1st grade to 11th grade. There are about 160 or so courses in 11 year of education. EU can afford $ 160 million to develop 160 courses. Then everybody should reach them free like MIT Courseware. Am I too naive?
I don’t know whether anyone has proposed this idea so that it could be debated by potential founders. I would only say that "standards" need to be thought about carefully, especially when such a large and diverse group of people is concerned. Furthermore if we were to develop courses that merely extended today’s curricula, I think we would not be spending our funds well. Too many existing curricula are outdated, both in terms of the knowledge they address and how they address it. We need to rigorously question what people need to know in the 21st century and what kinds of learning environments will best engender this pluralistic knowledge. Last year MIT Professor Emeritus Seymour Papert and I conducted a seminar on this topic, in conjunction with a conference on technologies in education (which was being held at Media Lab Europe as a programme associated with Ireland’s hosting of the EU Presidency). We posed the question of whether people will use computer technologies merely to instigate incremental progress in education, or whether they can prompt us to consider and achieve fundamental changes. Professor Papert’s forthcoming book will explain his preference and recommendations for achieving fundamental change. Meanwhile, you could find some of his earlier writings at:
I’m doing a research about discussion groups and its importance and benefits for the pedagogical process, that’s to say, teaching and learning. What are de pros and cons of the discussion groups? In which way the discussion group can be an answer to the different learning styles in a virtual classroom? Is this tool more appropriate for a specific kind of students, for certain subjects? What type of pedagogical activities can we develop with this tool? Which are the best strategies to stimulate the students participation?
Maria Pedro Serrador mpserrador (Portugal)
What an interesting and important topic you are exploring! I believe that discussion is extremely important to learning processes. It is a way for a learner to make developing ideas explicit and to enrich or challenge them through comparison with other views. Years ago I had the good fortune of studying with the aforementioned Professor Seymour Papert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One of my most cherished memories is of a seminar in which we read Galileo’s "Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences." This is a beautifully written work in which three characters discuss the phenomenon of gravity: one is a strong proponent of the view that the phenomenon exists and a sage elucidator of how it works; another is a clever sceptic; and the other is a simpleton who nevertheless asks questions that can be illuminating. This method of personifying different views is a helpful way to bring out detail and sustain rigour in considering an idea. Years later I incorporated readings of Galileo’s "Dialogues" into a seminar that I conducted at Media Lab Europe, along with Imre Lakatos’s "Proofs and Refutations" and Gregory Bateson’s "metalogues" with his daughter Catherine. (We had also read these "talking about talking" exercises in Professor Papert’s seminar). In addition to such literary approaches, there are many computational tools that can support discussion of learning experiences and processes. Here are just a few that I’d consider noteworthy for their strong theoretical bases and application potential or for their ways of supporting learners’ developments of self-awareness, expressive vocabularies, and multiple perspectives: http://www.empoweringminds.spd.dcu.ie, http://www.inderscience.com/filter.php?aid=6019, http://www.media.mit.edu/~ananny/papers/mobileHCI2003.PDF, http://people.ucsc.edu/~wsack, http://smg.media.mit.edu.
I would appreciate your insights on the cultural differences in attitudes toward everyday learning. For instance, what differences do you see between the US and Europe?
Lisa Neal, Editor-in-Chief, eLearn Magazine lisaneal (United States of America)
The biggest difference I see is Europe’s greater reliance on mobile telephony. This pervasive technology enables a range of capabilities in communication and computation, which offer wonderful potentials for intercultural exchange and for learning among people of all ages. I also appreciate being closer to some important landmarks in the learning landscape, such as the "play well" concept emanating from Denmark, the "hundred languages of children" concept from Italy, and the "genetic epistemology" concepts of the Piagetian tradition whose birthplace is at the centre of the European continent. Jean Piaget’s work has often been misunderstood – and often misused – among psychologists and educators. But the emphases on structure and development of knowledge, and on microanalysis of individuals’ thinking processes, provide important approaches for research on learning and for design of tools and environments to support learning.
I am currently working on a project that is looking at the prospects of setting up a Virtual College for the Dublin Fire Brigade training centre. I have spoken to representatives from the Fire Brigade and I am getting a mixed view with regards to using e-learning as a tool for training. A web based learning tool is appealing to some, but not to all. Do you see e-learning as a method of enhancing training and if so, what tools are currently being used and is technology or cost the deciding factor?
Murray Ahern Muahern (Ireland )
You are fortunate to be in Dublin, as a multifaceted group has emerged recently to examine and develop e-learning concepts and methods. I would suggest contacting Declan Kelly at the National College of Ireland. He has access to a wealth of information about e-learning practices and prospectuses. You might also contact Jim Devine at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology, who is renowned for his work in e-learning.
I would like to study cognitive sciences next year. Is trying to establish "learning profiles" for individuals an old idea? If yes, what are the current theories about the individual ways of learning? If not, who/what laboratories/institutions are most advanced in this field and are there any on-going projects?
Sergiu Popesco sergiusergiu (France)
My favourite paper on this topic continues to be "Epistemological Pluralism," by Sherry Turkle and Seymour Papert, my own doctoral dissertation (MIT 1991, "Why Knot?") explores a related approach.
This anthology has a section on styles and strategies which exemplifies similar approaches:
These sorts of domain-focused, microanalytical approaches seem more appropriate for learning research than the generalised, questionnaire-based personality- and role-type categories that have become popular for organisation and human resources management.
Suppose there are 120 hours of instruction for a 9th grade physic class: If we can prepare a very well done internet course full of activity, interactivity, simulation, graphics, animations, pictures, videos, I claim that students can learn better than remote areas and underprivileged areas and underdeveloped countries schools’ students. Am I right? A very good course can be prepared let us say at $ 1 million, but when 1 million children reach and use it, it costs only $1 per student: why do you think people and governments of the world do not go for e-learning?
Muvaffak GOZAYDIN e-learning promoter mgozaydin (Turkey)
I share your concern that not enough people have access to such important ideas and your apparent realisation that providing people with computers and communications infrastructure is an important initial step but does not go far enough: we need to develop sophisticated treatments of content so that it is easily distributable, uses a range of media, and supports constructive interactivity enabling individuals to build their own understandings in ways that suit them well.
We are working in implementing e-learning (training) method to replace the traditional method and we have two questions: is there a questionnaire to analyze the profile of student in which we can trust, without the risk of the pleasant answers? And, is there any standard more flexible than SCORM Standard, with more functionalities. We would like to have the support of a browser to search for a word or at least not so hermetic, because if we are constructing a course with variants within the learning profile, we just can’t do it with this standard. How can we deliver the learning objects separately respecting the SCORM standard?
I’m not in a position to recommend an alternative or work-around to SCORM, but your desire for browser support makes sense to me and I hope that any standards developers who are reading may take note of your request. On the deeper methodological issue, I am way about questionnaires as instruments for ascertaining learning profiles. Such instruments go in an important direction by acknowledging differences in learning styles. However their necessary generality makes them brittle when we consider the vast diversity in learning styles: we are far from being able to anticipate and capture all the relevant descriptors of people’s ways of engaging and thinking. From the perspective of the nascent learning sciences, such instruments are premature. We need to do much more research into how people learn in order to develop the views and vocabularies that would help us to characterise thinking processes and how they grow, develop, and change over time for different individuals.
I am interested in the use of commercial Instant Messaging Programs (Yahoo Messenger, ICQ etc.) in e-learning. Are there any examples of using this everyday technology in e-learning? How would you suggest incorporating them in a learning process?
I would suggest pursuing the resources mentioned above in the notes to Maria Pedro Serrador and Murray Ahern.
Could you tell us if the spontaneous and self initiated learning is more successful than the learning traditional model, started and directed by the teacher?
There are several ideas in your question that need to be teased apart: learning may be spontaneous and/or deliberate, self-initiated and/or recommended, self-conducted and/or guided, exploratory and/or rote, constructive and/or didactic, and/or of course much more. I think the most important recent development in learning research and practice is the theory and method of "constructionism," which can be contrasted with the notion of "instructionism". For a wonderful compendium of sources on this idea, see: http://www.papert.org
I would like to know to what extent the ICT and the new technological devices applied to the educational field can really change the way we think. I mean: using hypertext environments frequently -for instance- could change the linear way in which we structure knowledge?
Technologies can echo familiar ways of thinking or support new ones, depending on how we choose to situate and use the capabilities. I think the most important step we can take toward employing the full power of the computer is to encourage people to go beyond word processors, spreadsheets, and search engines to exploring the computer’s extreme versatility as a modeling tool. Even young children can write computer programmes to animate graphics, compose melodies, and control real-world movements of gears and sensors. These activities can be enjoyable and valuable in and of themselves, but they can also promote learning about fundamental ideas about how systems work generally – and this is important knowledge for surviving in our social and physical, large and small contexts on planet Earth. I will soon be publishing a paper elaborating on these ideas in the International Journal of Knowledge and Learning: http://www.inderscience.com/browse/index.php?journalCODE=ijkl ("Learning Cyrkus," in press).
What do you think about the power of "unwitting learning" - for example learning from experience?
kopeckyk (Czech Republic)
I think the discovery of the unconscious mind and studies of unconscious processes of thought are among the most important advances of recent times. I am grateful to writers such as Freud, Poincaré, Piaget, Winnicott, Papert, and Minsky for their studies of such processes, which play an immeasurable role in "unwitting learning." Such processes are perceptual, cognitive, affective, and emotional. We still have much to learn about how these aspects of human experience function and interrelate. Perhaps serendipity is worth considering as another aspect of "unwitting learning." The world gives us many ways to probe and understand the workings of gravity, ecologies, families, and countless other complex phenomena that constitute our experience. But where the natural world does not provide easily accessible means for developing such understandings, we can devise our own representations and models to aid experimentation. The computer is an excellent tool for such explorations. Again, please see my forthcoming article, "Learning Cyrkus," for further consideration of these points: http://www.inderscience.com/browse/index.php?journalCODE=ijkl
I am incorporating an e-learning platform for Language and communication teachers in Chili. They are teachers of seventh grade (students from 11-12 years old). I’m interested in your opinion on a blended strategy that incorporate classroom activities (e.g. oral language, drama, TV or radio listening, news reading) and web-based activities (construction of dialogues between characters, developing of drama sketches, news analysis, exercises of school journalism, etc. Can one combine these activities in a way that there is continuity in the course and that neither the purpose of learning nor the course’s objectives are lost?
Rolando Palacios (Chile)
Your approach sounds delightful and I hope you will pursue it. The different media lend themselves to different kinds of activities, which may be associated with different ideas and with different learning styles. These broad ranges have great potential to support "the purpose of learning," with each person being able to seek out and exercise interests and preferred approaches within an overall context. Please consider carefully what you mean by "continuity" and the "course’s objectives." Each person may be best able to create continuity for themselves if it means coherence within their own scope and progression of ideas. And are your choices of media consistent with your objectives? The broad range of media may be most consistent with a broadly encompassing notion of learning, one which respects and empowers each thinker’s unique development rather than attempting to bring everyone into the same prescribed knowledge. Above all, real learning takes time, and the sort of learning environment you describe would need especially to allow participants to spend time exploring the range of ideas and media, deepening activities in areas discovered to be fruitful. You could find examples of such environments, with descriptions of the media and other design decisions they rely on as well as analyses of the learning they support, in these books on constructionism and at the site of the previously mentioned Empowering Minds project: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0893917869/qid=1113719826/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/104-8271849-0011115, http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0805819851/qid=1113719826/sr=2-2/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_2/104-8271849-0011115.
I would like to thank all of the correspondents for their thoughtful and provocative questions. I appreciate this opportunity to exchange views with you and hope you will persevere in your attempts to engender productive learning experiences and better understandings of how learning happens.
Carol Strohecker has conducted learning research at Media Lab Europe, Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She earned the PhD of Media Arts and Sciences from MIT in 1991, and the MS in Visual Studies from MIT in 1986. She has been a Lecturer for the MIT Media Arts and Sciences programme and has worked in the Human Interface Group of Sun Microsystems. Carol has been a Fellow of the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, the US National Endowment for the Arts, and the Massachusetts Council for the Arts and Humanities. She holds 4 US patents for her work in interactive media tools and methods.
The Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs, Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, has initiated this report to start the discussion about the future European ICT agenda. PricewaterhouseCoopers is responsible for the content of the report, which presents a list of breakthroughs that the EU may need to achieve our Lisbon-goals.
Europe has set itself the highest target, it wants to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy, to have sustained and accelerated economic growth with full employment and a modernised social protection system. But everyone agrees that the Lisbon target are still far away. Structurally, the economic growth rate and worker productivity are lower than in many comparable countries such as the USA. The key technology to stimulate growth in Europe is ICT. Although the ICT developments in the last decade have been spectacular, the potential contribution of ICT to economic growth and the quality of life is still enormous. However, it is necessary to take account of the ICT paradigm of today and proven best practices in an international setting to achieve the best results in the future.
There are several countries that are very successful with their creation and implementation of ICT. The few that were investigated in this study: Korea, India, China, USA and Japan all outperform the EU in many respects. These countries have bold initiatives and dare to improve their position in the field of ICT with proactive industrial policies.
Europe too can be successful. Present policies are very useful but not instrumental enough to enable Europe to catch up with other economic powers. We have to reconsider the present policies to identify the issues that are obstructing further progress and consider further the breakthroughs that could be achieved. In this study we have identified ten of such potential breakthroughs.
Breakthrough 1: Shift the e-Business and e-Government policy from connectivity to taking up complex ICT applications
A crucial condition for more economic growth is a broad deployment and use of ICT by enterprises and public institutions. Therefore the EU needs national strategies that focus on flanking investments in skills and organizational transformation. Special attention is needed for small and medium-sized enterprises.
Breakthrough 2: Standardize ICT environments in Europe to trigger and enable new business
Standardization is a prerequisite for a broad deployment and use of ICT, and will trigger and enable new business. Pan-European interoperable solutions for electronic authentication and electronic payments are needed to boost innovation and economic growth significantly.
Breakthrough 3: Accelerate the introduction of disruptive technologies
The speed with which new technologies are accepted and put to work has a serious impact on economic growth. The EU needs to play a key role by accelerating the introduction of new (disruptive) technologies like smart tags and Voice-over IP.
Breakthrough 4: Realize the vision of 'any content, anytime, anywhere, any platform'
Content is considered an important engine for future economic growth and employment. The EU needs to fuel this engine by realizing the vision of 'any content, anytime, anywhere, any platform' by e.g. introducting multiplatform access for content producers and new digital rights management regimes.
Breakthrough 5: Go for global platform leadership in the ICT industry
An excellent and competitive European ICT industry is a crucial condition for economic growth and employment. The EU needs to define a strategy towards global leadership in specific areas, for example by stimulating a (new) European standards policy (in cooperation with the market) and making an explicit choice for e.g. the future of 3G mobile telecom in Europe.
Breakthrough 6: Develop a strategic response to job migration to low-wage countries
Economic growth and employment can be seriously affected by the accelerated job migration to low-wage countries. The EU needs to develop a strategic response.
Breakthrough 7: Remove barriers for the development of an innovating European electronic communications sector
The electronic communications sector is a proven source for economic growth and employment. The EU needs to anticipate in an early stage the barriers for investments in next generation networks.
Breakthrough 8: Move to a new and flexible model of spectrum allocation
The spectrum is one of the major battlefields for innovation and new business. Modernization of spectrum policies will have a large economic impact. Therefore the EU urgently needs to make its rigid spectrum allocation model flexible.
Breakthrough 9: Enforce real solutions for consumer confidence and security
A crucial condition for a broad deployment and use of ICT by business and consumers is user confidence. Therefore the EU needs to enforce structural solutions for viruses and spam by creating liabilities, give priority to cybercrime within law enforcement and ensure the availability of critical infrastructures.
Breakthrough 10: Shift e-Inclusion policy from 'access for all' to 'skills for all'
A crucial step for a broad deployment and use of ICT by consumers is that Europe's e-Inclusion policy does not only focus on broadband access, but also on the skills Europeans need to participate in the information society. Therefore the EU needs to redefine the current universal service obligation and adopt strategies for improving ICT skills.
More information to continue the debate
More information about the report and the Dutch activities related to this report can be found at the ICTStrategy-eu2004 website.
The European e-Skills 2004 Conference website offer information about e-skills issues, including global sourcing, as well as strategies and best practices to boost e-skills, e-learning, competitiveness and job creation.
The eLearning Industry group (eLIG) has developed several contributions to the eEurope 2005 Action Plan, the future of EU Training programmes and other relevant issues.
After a careful analysis of real e-learning practices towards e-inclusion, we have found the following six key areas which are good starting points for both implementation and further research. They are the following:
I. Social solutions to social problems
Social practices interact with technology, and one influences the other. If we want to have a really inclusive information society, we need to address the social problems that have turned people into digitally excluded, and not only consider the ones derived from lack of structure. When digital divide is considered, not everyone has been created equally. There is an important qualitative difference between someone which is already excluded and need to understand and use ICT and someone which only needs some formal knowledge to jump in. This is a general principle which we think should permeate any type of e-learning strategy directed to e-inclusion. Otherwise it may become a total failure.
II. Community and awareness
Learning communities are a hot subject nowadays. Nevertheless, they are mostly viewed as mere instrumental concepts towards improving learning. Again, this is useful, but it is not enough. ITC offers us wonderful social software which can be used in original ways to help real communities to expand their political, social and cultural horizons.
Isolated communities can use digital technologies to be better known and respected among our society. The dispersed members of a community can use several digital tools to stay in touch and continue developing their own lifestyles and culture. We should also keep in mind all the awareness power that lies in the Internet to describe and fight social exclusion. This strategy is key when we are considering rural isolated communities and migrants that are working far away from their homes, but they can become also an important measure to fight sexism in the computer world and help women to join and transform ICT.
III. Towards the transparent PC
Personal computers and software get more improvements and new features each year and therefore become more difficult to use. This may be fine for users that are familiar with ICT. However, it makes things worse every year for the digitally excluded, specially when elderly or people with disabilities are considered. In fact we consider that this “new feature” strategy is deeply wrong from a social and educational point of view. We need to reverse it. We have to consider strategies and technologies to turn them more intuitive and easier to use. A camera or a car are fairly intuitive technologies. To take a picture, you just direct the camera to the place you want to photograph and click the button. If you want to turn right, you just move the wheel right. Why can’t ICT be like that?
IV. Problem solving methodology for e-learning
Because our target has specific needs, we need to avoid academicism, and to construct e-learning materials that are useful, practical, and motivational. This surely implies something that is usually neglected when thinking about e-learning strategies: the specific social and cultural context. Lack of trust and of motivation are important barriers towards e-inclusion. We will never cross those gates if we just create the typical “how-to” courses.
Besides, information society becomes more and more competitive. In a few years, just knowing how to use a word processor or an e-mail client won’t make any difference in the job market. This is another reason to search for problem solving methodology. A general course on how to use several graphic edition software may be of use, but it is far better a problem solving course on how to make flyers for clubs, which is both a good motivator and even a job opportunity for an unemployed young in a challenging neighbourhood.
V. Internet for everybody
Software technologies are plastic enough to be adapted to any specific need an special collective may had: content can be adapted to any type of cognitive, sensorial or physical disability. Unfortunately, very few companies, administrations or individuals use that characteristic. We need to raise awareness on that topic among software and hardware producers, web designers and educators. When accessing culture, physical barriers like distance or architecture are a challenge to people with mobility problems. Books are of no use to people with visual difficulties. It is a shame that most digital cultural products, which can avoid these barriers easily, are not really adapted to these people’s needs.This article is a fragment of the Digital and Social Inclusion Chart prepared by several institutions in the framework of eLearning Initiative of the European Commission. The full text of the Chart is available in 11 languages.
This text reproduce a fragment from the article “The traditional vs the Business Model of the University: the Implications for the Deployment of Learning Technologies”, written as a part of the Minerva founded project e-Resources and Distance Learning Management (eDilema). The whole text of the article is available in the papers from “Developments in e-learning 2003 Conference”, in the eDilema website.
Traditional or Business Model?
According to Brown &Duguid various pressures, especially, those of competition are now forcing Universities to think like businesses. Similarly David Noble tells us that the slogans of York University teachers characterized their strike as the clash of “the classroom vs. the boardroom”. Both of the above comments suggest a tension between the traditional model of the university and some newer business model. It is timely to discuss the implications of this question because of the:
1. the continuing ‘political’ pressure on universities to produce graduates that satisfy the needs of industry
2. the growth of private 3rd level profit-making universities, and
3. the redefinition of certain vocational/technical colleges as universities.
These implications are discussed under the following headings (1) Knowledge (2) Learning and (3) The Credentialing Role of the University
The traditional model of the university may be seen as one, which provided ‘shelter’ for ideas, research and experimentation the value or relevance of which was not always immediately apparent. Yet this sheltering produced the synergy that led to knowledge creation. (Brown & Duguid) The knowledge associated with the business model of the university may be represented as a kind of ‘concrete’ knowledge or competence that is relevant to the ‘real world’ (Brabazon) . The latter world, unlike the world of the ‘ivory tower’, assumes that education is highly correlated with important ‘real world’ issues such as, economic growth, efficiency and societal improvement. (Clegg). Accordingly the business model aims to produce specialists with specific skills – not just with knowledge but also with know how, not just knowledge ‘embrained’ but also ‘embodied’ (Blackler). The traditional model, in contrast, aims to produce a more general category of graduate focusing on the development of widely applicable cognitive skills.
The knowledge associated with the traditional model is characterized by complex, interrelated ideas the learning of which takes place over a long period of time. This way or process of ‘knowing’ is closely related to ideas about the acquisition of wisdom. (Sapientia, ‘wisdom’ Sapire ‘to know’, Perseus,esp II.2.b). Coming from this perspective the policy maker exploits learning technologies to expose learners to a wide range of ideas or to challenge their critical faculties.
The knowledge associated with the business model, on the other hand, is typified by the deconstruction of learning into small, short, modularizable, prepackaged units. Such units or learning objects, once developed, can be recycled – for the knowledge is ‘embedded’ in the technology (Blackler) - and resold many times at a cost cheaper than that of competitors. This is the ‘unplug and pay’ strategy (Brown & Duguid 209). ‘In future we may see less and less development of whole courses and more and more development of small learning objects’ (Bates 183). (Incidentally, the strategy does not have to be a commercial one. For instance California State University’s Centre for Distributed Learning, which serves all the universities in the state system focuses on producing learning modules rather than full-blown Web based courses.)
Some (Brabazon, Noble) see sinister motives in such developments. They interpret this as the attempt to commercialize education and to commoditize learning and knowledge. Such commoditization will be less in the long-term interests of the student, they argue, than of the vendors of hardware and educational software. (Already, that there is evidence of such vendors offering incentives to colleges to showcase their technology (Noble))
Turning from knowledge to learning, critics argue that the business model is underpinned by the largely outdated assumptions of the information processing view of learning. According to this view learning is seen as little more that the transfer of information into relatively empty vessel that is the learner. Understanding this helps one to explain the focus of the model on deploying learning technologies to create efficiencies in production, delivery and reuse of courseware (Brabazon). There is evidence that some of the efficiencies sought are brought about by the substitution of teacher labour with technology (Noble).
More recent theories such as Constructivism (Bruner), challenge some of the assumptions of information processing model: knowledge is not an objective transferable commodity, but is constructed by the learner, the relevance of information is more defined by the learner than by the courseware designer, the learner is not an empty vessel but makes valuable use of prior knowledge to assimilate new ideas and gains important insights thru application of learning to authentic tasks and thru collaboration with fellow students. An implementation of learning theories informed by such a theoretical perspective, far from providing prepackaged pieces of courseware, might, for instance, encourage learners to use the technologies in order to assemble their own learning materials, to collaborate with fellow learners and to develop their critical and creative thinking skills.
Some would argue that the traditional university system encourages the learner to go well beyond mere ‘collaboration with fellow learners’. In fact the traditional model encourages the learner to enter into community of practice with other learners and teachers (Brown & Duguid). This community of practice may be thought of as an informal social system that counterbalances and complements the formal structure of the university. The formal hierarchical structure of deans, professors, lecturers, and assistants is constrained by, among other things, the amount of information that it can process and that it can communicate.
The informal community of practice helps to fill in some of the gaps in communication and social support that the formal vertical structure leaves unfilled. These lateral interactions between members of the community of practice- as opposed to the vertical interactions of the hierarchy - provide learners with a constant stream of information -‘the essential news’ as Blackler called it –that serves to help them discriminate between ‘the important’ and the ‘unimportant’ in their field of study, that helps them determine what constitute standards of excellence, or what is expected of them – as well as providing information on procedures, unwritten norms and rules in relation to attendance, preparation of work, submission deadlines and many other matters which could not be summarized either easily or accurately in a student handbook. This then is a process of socialization or enculturation in networks of social support, communication and received practice (Wenger, Cornford & Pollock, Brown & Duguid).
Brown and Duguid argue that the traditional university accomplishes the process of enculturation thru the provision of extensive and intensive access to communities of practice. Extensive access refers to the participation in a number of communities of practice. Intensive access refers to participation in just one or two communities. The career of the learner may be thought of as gradually moving from extensive to intensive access: the undergraduate typically samples many communities but a postgraduate typically engages with and participates much more deeply in and becomes a member of a single community.
Brown and Duguid draw the distinction between two forms of learning that are related to this. Initially students are concerned with ‘learning about’ but they end up being concerned with ‘learning to be’. One might think of the business model as being primarily concerned with ‘learning about’ (‘embrained’/’embodied’ knowledge) and the traditional model as being much more concerned with ‘learning to be’ (‘encultured knowledge’). According to this latter view one exploits learning technologies to develop and provide ongoing support to communities of learners.
The Credentialing Role of the University
As neither learning nor knowledge in themselves are easily marketable commodities universities have fulfilled the role of representing what is valuable in a field of learning to the student and further representing its student graduates as knowledgeable individuals to society. Hence, if knowledge is an important part of the product that universities have always offered, so also is the paper it comes wrapped in, the degree. This paper is like a guarantee that the consumer uses to judge the excellence or reliability of the product. But what is it that gives reliability to the guarantee? It is the quality assurance process that lies behind it. This is the ‘credentialing’ process wherein experts give the benefit of their knowledge to students in lectures & tutorials, they coach postgraduates in the preparation of theses, and especially they discriminate between students who have reached the standard and those who have not – and all this under the supervision of more senior experts, examination boards and degree awarding university senates. (Brown & Duguid).
Learning Technology Strategies
Below I have sketched out two strategies that are likely to result from the inherent differences of perspective between the business and the traditional models. The strategies can be thought of as being at the opposite ends of a spectrum with many variations in between. They are counterpoised here so that some elements of each can be developed and their implications for the university can be teased out. It is worth reminding ourselves that each of these diametrically opposed strategies is enabled by the same technologies. Which strategy is adopted is a matter of choice. I have given these strategies two neutral labels as Strategy X and Strategy Y.
Strategy X is based on the assumptions of the business model. It envisages the university as a commissioner of courseware. Under this strategy the university might also buy off the shelf courseware, repackage it and sell it on under some agreement with vendors to different markets. For the university there is the opportunity of increased markets, for the vendor there is the benefit of the university’s credentialing system. The principal challenges here have to do with choices about product and about markets.
For instance in the Irish market which is small, this strategy offers the possibility of using the technology to open up new, larger markets such as that of the ‘Irish Diaspora’ (more than 40 million) in the US and Australia. More generally where a university has a given expertise, the technology could be used to reduce ‘delivery costs’ and increase business volume in more distant, underdeveloped and emergent markets.
Strategy X is a high volume, globalisation strategy. It is likely to be characterized by the outsourcing of expertise, especially development expertise, and the creation of alliances with vendors and key players in global online educational networks. It will, also, need to be supported by sophisticated administrative systems to deal with production, delivery, registration and payment.
The choice of this strategy is also likely to imply some cultural shift from a primarily role/support culture to an essentially achievement culture (Handy in Saunders). Managing this change will be vital to the success of this strategy.
Strategy Y is based on the assumptions of the traditional model. It envisages the university as deploying learning technologies, probably in a blended environment, primarily to improve the quality of teaching and learning. Under this strategy learning technologies are used to accomplish certain pedagogic goals that are both cognitive and socio psychological (Billet): to provide learners with online resources (Guided Exploration), to take advantage of such materials to develop the students’ cognitive faculties, (critical/ creative thinking), to ease the sense of isolation of distance students, to facilitate group work among them (collaboration), to create a sense of community, to provide ‘goal-oriented activities’ and ‘access to support and guidance’ (Billet).
This is a teacher-dependent strategy which emphasizes excellence in teaching and learning. In the long term it envisages that both of these will be the foundations of the university’s success. So, support and guidance are central to this strategy. Also, significant investments in the development or recruitment of staff will have to be made or maintained, to resource the provision of high quality support and guidance.
The nature of this strategy also underlines the importance of developing a sound working relationship with other universities in order to reap the benefits of their credentialing process. Under this strategy, as we have seen, students might benefit, as a normal part of their education, from the expertise distributed across a number of universities and there is a likely to be a much greater emphasis on networking of universities and the identification of collaborative teaching and learning projects.
As mentioned above strategy Y also exploits learning technologies to develop communities of practice among our students. In a recent IPA report students identified ‘isolation’ as the biggest obstacle to their learning. The use of learning technologies – mostly email and the Internet- was the most frequent suggestion for tackling the problem. (IPAb 32,46).
Strategy Y is the pedagogic-excellence strategy but it goes well beyond the classroom. Ultimately it reinforces the foundations for a university as center of excellence.
It is important to conceive of both of the above as being on the opposite ends of a spectrum. There is no attempt to suggest that one strategy is better than the other. It is likely that some mixture of the two will be the most appropriate blend for the university. The university policy makers must determine the nature of that mixture.
A brief theoretical note may prove useful to focus the question. According to Information Theory, knowledge tends to become concentrated in itself. Richer structures are able to accumulate new information with ease. In contrast however, “info-poor” structures tend to remain so. In other words, the distance between those who know a lot and those who know little is tending to grow because the former gather information faster than the latter. The propensity of information to become accumulated into increasingly complex structures seems to be a general tendency of all systems, from human societies to ecosystems.
This context provides the setting for the two basic academic visions that the new technologies invoke in contemporary societies:
1. The new technologies may constitute another exclusion factor to be added to the classics (age, poverty, illiteracy and so on). ICTs may therefore aggravate pre-existing problems.
2. The new technologies may help overcome some “traditional” exclusion, fostering as they do new methods of learning, and can especially benefit social groups distanced from traditional education.
Both visions are clearly contrasting. Yet both are probably true. What factors determine the predomination of one force or the other in one particular social group or context?
Do the information and communication technologies constitute a new exclusion factor?
Some of the articles published on the elearningeuropa.info will help us explore to what extent the new technologies may represent an exclusion factor.
The article, Obstacles to Older People using Computers, by Melanie Lewin, offers an interesting perspective on the problems affecting the elderly. Senior citizens make up a perfect example of the exclusion phenomena as they concentrate a large number of exclusion factors: their advanced age is added to their poverty (the elderly generally exist on a low income); they suffer disabilities (the severity of physical problems increases with age); their educational level (usually lower than average); elements related to gender (there are many more elderly women than men), and so on.
To date, the new technologies have acted as a factor of exclusion rather than one of inclusion in this context. Senior citizens have little or no access to the information society and this intensifies their remaining at the margin of the social system. In Catalonia, for example, 71.7% of young people between the ages of 15 and 19 are Internet users, a percentage that falls to 4.7% for people aged from 60 to 64, according to the study The Net Society in Catalonia, published in 2002.
Though the passage of time will tend to improve these results it is obvious that in our ageing Western societies an extremely high proportion of people have no access to the ever-increasing number of services available through the Internet. Worse still is the fact that many senior citizens show no interest whatsoever in the virtual world, seeing the new technologies as “not for them”, and thus tend towards their own self-exclusion, according to the thesis of the French sociologist Philippe Breton (see the article, “Old People Feel Excluded from New Technologies”.
Much remains to be done to redress this situation and in this respect the "Report on Special Education in Europe" provides a useful focus. When educational needs are highly specific and complex, e-learning systems should be adapted to certain specific contexts and thus introduce the flexibility that pupils lack. They should, above all however, also form part of a global, coherent educational approach. There is little point offering a few classes to senior citizens, for example, if later they have nobody to answer the endless number of little doubts that the day-to-day handling of computers raises for a novice in the field. An education and training service should be provided which is especially adapted to extremely well-defined areas and characteristics.
According to the "Charter for Digital and Social Inclusion", the digital divide, “is a multidimensional phenomenon which includes barriers that are highly diverse in nature. It is the cause of great concern that some of these are in essence psychological and must therefore be approached with an educational strategy. Others, involving a lack of confidence or motivation, are attributable to the user, but there are also barriers in the production of e-learning systems, such as the development of excessively formal systems and non-adapted technologies, the lack of meaningful context and the use of generalist methodologies that fail to pay the necessary attention to cultural and social contexts.”
Are the new technologies an inclusion factor?
On the other hand, some reports have detected an interesting potential for inclusion in the new technologies. A study carried out in Spain, for example, suggests that pupils with least motivation and the worst grades are those who experience greatest improvement when the computer and digital teaching materials are introduced into their education (see the article, “An experimental study on the impact of the computer in the classroom”). According to this line of argument, the new technologies can play a “redistributor” role in the dissemination of information by stimulating the rhythm of information acquisition of those who know less and bringing it closer to that of those who know more. This is the case because the new technologies exert influence in two essential aspects: motivation and learning processes.
With regard to motivation, the analysis carried out by Wendy Jones in her article, "The BBC and e-learning" is highly revealing. The wide range of resources and platforms made available by the BBC (interactive television, mobile telephony, websites and so on) has enabled the Corporation to reach segments of the public usually highly resistant to formal learning proposals. As Jones explains, “The e-learning environment created by these new technologies can break down barriers to learning, particularly among the young. For many of this “screen generation”, new technology is inherently attractive and ICT is linked to leisure.” The migration to e-learning from computer games or interactive TV may prove to be relatively simple.
As regards learning processes, obviously the new technologies bring into play a certain degree of diversity in cognitive processes, reason for which it is easier for a multimedia system to be adapted to individual learning styles. This will attract a wider variety of pupils and may lead to more uniform access to knowledge. Furthermore, as Professor Tony Bates emphasises, “multimedia systems allow a richer mental construction than classical linear text.”
Some characteristics of the new technologies seem to facilitate their inclusive role. Many e-learning projects work in informal environments and introduce certain leisure-based aspects: participative models are often introduced which are based on games and simulations and the diversity of resources (texts, animation, videos and so on) stimulates diverse styles of learning. But to be able to play out their inclusive role it is necessary for access to the new technologies to be produced in the right environment, an environment which excluded collectives obviously lack.
In certain contexts it seems clear that the new technologies may help distribute knowledge better. Information will continue its tendency to accumulate in itself, but ICTs can help in the flow of information towards the less fortunate. It is also highly likely that they help homogenize learning rhythms.
For this to occur however, minimum conditions of access must be available from which the ICTs can help break down the barrier of lack of motivation and previous information. When the problem of exclusion is serious and the minimum conditions of access to computer systems inexistent, the new technologies only exacerbate the existing problem by adding a further element of exclusion.
How can we avoid the negative side of ICTs and strengthen their positive aspects? The answer to this question lies in guaranteeing equality in their conditions of access, an issue far more related to media literacy than to access to technology. We shall be witnesses in the coming years to a multitude of projects along these lines. In fact, there are now so many initiatives that the e-Learning for e-Inclusion project has developed its own method of classification: a Digital Library containing a great number of projects, classified by the type of inclusion problem and the solution they provide.
The number of projects whose aim is to achieve digital inclusion will rise exponentially over the next few years. The challenge will consist in learning enough from them to be able to design a structured framework of knowledge. Research into exclusion factors must be energetically promoted, as well as that into the characteristics of the different social groups that are excluded. Bibliography:
Bates, T. (1999). “The impact of new media on academic knowledge”. Burda Medien Envisioning Knowledge – from Information to Knowledge. February 3rd - 4th, 1999 Munich.
Carta para la Inclusión Digital y Social.
Castells, Manuel; Tubella, Inma; “La Sociedad Red en Cataluña”.
Ibáñez, Augusto. "Un estudio experimental sobre el impacto del ordenador en el aula".
IInforme sobre Educación Especial en Europa.
Jones, Wendy. The BBC and e-learning.
Lewin, Melanie. Obstacles to Older People using Computers.
Throughout the following lines we present an edited version of this study, where some recommendations for action were stablished. These recommendations draw up some useful guidelines to undertake e-learning projects, since they summarize the ‘lessons learnt’ through real projects. Although these recommendations were focused on Leonardo da Vinci projects, they can be really helpful to assess e-learning initiatives in a broad sense.
Some of the strategic recommendations are identified as follows:
Agree on a clear understanding of what is e-learning
A clear understanding of e-learning itself and the different issues around e-learning is needed to avoid misunderstandings which often arise.
The “hype” around e-Learning has led many project promoters to designate as eLearning any project using ICT connected to education and training – however lose the connection! Very few projects explore all the possible aspects of eLearning.
Base the project on the learner
The recommendation of adopting a clear learner orientation also includes the necessity to postulate in a clear way that the needs of the learners have to be determined in a concrete manner before starting the project (even before applying for a project). This includes awareness of the learning biography, of individual learning styles and of social needs. This also includes the need to develop a clear and transparent learning philosophy behind the project.
Some projects adopt a constructivist approach: the learning programmes invite the learner to choose a topic of interest, conduct experiments, draw conclusions and compare existing (archived) information with their current findings. In science and technology education, ICT is used in so-called virtual laboratories (computer simulations, animations, etc.) as well as in “real” laboratories (computer supported measurement, computer controlled devices). There are examples of this approach in a number of different subjects and areas including mechatronics, laser technology and medicine.
Adopt a clear and transparent learning philosophy
This includes the necessity to discuss the different learning philosophies between the transnational partners at an early stage of project development. Otherwise, because of the different learning cultures in different countries, problems can arise in the future dissemination and implementation and it can affect project sustainability.
To develop a learning philosophy implies a clear decision on learning categories, including the general learning objectives (is learning just a process of acquiring information or is it more?) or the formal framework and context for learning (formal learning, informal learning or both?).
Train the teachers and trainers
Support for teachers has to include the use of new technologies as well as the pedagogical aspects of teaching, training, coaching, moderating etc. Teaching science, technology, economics, medicine etc. needs a teaching and learning approach that is as close to the “real world” as possible. This can only be achieved with appropriately trained teachers competent in their own subject area, trained in the use of modern learning technology and also trained in methodological and didactical processes.
Teachers’ training is needed because even at the highest level, university and college staff members are inexperienced in adult education. University professors with decades of teaching and research experience turn out to be unsuccessful and frustrated when teaching on-the-job courses. Course design for distance education is a set of skills that should be mastered even for highly qualified staff. Even those with a natural talent for educating adults will face technical problems when cutting-edge technology must be used. For example, video conferencing requires totally different presentation methods than normal lecturing. Special training is required to develop illustrations and devise a suitable structure for such sessions. Technology develops rapidly, so trainers need ongoing updating. National Agencies should organise informal training events for teachers participating in the Leonardo projects, but the projects themselves also must cater for their own special training needs.
Include a focus on pedagogy and communications in the project
The postulation that design and development of programmes aiming on e-Learning should be pedagogically oriented, means, for example, that in creating development strategies the following questions need to be taken into account:
· If and how will the learners’ needs be established?
· Is it our main objective to make the learner learn or to motivate the learner?
· How will the learning biographies of the learners be taken into consideration within the development process?
· Will there be attention to the social aspects of learning?
e-Learning development is mostly determined by technical developers. Development strategies have to be based at on a basic knowledge of pedagogy. Pedagogical innovation will help more to make eLearning more successful for the learners than the use of the latest technology. To help overcome this problem, it is important that different groups of participants take part in the design and development process. These groups should include learners, teachers (pedagogues), designers, ICT specialists.
As there is a need for these groups to work together, communication is important in the design and development process. ICT developers need to explore pedagogical innovation and those who do not wish to do so should not take part in such projects. That could help in that new project applications will emphasize educational innovation and reward pedagogic practice.
Regard evaluation as one of the most important tasks
It is important that evaluation has a central role in the project. Interim results can be heplful in developing and determining future activities and influencing postively the project results. To fullfil this work, projects have to consider:
· what to evaluate (the social and cultural needs, the learning process, the learning environment, the management);
· how to evaluate (learning circles, effect evaluations, self assessment), and
· the perspective of evaluations (global and European perspective, SME, educational institutions and the learners).
· evaluation has to start from the first day of the project;
· the responsability for evaluation has to be clearly defined, not forgetting that the project coordinator has a special responisbilty which cannot be delegated;
· one part of this special responsability is to lead the steering process and to take care that evalution is not accidental.
Reflect the possibilities of Open Source software and standards
There are a number of standards and standard groups. The IEEE Learning Objects Metadata Standard and the US derived SCORM standard have made some impression in the last two years. Yet there remains grave doubts about the validity and applicability of these standards. Essentially they are technical standards and fail to take account of learners or content, let alone the different national and regional cultures. Research into localisation of e-Learning programmes and materials (Blandin, forthcoming), suggest these are some of the most important factors in developing e-Learning to meet learners needs.
It may well be that the European Commission should undertake an initiative to encourage and facilitate the development and implementation of standards which meet the needs of learners, developers as well as learning and teaching providers in Europe. If the legal questions of using and developing Open Software Source will be clarified at an international level – especially in the EU – reducing risks for users and the developers the promotion of Open Source could dramatically change the face of eLearning in Europe. This article is a free adaptation of the document “e-Learning in Europe – Results and Recommendations”. Thematic Monitoring under the Leonardo da Vinci Programme, developed by Graham Attwell, Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Peter Fabian, Andrea Kárpáti and Peter Littig.
· The Action Plan 2004 – 2006 for Language Learning and Linguistic Diversity is structured around three broad areas: extending the benefits of life-long language learning to all citizens, improving language teaching, and creating a more language-friendly environment, giving an inclusive approach to minority and regional languages.
Other interesting European initiatives offering information about language learning are the following:
· Lingua Catalogue. A broad overview of Europe's accomplishements in the field of language learning can be seen at the
· The Label Database. Gathering some 429 projects (including some on-line courses), the European Label for Innovative Projects in Language Teaching and Learning is a database containing local, regional, or national projects that have found creative ways to improve the quality of language teaching, motivate students, make the best of available resources to diversify the language offer, etc.
· Euroclic, a site for teachers. The Commission has contributed to develop Euroclic, a network of teachers and other parties interested in the learning of other educational subjects through the use of a foreign language. This network produces regular bulletins, the Internet site includes a materials bank and a “chat” facility for teachers.
· Lingu@net Europa is virtual resource centre for the teaching and learning of foreign languages. It is being developed by a 10-nation consortium. Lingu@net Europa provide useful information for teachers, trainers, policy makers and multipliers and, in the longer term, for learners of languages. This will include information on the learning and teaching of foreign languages and a materials showcase with downloadable examples
· ICT4LT, Information and Communication Technology for Language Teachers is a transnational project that addresses the needs of European language teachers. The ICT4LT website offers a number of free training materials that have been piloted with groups of language teachers and teacher trainers.
· The Human Language Technology Portal (HLTCentral). The HLTCentral website was launched as a springboard for access to language technology resources on the Web. Some advanced language technologies are deployed on the site, and a moderated discussion group has been set up. Many links to HLT Web resources are listed, and a HLT Showcase is presented. The projects presented are related to Multilingual services, Cross lingual knowledge Management tools, e-Commerce, Mobile Information Society, Speech, Natural Interactivity and others.
“Over the next three years, we are going to ensure that 30,000 European schools are twinned over the Internet.”
The eLearning Programme will begin next January and it is hoped that it will act as a catalyst. As Maruja Gutiérrez explains: “the European Commission hopes that the new technologies are able to enter into daily educational life at all levels, and in order to achieve this objective we will have to be very pragmatic. The eLearning Programme will reinvent nothing but instead take advantage of the results of projects that have already been undertaken so as to be able to put them at the reach of everybody.”
What will be the main task of the eLearning Programme?
The twinning of schools. The European Commission is going to dedicate almost half of the programme’s budget to this section, some 7 million euros per year. This is a very ambitious project. The twinning of schools will help us foster a European dimension to education. And it is in this area that we are able to see once more the value of the new technologies as elements of change.
What will the twinning of schools involve?
It will involve using information and communication technologies to establish cooperation relationships between school centres located in different countries. Our aim is that no child leaves school without having participated in some European project of this type. But at the moment, we are proposing that at least 30,000 European schools are twinned over the Internet before the year 2007.
How are you going to handle the language issue?
We have discovered through our experience that when there are a lot of members involved one sole language is normally used, which is almost always English. That is why the school-twinning programme is only going to require the existence of two participating members. In this way, we would like to promote the use of the greatest number of languages, in accordance with the efforts of the European Commission in promoting linguistic and cultural diversity.
What specific measures are going to be applied to provide incentives for twinning?
As it does not seem viable for us to directly finance schools, because the number of educational centres in Europe is very high, our strategy is going to be based on providing a series of resources and tools for teachers. Firstly, we are compiling a list of interesting twinning examples that could motivate teachers. We are also going to draw up a good description of the various school systems in order to help teachers know how to search for a similar school within another educational system. Similarly, we are currently creating a member search tool. All this twinning information and these tools are going to be accessible in a portal that we will develop on the Internet.
In what way is the European Commission thinking of making the initiative known and encouraging schools to participate in the programme?
We will consult with European associations that encourage these sorts of experiences and will appeal to the creativity of teachers, so that they focus on their twinnings by taking into account the different features of each centre. We believe that many pedagogically interesting results can be produced using very few resources.
What is the planned schedule for the development of the twinning programme?
We are going to launch an informational campaign in spring 2004. We hope that by the summer all centres will be aware of this initiative and the first twinnings will commence in September 2004. We are also studying the possibility of creating a network of pioneer teachers who are particularly dynamic and have much experience in these matters so that they can help and encourage others.
The second major area of the eLearning Programme is the development of virtual university campuses.
We will set aside 30% of programme resources to this area, in the aim of promoting virtual mobility using the new technologies. Let’s take a very simple example: why shouldn’t a Danish student studying French philology be able to attend a class in a French or Belgian university over the Internet? In order to do this, we are going to provide support so that a series of universities can reach an understanding and sign student exchange agreements to develop online pilot courses. Our reference model is the Erasmus programme. This approach may even help Erasmus beneficiaries themselves, who may be having problems because they have lost touch with their point of origin during the period of their scholarship. Information and communication technologies (ICT) will easily allow for the maintaining of this contact with their point of origin as much as their relationship with the country visited once they return home, thereby making more profitable the effort and investment required for an extended stay abroad.
Are there many remaining obstacles to overcome in this area?
To put this into practice certain problems have to be resolved, and one of these is that of credits. The European Credit Transfer System does not take into account virtual subjects very much because how to calculate the amount of time a student spends on a subject has yet to be defined. Nor is it clear how to evaluate what knowledge the student has acquired online. Virtual exams are still not admitted. There are many things for us still to resolve. That is why we are going to support the development of pilot experiences to help us identify solutions.
The final major focus of the eLearning Programme is digital literacy.
The concept of digital literacy was raised at the European Summit in Lisbon in 2000, when the lack of qualified personnel needed to occupy work posts related with the new technologies was identified. It is obvious there are failings in this field, but this has sometimes been analysed in a very superficial way, as if it only depended on learning how to use a computer and a few programs. But the problem is much greater than that.
People are now starting to realise that the difficulty of ICT use has social implications that are related to exercising citizenship.
Exactly. Whilst public administration services are offered over the Internet and people vote electronically, there are still many people who do not know how to use e-mail or do not dare do their tax return on the Internet. That is why we want to help the associations working in this field throughout the world of education to develop a critical approach for the understanding and use of these new technologies. It is clear that an age factor exists here, because for children a computer is something normal and they do not have to look at the instruction manual to use one. This is about helping adults, and above all those over the age of 40 or 50.
What specific actions are you proposing to increase digital culture?
We are proposing very simple measures. We are going to support the work of associations and networks working in this field. For example, we would like to distribute the results of investigations into the man-machine interface, which will provide much information about these questions. Similarly, we are going to pay special attention to the education of adults who have not had access to using these technologies because of their age.
There remains one line of action with transversal measures.
It is about making people aware, coordinating, providing information and connecting people. We want information to circulate and the different people involved to know about the resources available. Another specific area we are going to promote is interoperability. It is necessary to have norms and standards available to create a favourable playing field for investment. Companies need to feel secure that a specific product is going to work in all computers or in other countries. These norms must provide small- to medium-sized companies with the security that the applications they are developing will be able to enter into the market. One of the fields in which advances need to be made, for example, is that of metadata, which involves classification “labels” that allow for the searching of material. We can increase progress in this field with very inexpensive measures that have great political relevance.
The diffusion of information is one of the main tasks of this portal.
The Internet is the quintessential communication medium of the information society. That's why we believe that the elearningeuropa.info portal is the best tool that we can make available to the many people interested in modernising and improving education so that they can easily access information and discuss their ideas and experiences.
For further information please view: A Programme for the Effective Integration of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in Education and Training Systems in Europe (2004 – 2006).
Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council.