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Why the e-Learning Programme?

Sarah Holyfield
14 Feb, 2006
The background and rationale behind the e-Learning Programme (March 2005).

To understand why this approach is right for now we need to think back on the development of e-learning and where it belongs in the history of education. An article by Stephen Downes looks at how e-learning has developed over the last ten years and how with social software and web 2.0 technologies new kinds are e-learning are now possible.

A great deal of work has been recently funded by JISC to explore the concept of the Managed Learning Environment (MLE), in particular the integration of systems, but also the cultural and organisational issues involved in the implementation of e-learning. Although there has been a rapid expansion in this work across HE and FE, it is clear that there is ‘still a lack of pedagogical flexibility and innovation in the design of e-learning tools, environments and architectures’ see JISC site

These developments are taking place in a wider technical, social and political context. The Government sees e-learning as being highly significant for the education system as demonstrated in its consultation document Towards a Unified e-Learning Strategy, and the recently published Dfes e-strategy. HEFCE's new Strategy for e-Learning echoes this view. Other areas of enormous social importance, such as the National Health Service, are investing huge amounts of money in developing IT infrastructures. Whilst such large projects are being undertaken, technology continues to develop at a breakneck speed, and new models of technical infrastructure are emerging based on web services and service oriented approaches, and these provide the basis for the technical development aspects of the e-Learning programme. The gap between technology development and the users of technology is now being recognised as a significant concern, recognised by organisations such as the British Computer Society and the problem of ‘bridging the gap’ between several very different communities speaking often quite different languages is a serious one.

The e-Learning programme has been designed to address some of these themes.

Bringing technology development and pedagogy together?

A key issue for the implementation of IT - in any context - business or public sector as well as education - is how to ensure that the technology developed actually enables the vision to become a reality. But to achieve this we need to understand in a deep way what it is we actually do, how we want to change it and where we want to go. This is relatively straightforward when we consider analysing concrete business processes such as the payroll, but equally applies to our understanding of the far more complex processes involved in teaching and learning. The e-Learning Programme is aiming to develop our understanding of e-learning from a pedagogical point of view and to couple this with the development of a technological framework for e-learning so that each informs the other.

It is necessary to link much more closely the pedagogical investigations with the development strands, ensuring both that the findings of the eLearning programme are geared to supporting the development programme, and that the outputs of the development programme are subject to close study of their use and the new approaches and requirements that they give rise to... in a continuing iterative cycle

Bill Olivier, Director of CETIS [1]

But too often, when the curtain is lifted on the behind-the-scenes labour of the development community, practitioners complain that 'it’s not what we wanted’, or researchers that it is not ‘pedagogically sound’ or flexible enough to meet the real needs of learners....

...The questions opened up by the e-Learning and Pedagogy process present a beguiling vision of what is possible, but the vision will only be reached if practitioners, researchers and developers find a way of sharing it.

Helen Beetham, Consultant to the e-Learning and Pedagogy Strand [2]

Scott Wilson ,Assistant Director of CETIS, has been considering this perceived gap between the technical focus of the Frameworks and Tools Strand and the field of e-learning pedagogy and he explores this in his article Can web service technology really help enable coherent diversity in e-learning?.

These two areas are the particular focus of the Frameworks and Tools, and the e-Learning and Pedagogy strands of the programme.

Putting some of this into practice

Whilst the above two strands of the programme are relatively focused, the Distributed e-Learning Strand is undertaking a wide ranging and ambitious programme of work which is addressing many of the issues faced by institutions and students wishing to work together in a technology-rich world, where study increasingly takes place across a number of institutions. There are several dimensions being addressed including regional issues, subject differences and the sharing of content, tools for lifelong learning, the development of repositories and the development of an e-learning infrastructure. These are clearly closely linked to work in the other strands of the Programme.

Using Innovative Technologies

The e-Learning and Innovation strand is looking at new and developing technologies such as wireless and mobile technologies like games and ‘virtual world’ simulation software, voting devices, multi-media PDAs, 3G phones and stronger wireless networks to see where and how these can be harnessed to support learning.

An integrated approach?

The e-learning programme is therefore aiming to bring together some of those communities which have previously tended to work separately, particularly technology developers and those involved in teaching and learning, to look at the wide ranging practical questions involved in making e-learning effective from the point of view of learners, teachers, institutions and funders, and to make sure that new technologies are developed and exploited in the best possible way.

This site will be following progress in this ambitious programme and will be inviting anyone who has an interest to comment and participate in this unfolding story.

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[1] email exchange

[2] Beetham H (2005) "e-learning research: emerging issues?" ALT-J 13 (1)

 

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