In this report, we briefly look at the key drivers behind these trends and the main learning that has been gained about how to design and sustain these communities effectively within organizations. We will then move on to some of the additional issues that need to be considered when communities reach across external boundaries to support inter-organizational collaboration.
The question at the heart of this report is how to gain satisfactory returns from the investments made in forming and supporting communities of practice. Having looked at the practical activities needed to support effective communities, the report ends with a view of the way in which the value they generate can be measured.
This document has been prepared for the ESEN project. It is intended to stimulate debate around the subject of inter-organization communities of practice, not to provide specific recommendations. It draws on research undertaken by the Henley Management College Knowledge Management Forum, together with published literature.
1. Why form communities of practice?
1.1 Communities of practice within organizations
1.2 Communities of practice as a method of inter-organization collaboration
2. The Knowledge Perspective
3. Enabling communities of practice to be successful
3.1 The experience gained from communities of practice within organizations
3.2 The challenge of inter-organizational communities
4. Measuring the value added by communities
1. Why form communities of practice?
A usefully comprehensive definition of communities of practice is : “Groups of people who come together to share and to learn from one another face-to-face and virtually. They are held together by a common interest in a body of knowledge and are driven by a desire and need to share problems, experiences, insights, templates, tools and best practices. Community members deepen their knowledge by interacting on an ongoing basis”.
Diverse approaches to supporting communities of practice have been adopted by different organizations: some see them as largely emergent phenomena, others have adopted more deliberate strategies to design and manage their shape and purpose. A community of practice is fundamentally a self-organizing collection of volunteers. Knowledge is shared within the community based on relationships with others, rather than direct transactions. Hence membership involves an emotional as well as an intellectual component .
1.1 Communities of practice within organizations
Communities of practice are different from other organisational groups (such as formal work groups, project teams or informal networks) as shown in Table 1. They also differ from communities of interest, in which people tend to gather around a particular issue. Communities of practice involve people jointly developing a shared collection of resources to support work in a specific field.
Community of Practice
Developing members’ capabilities by building and exchanging knowledge
Whilst there is interest by the members
Formal Work Group
Delivering a product or service
Until there is a re-organisation
Accomplishing a specified task
Until the end of the project
Collecting and passing on business information
As long as people have reason to connect
|Table 1. A comparison between communities and other types of groups |
The driver for organizations to invest in developing communities of practice is deeply rooted in their value as ways of transferring knowledge between people – organizations such as IBM, HP and Unisys even prefer to call them “knowledge networks”. In the knowledge economy, organizations need their employees to become “knowledge workers,” that is individuals who constantly draw on a wealth of knowledge to devise new responses and solutions for a rapidly changing market place. This means that employees need to be able to participate in a flow of knowledge that consists of not only documentation and on-line information sources, but the exchange of ideas with others who have experience and skill related to the same area of work . Conventional functional, project and matrix structures used to organize work in companies provide useful solutions to performance and accountability issues. However, they often create barriers to the flow of knowledge between people engaged in the same types of work, or needing the same types of knowledge, particularly if those people are in different parts of the company and possibly even different parts of the world.
Communities of practice offer a form of social structure that can take responsibility for fostering learning, developing competencies and managing knowledge. One of main purposes of a community of practice is establishing the common baseline of knowledge in that subject area. By ensuring that this is well understood, people can focus their creative energies on more advanced issues .
Another benefit from investing in developing communities of practice has also been proposed: they offer the opportunity to increase the job satisfaction of knowledge workers and therefore reduce staff turnover. As individuals develop greater awareness of their own worth in the knowledge economy and recognise that inevitably they must take responsibility for their own career and future (as job security no longer exists), they will increasingly add into their own decision-making process consideration of the opportunity a potential work experience offers to learn and allow them to retain their own market value in the future. Organizations that can offer the opportunity to participate in a leading community of practice in the professional knowledge domains of their workers now appear particularly attractive . Being within the company forms the basis for staying ahead in the discipline and this is the source of future individual “marketability”. The pace of change and the rate of development of new knowledge mean that it has become too difficult for individuals to do this independently.
Having looked at the reasons why organizations are investing in communities of practice for knowledge flows across internal boundaries, we now move on to look at why they are also being used to support collaboration across external boundaries.
1.2 Communities of practice as a method of inter-organization collaboration
Collaboration is: “a cooperative, inter-organizational relationship that relies on neither market nor hierarchical mechanisms of control but is instead negotiated in an ongoing communicative process” .
Communities of practice are a mechanism within which collaboration between organizations can occur. Collaboration between organizations has come into focus in recent years with the recognition that success in a global economy comes from innovation. This is the only way any organization can keep pace with the rapid developments in technology, increasingly demanding customers and changes in the competitive environment through deregulation, social changes, and the actions of competitors. Innovation depends on the exchange of ideas and insights through trusted relationships, which depends on knowing how to collaborate effectively. Table 2 shows how there has been a transition towards collaboration over the past century.
Divisional, matrix and network
Alliances, spin-offs and federations
Physical assets such as plant and machinery
Information about how to transfer experience from one area of the business to another
Knowledge used to make connections between ideas and produce new insights
|Table 2. Economic and organizational evolution over the last century |
Another driver for increased collaboration comes from the idea that the more change there is in its environment, the more connections an organization needs with the outside world. The principle of requisite variety states that the level of diversity inside an organization should match the variety and complexity of outside conditions . In other words, the greater the external complexity, the greater the diversity of information and knowledge needed to understand what is happening and make effective decisions.
An alliance is a governance mechanism to pursue collaborative interests between two or more independent firms . Alliances range from loose co-operative arrangements to formal contractual relationships. Table 3 summarises different types of alliances and some of the influences that determine which form should be adopted depending on the situation. Informal approaches to collaboration include communities of practice. Adopting a less contractual approach has the benefit of allowing flexibility and incremental development of the relationships.
Loose (Informal Cooperation)
Ownership (Shareholding or asset sharing)
Forms of Alliances
Communities of practice
Speed of change in the environment
Assets do not need joint management
Asset management can be isolated
Assets need to be jointly managed
The objectives for entering into an alliance tend to be either to exploit current resources and areas of strength or to explore new possibilities. The range of motives tends to fall into three broad categories :
· The need to work with others to achieve a critical mass to reduce costs and improve value delivered to customers.
· Co-specialisation to allow each partner to concentrate on its own strengths. This is often the motive for working with partners to develop new products or to move into new markets.
· Learning from partners to develop expertise that may be more widely exploited within the individual organizations.
The ability to meet these objectives depends on the appropriateness and effectiveness of the alliance form and collaborative processes adopted. Communities of practice are particularly appropriate when there is a learning motive for collaboration. An example of an organization that used communities of practice within a strategic process of collaboration for learning was the World Bank which redefined its purpose to encompass establishing and maintaining a network of collaborative relationships motivated by knowledge sharing .
The World Bank had always offered development assistance in the form of a mix of finance and ideas to improve living standards. In 1996, the President announced that it would become the first point of contact for information and knowledge about development. This shift emphasised the importance of drawing on experience from other similar situations in the success of development projects.
The World Bank works within a network of other bodies also dedicated to development, for example, donor governments, non-governmental organizations, borrower governments and private sector groups. It set out to systematically capture and organize the knowledge and experience of staff, clients and development partners, make this knowledge available and create new collaborative links between network partners.
A basic infrastructure and set of programmes was established to share knowledge within the World Bank and with clients and partner organizations. These included:
· Communities of practice (both internal to the World Bank and with external individuals and groups).
· Advisory services to provide quick and easy access to resources.
· Regional and country-level programs to provide customized information and knowledge.
· Initiatives to bring development practitioners from many organizations together, both face-to-face and virtually, to share experience and ideas.
These initiatives have been successful because they were aligned with the core business of the World Bank and because collaboration clearly added value to each member of the network.
2. The Knowledge Perspective
Having recognised that a primary purpose of communities of practice is supporting knowledge flows between people, we will briefly look at how they relate to other knowledge management initiatives.
“Knowledge management means using the ideas and experience of employees, customers and suppliers to improve the organization’s performance.” 
Knowledge management initiatives often focus on one of two categories of knowledge: explicit and tacit. Explicit knowledge is knowledge that has been codified into words and so is easily transferable in essence, if not in value. Explicit knowledge produces greater value when widely applied, but it also leaks to others because it is easy to transfer. Some people argue that explicit knowledge inevitably loses its contextual relevance in the codification process and becomes simply information.
In contrast, tacit knowledge is knowledge that cannot easily be put into words. It takes time and considerable investment to develop. Ultimately tacit knowledge provides greater potential for long-term business value because it tends to be more widely applicable to different circumstances, creates greater differentiation and is easier to protect .
In recent years, many organizations have adopted a wide range of knowledge related practices, often starting with information and communications technology projects to facilitate explicit knowledge flows (for example, designing portals and intranets and group decision support systems) . Communities of practice are now being seen as a useful way to share explicit knowledge too – people often prefer to ask a colleague rather than search a database. However, they also allow people form relationships, establish trust and eventually reach the position where meaningful tacit knowledge can also be exchanged.
Communities of practice are also able to contribute to the achievement of two of the main strategic questions that need to be asked when designing a knowledge management strategy:
a) To what extent is cost control the basis for competing successfully?
If cost control is important, then knowledge management needs to be used to deliver increased efficiency through the widespread adoption and standardisation of best practices. Communities of practice can be used as a part of such a strategy by identifying, validating, documenting and sharing the practices across conventional organizational boundaries. This was the approach adopted by the Ford Motor Company.
The Ford Motor Company Best Practice Replication Process (eBPR) used the company intranet to collect and share working practices around the world . It facilitated the effective operation of communities of practice that had grown organically around groups of people who did similar work in different countries. Proven practices were shared, rather than unproven ideas, and the community of practice always quantified or qualified the value added to the business. The community set its own guidelines for values, level of detail and types of media to use. A small central team provided the technology infrastructure and guidance on how to launch and sustain a community, but responsibility for making the process work was embedded into the daily work of the members of the community of practice themselves. The person who first identified the best practice was named and this offered recognition amongst peers around the world.
b) To what extent is differentiation and innovation in the market place the source of competitive success?
If differentiation and innovation are important, then knowledge management needs to enable knowledge to flow through the organization so that people can make new connections between ideas and generate innovate produces and services. Communities of practice can be used to stimulate interest in new topics. This was the approach adopted in Hewlett Packard.
Hewlett Packard used Work Innovation Networks to develop its innovation capability. They could be created by any of Hewlett Packard’s businesses and were a means of focusing effort on developing a creative approach to a current problem . A business announced itself as the host for a series of presentations, conferences and seminars on a topic it was currently striving to understand. An invitation was broadcast to the rest of the company and if the “market” responded, then the subject area took on a life of its own with on-going meetings and a community of practice evolved.
3. Enabling communities of practice to be successful
3.1 The experience gained from communities of practice within organizations
A useful framework of seven principles has been suggested to generate “aliveness” and energy within communities of practice . These acknowledge that while communities of practice need to be spontaneous and self-directed, guidelines can be helpful in creating the conditions for them to flourish. The principles are summarised in Table 4.
Design for evolution
Allow new people to become involved and new interests to be explored. Accept that there will be different activity levels and different kinds of support needed at different times.
Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives
Encourage a discussion between those within the community and those outside about what it could achieve. For example, encourage links with communities in other organizations.
Invite different levels of participation
Some people will be active in the community and some people will appear passive. Accept that contributions and learning take place in different ways.
Develop both public and private community spaces
Relationships form during informal community events and person-to-person communication is the purpose of the community. Formal organized events and discussion spaces are needed to help people feel part of a community. Both are important.
Focus on value
The true value of a community may emerge as it matures and develops. Community members should be encouraged to be explicit about the value being delivered. This may initially help raise awareness. Over time, value from participating should be come more apparent and more concrete measures can be collected.
|Principle 6||Combine familiarity and excitement||Familiar community spaces and activities help people to feel comfortable in participating. Introducing new ideas to challenge thinking also stimulates interest and keeps people engaged.|
|Principle 7||Create a rhythm for the community.||Regular events, paced to avoid overload, create points around which activity can converge. They encourage people to keep coming back, rather than gradually drifting away.|
|Table 4. Principles for cultivating successful communities of practice |
An individual’s motivation to participate in a community of practice and an organization’s willingness to support that community both stem from an expectation that it will deliver a particular value. Sustaining the delivery of value and ensuring that there is alignment in the expectations of the value to be delivered are therefore fundamental aspects of designing successful communities of practice . In addition to the general principles we have just seen, various design elements help create alignment in the delivery of value. It is useful to describe these using a specific example of a group of companies that set out to create a range of different types of virtual communities, including communities of practice . The St. Paul Companies is a global organization providing insurance products and services. It recognised that its commercial success depended on the expertise of its people and as a global operation extensive knowledge sharing activities in various forms were needed to develop that expertise to a consistent level in all countries . They launched an intranet site called the Knowledge Exchange to provide tools and processes for on-line virtual communities, allowing people to share expertise and experience to solve work problems. Their approach can be mapped onto elements of the design of successful communities:
a) An appropriate subject area
They deliberately set out to support several types of virtual community and the nature of the community determined the subject that they focused on:
Community of practice Voluntary groups of people coming together because of their shared interest in the subject and a desire to further their knowledge about it for the benefit of the business. For example, globally dispersed people who were involved in insurance products relating to workers’ compensation had been struggling to connect with colleagues from across the company before the Knowledge Exchange was launched.
Centre of expertise Experts about a highly specialised knowledge area appointed by management to be a resource for the company. These acted as a hub for employees wishing to find out about the topic.
Work groups People from the same department with a shared responsibility for a product or service.
Project teams Cross-functional groups responsible for a time-specific project. Secure discussion areas and document sharing facilities supported collaboration.
Virtual classroom community An on-line collaborative platform enabling the exchange of ideas after classroom based learning.
b) A clear purpose
They emphasised the purpose of the virtual communities as tools to get useful work completed more effectively. The purpose and relevance of each community was made clear so that participation was not perceived to be additional work.
c) The fulfilment of certain roles
In the St. Paul Companies communities, the facilitator was termed the “mayor” and this role was seen to be the key to the success of the community. They found that the mayor needed to be respected for their expertise in the community’s knowledge domain and also needed sufficient skills in motivating and leading others in a virtual environment.
d) Appropriate organisational support
The supporting technology was designed to be easy to use and it took less than 30 seconds to set up each community space. Coaching and online resources were available to help the community as it established itself.
e) A culture of trust and openness
Sharing news, documents and questions and answers around important issues was used to build trust and openness. Community participants were encouraged to post personal information such as photographs and family information to help build relationships.
f) Organisational acquiescence
The corporate level appointment of a Chief Knowledge officer with responsibility for learning and knowledge management across businesses and geographical boundaries demonstrated business level commitment to knowledge sharing. The virtual communities were integrated into a portfolio of other learning based initiatives including the St. Paul University and an online resource centre for education and learning information. Senior management support was active rather than passive, encouraged through revised leadership competencies for senior managers including “seeking and sharing knowledge”.
The St. Paul Companies recognised the importance of connecting communities, with the Chief Knowledge Officer observing “inter-community collaboration is the mark of a truly powerful knowledge exchange system”.
Another aspect of the design of communities of practice is recognising that they pass through different stages over time, facing different issues at each stage and therefore needing different kinds of support. Figure 1 illustrates a five stage model of community of practice evolution.
Figure 1: Stages of community development 
· Potential – loose networks that hold the potential of becoming more connected and thus a more important part of the organization. Development tension: defining the scope of the domain to interest people, finding people and helping them imagine how increased networking and knowledge sharing could be valuable.
· As members build connections, they coalesce into a community. Development tension: establishing the value of sharing knowledge and building trust to discuss difficult problems.
· Mature - growing in both membership and depth of knowledge shared. Development tension: defining role and relationship to other communities, managing the boundary of the community, moving from knowledge sharing to taking stewardship seriously.
· When mature, communities go through cycles of high and low activity. They often take active stewardship of the knowledge and practices they share and consciously develop them. Development tensions: maintaining relevance, keeping tone and focus lively and engaging, staying at the cutting edge.
· Transformation – may be transformation of the community into something else. There may be a lack of focus if pressing problems have been resolved. The community may turn into a social club, split into different communities or merge with others.
3.2 The challenge of inter-organizational communities
The experience gained in designing successful communities of practice within organizations is directly transferable to communities of practice that reach across organizational boundaries. However, one aspect needs particular attention. We have seen that a “culture of trust and openness” is needed to allow meaningful knowledge to be exchanged.
Research looking at knowledge networks between SMEs in Australia showed that even when there was adoption of networked technologies to allow connectivity between the companies, the potential for knowledge exchange was highly dependent on the level of trust. Similar work on SME collaboration in Asia showed that information sharing and learning was based on the prior existence of trust and an atmosphere of continued trust building. SMEs fear opportunistic behaviour from competitors and need confidence, either through trust or formal legal mechanisms that other firms will be cooperative and not take competitive advantage of knowledge-based exchanges .
Establishing this culture between organizations involves investments in building social capital or “the goodwill that is engendered by the fabric of social relations and that can be mobilized to facilitate action” .
Social capital is a way of describing the collective strength of the relationships within a group, where members of the group can include individuals, teams, communities, business units and discrete organizations. It develops as a result of the structure and configuration of the connections between the group members, their compatibility in understanding and ability to communicate, and the quality of the relationships (as shown by the levels of trust, shared norms of behaviour and alignment with each others’ values and objectives).
Building social capital requires investments of time and effort and its beneficial effects are seen in terms of improved access to information, greater influence and higher solidarity. To earn social capital, each party must have the opportunity, the motivation and the ability to contribute to the relationships.
4. Measuring the value added by communities
The benefits of communities of practice can be summarised as :
· Easier reuse of explicit knowledge assets, for example through shared access to a repository of best practices, reference documents, presentations etc.
· Quicker response to customer needs by providing access to the expertise needed to solve problems.
· Reducing the time taken for new employees to become productive by access to assistance and mentoring.
· Generating new ideas for products and services by sharing perspectives and ideas.
Although many organizations are happy to invest in communities of practice based on a judgement that they will achieve these benefits, at some point most try to measure more formally the value that is being delivered from the investments that have been made. Training facilitators, providing technology to support collaboration, allowing people the time to participate and the travel expenses to participate in community events are all costs that can be calculated reasonably easily. The return on these investments can be more difficult to assess. Activity measures (such as the number of contributions to a discussion group or database) have some value, but it is much more useful to assess the real financial returns delivered. Metrics may be designed that relate to :
· business problems solved in the community;
· new knowledge created in the community;
· joint learning occurring in the community;
· existing knowledge reused by the community;
· iprovements in process performance;
· the community’s role in recruiting and retaining talent.
One of the most effective ways of collecting information to support these measures is through systematically collecting anecdotal information from community members. The oil company Shell has adopted this approach to justify its investments in community initiatives . Community coordinators (with external assistance) conduct interviews with a sample of community members and then document stories showing the causal links between community activities, knowledge resources and value. Combining all of the stories produces an overall picture of the costs and benefits associated with the communities.
This approach involves:
· determining an approximate numeric value, such as time saved, the cost avoided or the additional revenue;
· estimating the percentage of that value that can be directly attributed to participation in the community;
· estimating the certainty of that estimation (as a percentage).
Multiplying these figures results in a conservative assessment of the value added, and when combined with a generous assessment of the costs, produces a credible argument for the contribution of communities.
“A group of participants becomes a community through being a community. It is through interacting and experiencing common events that the community is created. “ 
Communities of practice have become the focus of knowledge management initiatives within many large organizations. They also offer an informal mechanism for collaboration between organizations, particularly when learning is the prime motivation. Although many of the principles and design elements of successful communities of practice are now understood, particular attention needs to be paid to building trust and generating social capital when they reach across external organizational boundaries.
PurposeDurationCommunity of PracticeDeveloping members’ capabilities by building and exchanging knowledgeWhilst there is interest by the membersFormal Work GroupDelivering a product or serviceUntil there is a re-organisationProject TeamAccomplishing a specified taskUntil the end of the projectInformal NetworkCollecting and passing on business informationAs long as people have reason to connect
|Table 1. A comparison between communities and other types of groups |
|Table 2. Economic and organizational evolution over the last century |
Communities of practice
Supply agreementsInfluencesSpeed of change in the environmentRapid Change Slow ChangeAsset ManagementAssets do not need joint managementAsset management can be isolatedAssets need to be jointly managedTable 3. Types of strategic alliances based on the form of governance and the influences that determine which form to adopt [Based on 11, 12].Principle 1Design for evolutionAllow new people to become involved and new interests to be explored. Accept that there will be different activity levels and different kinds of support needed at different times. Principle 2Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectivesEncourage a discussion between those within the community and those outside about what it could achieve. For example, encourage links with communities in other organizations. Principle 3Invite different levels of participationSome people will be active in the community and some people will appear passive. Accept that contributions and learning take place in different ways.Principle 4Develop both public and private community spacesRelationships form during informal community events and person-to-person communication is the purpose of the community. Formal organized events and discussion spaces are needed to help people feel part of a community. Both are important. Principle 5Focus on valueThe true value of a community may emerge as it matures and develops. Community members should be encouraged to be explicit about the value being delivered. This may initially help raise awareness. Over time, value from participating should be come more apparent and more concrete measures can be collected.
|Table 4. Principles for cultivating successful communities of practice |
Figure 1: Stages of community development 6. References
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The picture that ilustrate this article was taken from the ESEN project website
Have we made progress towards making the Union the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010, the ambitious target agreed by the Heads of State and Government in at the European Council in Lisbon in 2000? We have, but we have to do better. The data available suggests that as a whole, the Union is lagging behind its main competitors, and primarily behind the US, in terms of performance and investment in the knowledge economy. This particularly applies to education and training which are pillars of the Lisbon strategy.
At the Barcelona European Council, two years after Lisbon, Heads of State and Governments set the objective of making Europe’s education and training systems a world quality reference by 2010. And European Education Ministers have agreed on common objectives for education and training systems. These objectives are:
· increasing quality;
· improving access;
· and opening up systems to the outside world.
However, what do we witness?
Public investment in education as a proportion of national GDP is not increasing. While about 40% of European adults did not progress beyond secondary education, less than one in ten participates in lifelong learning. Although the numbers are decreasing, 20% of young Europeans prematurely drop out of school.
The private sector – that is to say enterprises, social partners and individuals – will have to contribute more. This is all the more necessary given that there is a real deficit in private investment in Europe, especially as far as higher education and continuing education is concerned. Data available has shown that the average spent by enterprises on training on the continuing education of their staff represents 2.3% of total salary costs. In order to reach the objectives set in Lisbon, enterprises should investment twice as much by 2010 to reach a European average of 5%.
Clear targets for 2010
However, action is being taken. These objectives set at Lisbon are being implemented through a detailed work programme that was adopted two years later at Barcelona. I am pleased to see that Member States take this exercise very seriously. Earlier this month – and for the first time – they agreed on the first five European benchmarks for education and training, setting out clear targets for 2010 :
Diminishing the percentage of early school leavers is essential to ensure full employment and greater social cohesion: by 2010, an EU average of no more than 10% of early school leavers should be achieved.
· The European Union needs an adequate output of scientific specialists to be competitive. To help achieve this a better Gender balance is essential in this area. Therefore, the total number of graduates in mathematics, science and technology should increase by at least 15 % by 2010 while at the same time the level of gender imbalance should decrease.
· Successful participation in the knowledge-based society requires the basic building blocks offered by a secondary education. By 2010, at least 85 % of 22 year olds in the European Union should have completed upper secondary education.
· All individuals need a core package of knowledge, skills and attitudes for employment, inclusion, subsequent learning as well as personal fulfillment and development. By 2010, the percentage of low-achieving 15 years old in reading literacy in the European Union should have decreased by at least 20% compared to the year 2000.
· In a knowledge society individuals must update and complement their knowledge, competencies and skills throughout life to maximise their personal development and to maintain and improve their position in the labour market. Therefore, by 2010, the European Union average level of participation in Lifelong Learning, should be at least 12.5% of the adult working age population.
Opening a debate on the role of the universities
I would like now to turn to a crucial partner and stakeholder in the field of education: the universities. I know they are well represented here today. The European Commission adopted a new policy document on the role of the universities in the Europe of knowledge in January of this year. This Communication seeks to initiate a debate on the role of Universities within the knowledge society and economy in Europe and on the conditions under which they will be able to effectively play that
European universities are currently faced with serious challenges. They are not at present globally competitive compared with those of our major partners, even though they produce high-quality scientific publications.
This Communication invites all those concerned with higher education, research and innovation to put forward concrete ideas on optimising the role of universities.
The results will feed into the development of policies at national and European level. Making a reality of the pledges made by the European Council at Lisbon in March 2000 also means that people must be fully free to move around the EU to maximise their studying, working and learning opportunities. Competitiveness means putting skilled people where the jobs are – and recognising those skills when they have been acquired in another country.
This is why we continue to develop instruments to make it easier for people to be mobile in Europe – the European CV, the EUROPASS training document, the new portal on learning opportunities (PLOTEUS), the forthcoming global EU portal on mobility, to name but a few. The goal that each European should be competent in two languages in addition to his or her native language is also a key factor in promoting mobility.
The need for an integrated approach to learning
This brings me to another crucial point of policy. The reform of education and training systems will not be successful if this does not break down traditional barriers between different forms and levels of education and training. An integrated approach to learning is needed, ending the rather artificial separation between education on the one hand and professional training on the other, and based on the principle of Lifelong learning.
New technologies, when used effectively, can help us achieve this reform, by opening up access to educational resources, improving the flexibility and appropriateness of learning, and by facilitating new partnerships between schools, universities and other sources of knowledge such as museums and local industry. Our work under the eEurope and eLearning Action Plans is helping to drive this change, and delivering concrete results – 93% of European schools are now connected to the Internet and the average number of pupils per PC is 17 and reducing.
I am sure that most of you will be aware of the so-called “Bologna Process”: it is a process of voluntary convergence initiated by 29 European countries in 1999, which aims to create a single European Higher Education Area. This develoment has been recently mirrored in the field of vocational education and training. The Education Ministers of the Member States, the candidate countries, the EEA countries and the European Social Partners, agreed in Copenhagen in November 2002, in concrete terms, what role enhanced European cooperation in the field of vocational education and training must play. So, you can see that, at the European level, there is now also convergence in the area of vocational education and training. The ultimate goal, of course, and this is essential if we are to achieve the goals of Lisbon, is European Area of Lifelong Learning.
Enabling citizens to be mobile within the labour market
Allow, however, to say a little more abut the “Copenhagen Process”. Through engaging in a process of enhanced cooperation the Ministers have committed themselves to developing in common the concrete tools which will enable citizens to be mobile within the labour market – whether this means they are moving between countries, between sectors, or simply between work and further training.
But what does this mean in practical terms?
1. It means that we must implement a single framework for the transparency of qualifications and competences. A single entrance point to the various instruments that have already been developed at European level – the Europass Training, the Certificate supplement, and others – will make it easier for citizens to find and make use of these instruments, and thus present and promote their qualifications and competences more easily. Using the EUROPASS brand, an electronic pilot will be tested in 2004.
2. In terms of quality in Vocational Education and Training, we must identify common criteria for quality management at systems and provider level; quality indicators at systems level; and an operational approach, with practical tools, which will allow us to implement a co-operation framework at European level.
3. We must work towards developing a credit transfer system for Vocational and Educational Training, building on experience in this field. Such a system must aim to develop a common currency of Vocational and Educational Training qualification and competences, as has been achieved in Higher Education through the widespread implementation of the European Credit Transfer System. An important step here is to address as a priority the issue of agreeing common reference levels for Vocational and Educational Training.
4. In relation to non-formal learning – a vastly under-used resource! – we must develop common European principles for validation of non-formal and informal learning.
5. We must work towards the strengthening of policies, systems and practices that support information, guidance and counselling –‘lifelong guidance’.
6. Increased support must be given to actors at sectoral level who are engaged in developing international solutions to qualifications and competence development. Here the role of the social partners is capital, as they are the first to confront the challenges of rapid changes in technology and work organisation. Last but not least the training needs of teachers and trainers in Vocational and Education Training must receive urgent attention – and here it is crucial to take into account the specificities of vocational education and training.
The European programmes
This is the policy framework, as largely determined by the Lisbon objectives. How are we contributing to achieve these goals in practice?
The European programmes – Leonardo da Vinci, Socrates and Youth – are in part a concrete response to the increased demand for mobility. As you may know, Socrates Erasmus celebrated in October 2002 the unique achievement of a million Erasmus students. More than 100.000 students currently benefit from an Erasmus grant every year. Thanks to Leonardo da Vinci programme, 50.000 young people benefit from a European grant for placements or internships abroad. This transnational mobility is a key element in the creation of a truly European labour market.
Our programmes of course go beyond support to mobility. They also contribute significantly to strengthening European cooperation. For example, the 250 pilot projects supported by Leonardo da Vinci each year help to improve the quality of the content of vocational training. They also represent a step forward in the implementation of the recognition of competences and qualifications. Allow me now to mention two new initiatives which are currently going through the wheels of the European decision-making process and will hopefully become operational in 2004. They contribute directly to the implementation of the Lisbon strategy.
The eLearning programme builds on the results of the eLearning action plan which sought to help EU Member States to coordinate their efforts to integrate ICT and adapt their education and training systems. This new programme hopes to provide some answers to the question of how and when may we best use eLearning in our schools, universities, in our training colleges and in the work place. I have already emphasised it - universities and higher education institutions are key actors in the production and dissemination of knowledge. We propose to focus on their attempts to provide added value through e-learning, by supporting them to develop new organisational models, deploy European virtual campuses, and offer
The programme also focuses on promoting digital literacy since the development of the knowledge society carries with it the risk of social exclusion. The absence of suitable access to the Internet or an inability to use the technology effectively can create a real barrier to learning.
Finally schools e-twinning. We will develop cooperation between schools via a European-wide internet based school-twinning scheme which should make it possible for all European schools to build pedagogical partnerships with a school elsewhere in Europe. This will foster language learning and intercultural dialogue and promote awareness of the multilingual and multicultural model of society.
The Erasmus Mundus programme is the concrete expression of the Community’s desire to contribute to a greater openness to the world of European higher education. The Erasmus Mundus scheme is intended to strengthen international links in higher education, by enabling students and visiting scholars from around the world to engage in postgraduate study at European universities, as well as by encouraging the mobility of European students and scholars.
The basic features of the programme include a global scholarship scheme for third country nationals, linked to the creation of ‘European Union Masters Courses’ at European universities. These postgraduate courses would involve study at several higher education institutions in different Member States and be distinguished by their European label. The programme foresees the creation of around 90 inter-university
networks to provide 250 EU Masters Courses by 2008. Partnerships between EU Masters Courses and third country institutions would also be encouraged.
Although the mechanisms are simple, the objectives of Erasmus Mundus are ambitious.
1. Erasmus Mundus will enhance the quality of higher education by setting high co-operation standards for Masters Courses and by supporting highly qualified students and scholars from around the world to attend and contribute to these Masters.
2. Erasmus Mundus will provide an incentive for the convergence of degree structure in higher education in Europe by encouraging co-operation at Masters levels and the award of joint or double diplomas.
3. Erasmus Mundus will be a flagship programme that will enhance the perception of European academic excellence world-wide.
4. Erasmus Mundus will help us build friendships around the world by promoting dialogue and understanding based on freedom, democracy and respect for human rights."This article is a fragment from the Speech of Viviane Reding in the Opening Session of the World Education Market, WEM, held in Lisbon on May 20 . The full speech is avaliable here (pdf format).
Distance training is increasingly attracting large sectors of public and private enterprises, and numerous institutions have already started projects for the creation of distance training systems.
In line with the European strategy on e-learning, the E.M.D.E.L. project - European Model for Distance Education and Learning - has set as its main goal the creation of an European E-learning System through a process of cooperation among Partners' Institutions and the enlargement towards new Organizations.
The project is being realized thanks to the presence and experience of 9 Partners mainly coming from Northern and Eastern Europe. E.M.D.E.L. is divided into 4 sub-projects, each with its specific outcomes, and a dissemination phase which was started as early as the beginning of the project.
December 2001 - November 2004
To create an European E-learning System in order:
- to increase the variety of e-learning supply
- to reduce the time in enlarging the supply
- to reduce costs of production
- to reach new targets at a world-wide level
- Quality & Customer Satisfaction System
- Exchange of Courses
- "Virtual Mobility"
- Public and Private Instittions, Organizations and Companies
- Distance Training Agencies
- Adult Education Centres
- The elderly
- Apprentices, etc…
The project Dentro l'italiano, awarded with the European Label for Innovative Projects in Language Teaching and Learning 2002 was born in consideration of the growing interest towards Italian language and culture. The interest towards Italian language is crucial both in Italy, because of the growing immigration flow, and abroad among Italian communities and all foreign people willing to learn Italian for professional or cultural interest.Target users of the project are everyone needing to learn, improve or update his knowledge of the language. Dentro l’italiano is in fact addressed to different targets: schools, universities, longlife learning centre, Public Administration, firms and individuals. The project is characterized by a marked variety of users both by the point of view of age sex, mother tongue and by the point of view of their education and background. As it is a highly flexible system, it allows the personalization of learning paths which are adaptable to the specific needs and availability of the user. AimsThe aim of the project is the creation of an on-line environment for learning and teaching Italian which is able to gather the totality of different people from the whole word in a virtual place on the net. People sharing knowledge, learning, and communication. The project is organized on four linguistic levels: beginner, elementary, intermediate, advanced, and is meant to develop the following abilities: 1. oral and written comprehension; 2. oral and written production;3. ability to work and study in a collaborative way; 4. developing relational abilities. By the cultural point of view, the didactic materials refer to specific context and styles of linguistic communication and are enriched with authentic multimedia materials found on-line. The users have access to Dentro l’italiano after an evaluation of their starting linguistic competence and background to be done partly on line and partly with teachers and tutor. This blended evaluation allows a correct assignation of the students to their specific levels of study and specific curricular activities. DevelopmentThe current version of the project is the outcome of a continuous, ultra-decennial didactic project born in 1986 as a open learning plan of Italian teaching supported by floppies, tapes and books. Market requests, users’ feedbacks and technological progress have given impulse to a series of successive evolutions until the birth of Dentro l’taliano w.l.e. in 2002 which has allowed the integration of platforms, contents and services. The platform Atena, web environment, developed by Didael and awarded with the European Prize Label in 1998, offers a rich range of functionalities: Secretary services: (syllabus of the course, institutional showcase, agenda, users’ album, post it, questionnaires, awards), Technical-didactic attendance (helpdesk, FAQ), Library (didactical materials, thematic resource centre, portfolio, methodological aspects); Utilities, Collaboration (mail, chat, guided forum, free forum, audio/video conference, response pad, whiteboard, screen sharing, document-sharing), Authoring (tests and multimedia exercises, questionnaires, cataloguing tools for bibliographical materials and resources on-line, FAQ management); Administration (recording, identification, course management, didactic monitoring). The contents of Dentro l’italiano are organized along three types of paths: narrative , situational, linguistic function, and include 108 units, equivalent to 370 hours of study, 2,550 exercises , 6,500 headwords, 31 films, multilingual glossary in English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Bulgarian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Arab (available soon: Serb-Croat) .Dentro l’italiano w.l.e. is a collaborative environment which offers the students various services supported by: help-desk, tutor, teachers, experts, authors. Besides, students can use a service of didactic Monitoring to solve difficulties, to measure their improvement in learning and to adapt the course to their personal requirements. Such services rouse learning motivation making the user an active subject of the learning process and develop an independent attitude. The project was born and has developed due to the collaboration between Didael’s management and multidisciplinary planning staff (experts of e-learning, didactic methodologies, linguistics, language teaching, multimedia communication) and the most accredited national and international search and academic centres which promote the acquaintance of foreign languages. In order to meet the requirements of users’ and of the world-wide market to which the product addresses, Didael offers the usability and the up dating of a complete series of solutions. By the point of view of the device, the students can choose between multiple medias, CD-ROM, LAN, online, Intranet); by the point of view of training methodologies, the distribution models are higly flexible: self-access, e-learning, blended. InnovationDidael has entirely financed the project since 1986 except for the process of contents reingineering from the CD-ROM version to the on-line version with interoperability technologies (XML, XSL, Java) implemented in 2000 with the contribution of Ministry of the Scientific Research.One of the most innovative aspects of Dentro l’italiano w.l.e. is its adaptive system that is possibility to show different ways of interaction according to the different choices of the students during their study sessions. They can choose among different aspects of interaction: mother tongue and communicating style.Such a dynamic approach represents an advantage for students teachers both by the point of view of contents, interface and communication, allowing a real personalization of the course.The web interactive multimedia “program centred” technology used for Dentro l’italiano allows to realize adaptive services with a high level of interaction and dialogue personalization due, for example, to their ability to remember dialogues.Didael has realized industrial prototypes and products based on the use of adaptive solutions both as infrastructures for on line courses and as systems of definition of next generation e-learning platforms. This experience allows to transfer technologies, principles, experience used in a local model, to a distributed model, in order to utilize the advantages of geographical distribution with access protocols offered by he web. Results Dentro l’italiano w.l.e, is diffused to a world-wide level among students and teachers; it has been presented to national and international interlocutors involved in training projects in schools, universities, Public Administration, Italian and international firms abroad.The picture that ilustrate this article was taken from the Dentro l'italiano website.
Le cours est destiné aux professeurs du niveau secondaire des établissements d' enseignement général. Par la combinaison de ces groupes, la formation des enseignants sera définie d'une nouvelle façon : la formation initiale, la profession et la formation continue seront compris comme des phases différentes du développement dans le cadre du « lifelong development ».
Le cours se base sur des formes fortement individualisées de l'apprentissage et la mise en réseau continue des pratiques et des inputs théorétiques, des exercices de techniques d'enseignement et des réflexions dans le groupe.
Les activités principales du projet sont : un rapport sur l'état actuel de la formation en tenant en compte le « lifelong development », le développement des programmes d'études existants avec des formes de l'e-learning et l'adaptation aux pays participants.
Le public visé des résultats est bien défini : des enseignants futurs, débutants et pratiquants de musique du niveau secondaire des établissements d' enseignement général.
Durant le projet le programme d'étude sera testé par une vingtaine d'étudiants à Vienne, le matériel pédagogique d'e-learning sera testé par 20 personnes dans chaque pays participant.
Aprés la finalisation des produits, les cours seront introduits dans la formation dans les pays participants.
Gefängnisse sind geschlossene Gesellschaften, die aus Sicherheitsgründen nur einen eingeschränkten Zugang zur Außenwelt gewähren. Die Wiedereingliederung von Häftlingen in die Gesellschaft ist ein schrittweiser Prozess, der sich aus den besonderen Umständen heraus entwickeln muss, die sich sehr stark von denen unterscheiden, denen sich die Häftlinge nach ihrem Gefängnisaufenthalt gegenübersehen.
Die Ausbildung kann eine Möglichkeit zur Resozialisierung von Häftlingen darstellen. Lernprozesse sind jungen Straftätern jedoch meist fremd. Die begrenzten Lernerfahrungen und Interessen der Zielgruppe erschweren deren Bildung erheblich, wobei sich eine ungeeignete Ausbildung nicht nur als unattraktiv, sondern sogar als schädlich erweisen könnte. Häufig sind die in Gefängnissen angewandten Bildungsmethoden zu traditionell angelegt, konzentrieren sich lediglich stark auf das Lesen von Lehrbüchern und bieten keine experimentellen Tätigkeiten. Der Lernprozess in Gefängnissen sollte ein konstruktiver Prozess sein, in dem die Ausbildungsteilnehmer eine aktive Rolle bei Wissenserwerb und -anwendung spielen. Dabei können neue Technologien Ausbildern helfen, Bildungsinitiativen zu entwickeln, die zur Wiedereingliederung junger Straftäter in die Gesellschaft beitragen.
HOPE: E-Learning als Möglichkeit zur Ausbildung junger Häftlinge
HOPE ist die Bezeichnung für eine E-Learning-Plattform, die darauf abzielt, den Ausbildungsprozess der von Ausgrenzung Betroffenen, insbesondere von jungen Häftlingen, zu verbessern. Das Projekt HOPE wird teilweise von der Europäischen Gemeinschaft im Rahmen des Programms Technologien der Informationsgesellschaft unterstützt und gehört zu der Gruppe „The Learning Citizen“.
Die Demonstration und Validierung der Ergebnisse erfolgen durch drei Pilotprojekte, die derzeit in zwei europäischen Ländern (Griechenland und Spanien) durchgeführt werden.
Während der Probeläufe wird das HOPE-System anhand realer Daten mit realen Benutzern (Gruppen junger Straftäter) erprobt. Fachpsychologen und Bildungsforscher untersuchen die Auswirkungen von HOPE auf die Ausbildungsteilnehmer sowie auf deren Verhaltensweisen und Einstellungen.
Die zu Beginn des Projekts zusammengetragenen Anforderungen der Benutzer werden mit den tatsächlichen Projektergebnissen verglichen, um beurteilen zu können, ob die endgültigen Ergebnisse mit den Anforderungen der Benutzer übereinstimmen.
Um die Vorteile des HOPE-Systems im Vergleich zu anderen Methoden besser verstehen zu können, folgt nachstehend eine Beschreibung der bisherigen Bildungssituation in Gefängnissen in den genannten Ländern:
· In Spanien wird jungen Straftätern und Häftlingen eine Primar- und Sekundar- sowie Berufsausbildung in Form des traditionellen Gruppenunterrichts angeboten. Darüber hinaus bestehen auch Möglichkeiten zur Fernlehre auf Hochschulebene, jedoch ebenfalls anhand traditioneller Bildungsmethoden wie beispielsweise Bücher.
· In Griechenland wurde die Fernlehre in Einrichtungen für junge Straftäter noch nicht eingeführt. Derzeit ist die Unterrichtung junger Häftlinge eher schlecht und beruht auf traditionellen Methoden. Nur eine kleine Gruppe von Häftlingen hat die Möglichkeit, an Hochschulkursen teilzunehmen, die von Gastdozenten bzw. Hochschulen und/oder Universitäten außerhalb des Gefängnisses angeboten werden.
Wie funktioniert HOPE?
Das HOPE-System ist ein intuitiv angelegtes, flexibles und leicht einsetzbares Instrument, das ein ganz neues Konzept für die Bildung in Gefängnissen eröffnet. Die mit HOPE gebotene Unterstützung erfolgt durch die Verbesserung pädagogischer und gesellschaftlicher Ziele der Haftumgebung. Es unterscheidet sich deutlich von dem bisherigen Konzept für die Bildung in Gefängnissen. HOPE wird sich erheblich auf die Ausbildungsteilnehmer sowie auf deren Verhaltensweisen und Einstellungen auswirken. Sowohl das Wissen und die Fähigkeiten der Ausbildungsteilnehmer werden verbessert als auch die Motivation und das Interesse der Ausbildungsteilnehmer an E-Learning gesteigert, um so deren Verantwortungsbewusstsein zu festigen und ihr Selbstwertgefühl zu bestärken.
Beim Einsatz von HOPE können Ausbildungsteilnehmer im Gefängnis ihre persönlichen Profile verwalten, Listen verfügbarer Kurse einsehen, an Kursen teilnehmen und ihren Fortschritt durch die Kontrolle der Entwicklung ihrer Prüfungsergebnisse überprüfen. Mit ihren Betreuern oder Ausbildern können sie auf einfache Weise in Kontakt treten und ihnen Fragen stellen, unklare Begriffe klären oder Vorschläge und Kommentare absenden. Integriert sind ferner Motivationstechniken wie beispielsweise der Einsatz von Text und audiovisuellen Hilfsmitteln, so dass die visuelle Gestaltung den Erwartungen jüngerer Ausbildungsteilnehmer entspricht. Darüber hinaus wurden auch persönliche Präferenzen der Ausbildungsteilnehmer berücksichtigt, um die Schnittstelle individueller und attraktiver zu gestalten.
Ausbilder, die die HOPE-Plattform einsetzen, können eine Liste aller Ausbildungsteilnehmer sowie deren Profile, Prüfungsergebnisse und Einzelheiten bezüglich deren Teilnahme an den Kursen einsehen wie beispielsweise Angaben darüber, wann zuletzt bzw. wie lange eine Kursteilnahme erfolgte, bzw. sonstige Anmerkungen des Ausbildungsteilnehmers zu dem Kurs. Dadurch kann der Ausbilder den Fortschritt jedes Ausbildungsteilnehmers genau überwachen und ihn in einer geschützten Umgebung unterstützen.
Zur Entwicklung der Kurse steht ein Autorenwerkzeug zur Verfügung, für das keine besondere Kenntnis einer Programmiersprache erforderlich ist.
Der Ausbildungsleiter ist für den gesamten Ausbildungsprozess sowie die Ausbildungspläne verantwortlich. Er bearbeitet sämtliche Informationen zur Kursverwaltung und überwacht und kontrolliert die Teilnahme der Ausbilder und Ausbildungsteilnehmer an dem jeweiligen Kurs.
Die HOPE-Projektorte sind die Justizvollzugsanstalt Madrid VI (Centro penitenciario Madrid VI) in Aranjuez (Spanien) die Haftanstalt für junge Straftäter in Avlona (Avlona Young Offenders Institution) in Athen (Griechenland) und die Jugendhilfeeinrichtung Papafeio (Papafeio Youth Care Institution) in Thessaloniki (Griechenland).
Hauptziel der Justizvollzugsanstalt Madrid VI (in Aranjuez (Spanien)) ist es, jungen Straftätern dabei zu helfen, ihr Deliktverhalten zu ändern und ihnen eine Möglichkeit zur Wiedereingliederung in die Gesellschaft zu bieten. Dabei sollen die Häftlinge dazu veranlasst werden, ihre Fähigkeiten zur Teilnahme am Leben in der Gesellschaft zu verbessern.
Als einer der griechischen HOPE-Projektorte wurde Avlona ausgewählt. Dort befindet sich die größte Haftanstalt für junge Straftäter in Griechenland. Seit April 2001 organisiert ARSIS dort Ausbildungskurse zum Einsatz von Computern.
Der andere griechische HOPE-Projektort ist Papafeio. Dort befindet sich eine Hilfeeinrichtung für Kinder und Jugendliche bis 18 Jahre. Die Einrichtung organisiert seit September 2001 Ausbildungskurse zum Einsatz von Computern.
Im Rahmen des ersten Pilotprojekts wurden drei von der Universität Athen und der TEI entwickelte Kurse erprobt:
· Der Schwerpunkt des Multimedia-Kurses liegt auf Multimedia-Anwendungen. Dabei werden alle Begriffe erläutert, die für das fachliche Verständnis erforderlich sind. Für die jungen Häftlinge dieser Einrichtung ist dies einer der interessantesten und modernsten Kurse.
· Der Kurs Computeranwendungen ist sehr praktisch ausgelegt und befasst sich mit der PC-Umgebung, den Basisinstrumenten der Büroautomatisierung sowie mit Grafikdesign.
· Der Kurs zur Eingliederung in den Arbeitsmarkt ist für die Bildung junger Häftlinge von besonderem Interesse. Die dort zur Verfügung gestellten Informationen stammen aus Situationen des realen Lebens und werden auf eine ansprechende und unterhaltende Art und Weise präsentiert. Die Ausbildungsteilnehmer erfahren alle Arten neuer Begriffe und Konzepte, die für das Überleben in einer recht komplexen Welt von entscheidender Bedeutung sind.
Das Projekt setzt sich aus folgenden Partnern zusammen:
· SchlumbergerSema ist ein sehr erfahrenes Beratungs- und IT-Unternehmen, das die Projektleitung übernommen hat und darüber hinaus an der Entwicklung der Plattform mitarbeitet.
· Die Universität Athen, Pouliadis und die TEI Athen liefern die technische und inhaltliche Basis für das Projekt.
· CC und die staatliche Universität Jaroslaw sind Einrichtungen in Mittel- und Osteuropa. Sie sind an der kommerziellen Verwertung von HOPE beteiligt und unterstützen die Verbreitung der Projektergebnisse.
· ENRED ist ein Beratungsunternehmen, das das von ALPAO verwaltete spanische Projekt unterstützt.
· ALPAO ist die „Autonome Organisation zur Arbeits- und Haftunterstützung“ („Autonomous Labour & Penitentiary Assistance Organisation“), die den spanischen Justizvollzugsanstalten die für Bildung und Ausbildung von Häftlingen erforderlichen Ressourcen zur Verfügung stellt. ALPAO ist für die Pilotmaßnahmen in der Justizvollzugsanstalt Madrid zuständig.
· Die Vereinigung zur gesellschaftlichen Unterstützung Jugendlicher (ARSIS) arbeitet mit Jugendlichen, die von Marginalisierung in der offenen Gesellschaft bedroht sind, und entwickelt seit einiger Zeit Ausbildungs- und kreative Aktivitäten in allen Gefängnissen, in denen junge Menschen inhaftiert sind. ARSIS leitet die Bemühungen zur Durchführung der Maßnahmen an den griechischen Projektorten.
Building the Information Society in Europe: A Pathway Approach to Employment Interventions for Disadvantaged Groups
The European Union is a major patron of the learning economy. e-Learning is the core business of the learning economy. Information is extracted, packaged, delivered, marketed and audited. It is globally disseminated, untouched by human hands. e-Learning is the new Didactica Magna. It is a realisation of Comenius’ seventeenth-century dream of teaching all things to all people.
Or is it?
e-Learning is delivered to an interface. But how do we know that it has arrived in the minds or hands of learners? If Rossella Magli is correct, this question has become disconnected from the delivery process. School innovation through ICT has, she suggests, become ’conservative and incomplete’. Educational elements have ’mentally disappeared’ from the current horizons of e-learning. Where are the ’spaces’ for ’meaning and expression’, she wondered in the article e-Learning Lost in Time and Space?. If e-learning has been reduced to the delivery of commodified information, is there any difference between learning to become a citizen and learning that you have bought an airline ticket?
The learning economy has become a deficit economy. It promises more than it can deliver. The scale of this deficit problem is indicated in the urgent language of the 6th programme of the European Commission. Seventy eight breathless words are needed to describe the focus of future research on elearning technologies.
"Improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of learning, for individuals and organisations, independent of time, place and pace, through the development of open systems and services in support of ubiquitous, experiential and contextualised learning and virtual collaborative learning communities. Work combines advanced cognitive and knowledge-based approaches with new media, including virtual and augmented reality, virtual presence and simulation, takes account of technological, pedagogical as well as organisational aspects, and aims at demonstrating next-generation learning solutions in sizable field experiments." (elearningeuropa.info, 2003-01-21)
If this is a representative statement, it is more of a shopping list than a scientific analysis. Despite the reference to ‘independent of’, ubiquitous’, ’open systems’ and ’pedagogical aspects’, no distinction is made between system and environment. Likewise, no recognition is given to the fact that systems also have internal environments that also shape their functioning. If the learning society requires systemic or planned change, this may not be the way forward.
Three different discourses about learning
Confusion arises because, in Europe, there are at least three discourses about teaching and learning. There are old-Europe ideas taken from Descartes, Kant and Marx; there are twentieth century ideas taken from communications theory and cybernetics; and there are 21st century ideas linked to the new Europe of economic and political harmonisation.
Old-Europe ideas build upon the relationship between mind, experience and meaning; communication theory relates to the manipulation of meaning-free information; and the new-Europe is struggling to reconcile inherited educational views with management-theory assumptions about distributed learning, communities of practice and situated learning.
Our view of ‘Internetbased assessment’ is an amalgam of these views. We work with higher education ideals that have always distinguished education from training. We accept that education is as much about the transfer of meaning as the transfer of information. We recognise that the value of acquired knowledge depends on its possible use. And, finally, we accept that e-learning is, itself, a situated - and, therefore, fluid - concept.
Our Minerva project, with partners in Belgium, England and Sweden, explores two of the default zones of e-learning - teaching and assessment. It builds on two recent developments:
1. the availability of bottom-up software that make it possible for teachers to customise Internetbased assessment tools;
2. an educational rationale that has grown up around so-called ’alternative assessment’.
Alternative assessment is an imprecise word - which is why we did not use it in our application or our title. Instead, we chose a title which relates to both old and new Europe. We focus on learning (the new Europe) through views of assessment or examinations inherited from the old Europe. We combine them, but in a new way. We emphasise assessment for learning, rather than the assessment or measurement of learning.
Our view of assessment builds on feedback that is embedded and meaningful. Feedback is the overarching concept. But it is imprecise because it can also be used in the design of machines. Feedback becomes meaningful when its purpose is consciously shared by teachers and learners (i.e. those who are shaped by the machine as well as those who design or steer the machine). And such meaningful feedback is embedded because it is integrated into the intentions of teaching and learning. In this form, meaningful, embedded feedback provides a space for ’meaning and expression’. As an invitation to learn, it is appropriate to the democratic ideals of higher and adult education.
We found it difficult to embrace these ideas when we wrote our Minerva application. We are still working them out. In the meantime, we chose a default option for our title and another name for our website Internet-Based Assessment
The recommendations, made by eLIG, to further e-learning in Europe are the following:
1. Member States must ensure that they work closely with industry, museums and educational institutions, among others, to understand their requirements and to permit economical and effective solutions to the provisioning of broadband connectivity.
2. Policy makers should recognise that e-learning relies on human factors, content and processes as well as technology.
3. Public and private understanding of all facets of e-learning should be improved so that learners and employers can select the most appropriate solutions.
4. e-Learning solutions should extend learning opportunities for all citizens.
5. A holistic approach to e-learning development must be taken if it is to be cost effective.
6. The development of virtual campuses must reflect and enhance the effective workings of traditional campuses.
7. Cost effective solutions to the development and delivery of eLearning must be found so that all sectors of the economy can benefit.
8. Current understanding of private public partnerships must be further developed so that full advantage can be taken of the sectors’ collaboration in developing effective e-learning solutions occurs.
9. Member States should encourage industry and user led efforts to develop open standards to permit interoperability among e-learning applications and permit the exchange of elearning objects. Compliance with open standards for interoperability should be required in public procurement of e-learning applications.
10. As the eEurope 2005 Action Plan acknowledges, public authorities can help accelerate the deployment of e-learning by using their purchasing power to aggregate demand and provide a crucial pull for new networks. But in addition public authorities can and should also lead by example by designing and implementing e-learning policies and techniques for their own employees.See the related articles "Why Isn’t e-Learning Taking off in a Big Way in our Daily Lives? by Richard Straub" and "eLIG, the eLearning Industry Group by Richard Straub"
The picture that ilustrate this article was taken from the eLearning Industry Group (eLIG) website.