VCSE Guidebook/Creating regional (e-)learning networks/Use of e-learning and blended learning in actor groups
6.4. Use of e-learning and blended learning in actor groups
The European Union defines e-learning as “the use of new multimedia technologies and the internet to improve the quality of learning by facilitating access to resources and services as well as remote exchanges and collaboration.” ( E-Learning Europa 2008 ) This definition implies the integration of e-learning in organisational and educational settings. At this point the authors would like to point out that the e-learning as well as blended learning (which is preferable in regional networks) will be classified as a teaching and learning method and ICT as the supporting technology behind these methods.
According to the actor group classification for regional (e-)learning networks introduced above, the degree of implementation of e-learning and adoption of ICT differs largely in each of the actor groups:
1. Universities and research institutions
At universities across Europe, e-learning has become rather common, mainly as an additional support for face-to-face learning in the form of blended learning. European e-learning initiatives have been given a strong impulse on the practical level; while action in this field was still low in 2000, practice of e-learning has significantly risen until 2004 (Dondi et. al., 2005). Another impetus was given by the emergence of free and open source software which has led to the application of open educational practices and resources (Genser, 2007).
School instruction is largely dominated by a high rate of presence learning. In comparison to tertiary education, the use of e-learning in primary and secondary education has not strongly developed yet. On a European level, most initiatives in the field of e-learning concern e-twinning contacts and the improvement of ICT teacher education by providing educational resources for teachers.
Large companies rely more and more on e-learning/ICT in the field of continuing education. According to the Menon Interim Report (“Benchmarking Policy and Initiatives in support of e-learning for Enterprises in Europe.” Interim Synthesis Report. November 2006: http://www.menon.org/Benchmarking/InterimReportfinal.pdf), there is a trend towards bottom-up informal and formal learning which is facilitated by e-learning. In contrast, SMEs still lag behind and show a deficit concerning the use of ICT and e-learning as a support tool for learning, networking and organising.
4. Other Regional Actors
As this actor group is very heterogeneous, it can be assumed that the general use of e-learning and ICT within the actors’ organisations and institutions is rather varied too. A needs analysis is therefore also to be recommended with respect to each single regional actor being a member of this actor group in order to identify lacks and potential in e-learning and ICT application.
Imparting and acquiring knowledge in regions through e-learning needs suitable methodological considerations. As we have seen above, universities as well as big enterprises take a leading role in this respect whereas other regional actors, such as SMEs and schools still have room for potential. Universities in particular can take a pivotal position in context with regional (e-)learning frameworks as e-learning has a threefold potential for fostering knowledge transfer in regional milieus:
- potential of multimedia: multimedia offers different ways of imparting knowledge to different levels of region and different actors and actor groups (cf. chapter 5.2)
- potential of interactivity: regional actors can interact, get feedback and thus alter their strategies, values and norms to adapt to regional learning
- potential of networking: new forms of communication offer possibilities to communicate independently from place, time and organisational constraints. (adapted from ISSING/KLIMSA 2002)
Nevertheless, when dealing with regional learning, it is important to see that content, structure and methods need to be adapted to the relevant actor group as participation in (e-) learning networks is dependent on a variety of factors. In the case of regional e-learning networks, we see that the following three factors need to be taken into account:
- Methodological-technological dimension: regional actor groups have different levels of ICT adoption (technological dimension) and e-learning application (methodological dimension). Markkula (2004) has come up with a five-step classification to describe these degrees.
- Organizational-spatial dimension: There are some crucial elements and motives for participation, inter-organizational network and relationship formation which hold a network together (Oliver, 1990, quoted in Oerlemans et. al. 2007). The use of e-learning and blended learning should only be applied when respecting or giving additional benefit to these elements, such as the necessity to work together, mutual interest in cooperation and improving input-output ratios.
- Content related dimension: Learning has to be seen on different levels, ranging from basic education at school to tertiary education and further education. In the practice of (e-)learning networks, it is important to know what information is made accessible to which regional actor group. Visitors/beginners are usually people who access information but do not actively participate; the information made accessible must therefore be more reduced as compared to regulars who actively participate and thus create. It is also crucial to know which technological and methodological requirements as well as competencies from the learners’ side are important for which actor group.