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Framework for e-Learning Contents Evaluation, Position Paper

Framework for e-Learning Contents Evaluation
Position Paper
Andreas Kollias
Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas (
May 2007
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
Table of Contents
1. The quest for standardization of e-Learning content................................................................................. 5
1.1. Important issues regarding interoperability standards............................................................................... 5
1.2. E-Learning content metatada .................................................................................................................... 7
1.3. E-Learning content accessibility issues..................................................................................................... 7
2. Conceptual issues and actual practices regarding “e-Learning contents” .............................................. 11
2.1. Learning content from the point of view of the learner ............................................................................ 11
2.2. Textbooks as “carriers” of learning content ............................................................................................. 13
2.3. Learner-led content creation.................................................................................................................... 13
2.4. Teachers/trainers as learning content developers .................................................................................. 14
2.5. Other content developers and the relevance of their products to education and training....................... 16
2.6. Assessing e-Learning contents for biases and unfounded assumptions ................................................ 17
2.7. E-Learning content and learning patrimonies.......................................................................................... 20
3. Wider economic-social perspectives in education and training............................................................... 25
3.1. e-Learning content that combats exclusion from education.................................................................... 27
3.2. Harmonization vs diversity: implications about the content of the “learning content” ............................. 29
3.3. Lifelong learning: the case of e-Learning content ................................................................................... 30
4. References .............................................................................................................................................. 32
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
The Fe-ConE project aims at the promotion of e-Learning by identifying key factors for
the development/adoption of e-Learning contents in the different socio-cultural environments
in Europe. Specifically, the project is based on the premises that “learnability” is culturally
bounded and that the success of e-Learning is highly related to, if not found at, the
intersection between the implied by the setting learning patrimony and the technology applied
to achieve the desired learning outcomes.The aim of this position paper is to identify and
discuss context dependent and independent factors that influence the adoption process
and/or development, sustainability, transferability, scalability of e-Learning contents. Its role is
to provide a tentative framework for opening-up and structuring further in-depth activities and
discussions in the context of the Fe-conE project, particularly in pedagogic, political and
technological dimensions directly related to the quality of e-Learning contents both at national
and EU level.
The development of such a framework is of outmost importance because despite the
wealth of on-going discussions about e-Learning content (these tend to be fragmented into
“hot” topics -for example, market models, interoperability and re-usability, pedagogic models,
end-user needs, diversity, repositories to name some- which provide us with in-depth insights
about the problems and the challenges that we have to face to fully exploit the potentials of e-
Learning technologies), there is still limited discussion on how important facets of e-Learning
contents can be addressed in a holistic way with the use of relatively consistent, sound set of
aims, principles, methodologies, tools and actual practices.
Today there is a growing concern over the e-Learning contents and their quality. As a
matter of fact, at EU level there is a change in focus, from technology availability and
connectivity into schools, homes and workplaces, basic ICT literacy skills and introduction of
ICT into curricula towards e-content. According to European eLearning Industry Group (eLIG,
2005), “adding an e to learning…has also confirmed or even increased the importance of
content as a founding pillar of Education: the more technology spreads itself into classrooms
and our lives, the more the need for high quality and media rich content that can be
effectively repurposed and reversioned for different devices, platforms and infrastructures”
(p.3). The turn to e-Learning content and its quality, as we shall discuss, is essential in many
respects for all stakeholders in education, training and lifelong learning. A major target is to
develop a common ground in our understandings about the notion of quality of e-Learning
contents and it is reasonable to expect that this should eventually lead to the development
and widespread adoption of common or comparable quality assurance systems on e-
Learning content across different sectors and national contexts. The utility of the development
of quality assurance systems related to e-Learning content is in its wider conception not much
different than in other kinds of products or services, i.e. “customer satisfaction”. However,
examining how “customer satisfaction” can be achieved, starting from the diversity of national
learning patrimonies within EU which may also ascribe different meaning to quality and going
down to individual learning needs and learning styles, it is not difficult to realise that
widespread adoption of common or comparable quality assurance systems on e-Learning
content may be, for the foreseeable future at least, an elusive goal. As is characteristically
pointed out by eLIG, “…quality assurance systems cannot be isolated from pedagogy models
on which content is based. Further research may be needed to determine how quality
assurance schemes can be independent from cultural, political and linguistic bias” (ibid, p.17).
E-Learning content is neither a value free product nor it can be seen independently of a
complex web of technological, economic, social, cultural and educational realities. It is
therefore an imperative that we should attempt to identify wider trends that directly or
indirectly shape the context for understanding the role of e-Learning content in education,
training and lifelong learning. In the following chapters we raise and discuss three interrelated
issues having to do with e-Learning content. In the first chapter we chose to focus on some
“technical” issues having to do with standardization of e-Learning content in terms of its
interoperability, indexing and accessibility. On this level of analysis we highlight some critical
points that need to be addressed in order to widen the potential impact of e-Learning content
provisions across Europe. However, no “technical” discussion can convincingly answer the
question of what is or should be considered as “e-Learning content”, how this relates to the
practices of teachers and learners and how we can address various biases they may be
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
embedded in e-Learning contents. These are questions that we discuss on chapter two.
Finally in chapter three we claim that the real measure against to which we can judge our
conceptions about e-Learning content, its quality and its standardisation is their relevance to
the wider socio-economic and cultural context of its use and the priorities we set regarding
the learning needs that such content should address.
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
1. The quest for standardization of e-Learning content
Standards of e-Learning contents have lately gained much attention in specialist
discussions internationally. This is a sign that the e-Learning field is progressing from a phase
where innovators, early adopters and leading companies with proprietary technology and
content are challenged by the widening needs of a fast growing number of end-users and
therefore the major field players are driven towards the development and adoption of
common standards. As it is characteristically argued in a Commission Staff Working Paper
(SEC, 2003, 905), “it is felt that good quality e-Learning content will only become freely
available when an appropriate balance is found between the needs of content providers, and
those of learners and educational practitioners... Open standards and interoperability are very
important in this respect” (p.6). In what follows we will briefly discuss recent developments in
the area of e-Learning standards with an emphasis on content. Our interest is to highlight
important issues at conceptual level that need to be addressed beyond their strictly technical
A comprehensive list of technical quality characteristics of e-Learning contents is offered
by the US government’s Advanced Distributed Learning initiative. These interrelated
characteristics are: accessibility, adaptability, durability, interoperability and reusability (ADL,
2004). ADL’s original aim was to serve the needs of the US Department of Defence which
was faced with the problem of using e-content that is sharable among many different
proprietary learning/content management systems. Soon it was realised that the same
problem is faced by many other “e-Learning content” providers, such as schools, colleges,
universities, training organizations, education portals, content repositories, proprietary content
developers and vendors worldwide. Therefore, interoperability emerged as a very important
issue that needs to be addressed with some kind of standardisation in mind.
1.1. Important issues regarding interoperability standards
In general, interoperability standards is the key issue for the development of economies
of scale in the e-Learning market. According to a recent white paper from Sun Microsystems
(2002), the wide adoption of interoperability standards will lower the costs for the production
of learning content, which as a consequence will lead to increases in the size of the potential
market, to more emphasis on the quality of the content produced rather than on its format and
to more affordable solutions for learning content “consumers”.
The development and wide adoption of e-Learning standards is easier said than done.
According to a report on the results of related discussions held in two consultation workshops
in Brussels on 2004, “current standards and specifications related to e-Learning are
fragmented and their application does not sufficiently address the semantics of
learning…Content creation tools from different vendors are not only functionally disparate but
in most cases not interoperable. Moreover, the learning objects produced using them cannot
be combined. This frustrates efforts to share and re-use content, leading to unnecessary
duplication” (DG EAC/BH D, 2004, p.4). The report concludes that “the development and
adoption of Europewide standards for tools and learning objects, describing how they fit
together semantically and not just syntactically, is seen as being a key priority for EU action”
(ibid). However, as it is argued by the Centre for Educational Technology Interoperability
Standards (CETIS, 20041), there are difficulties in achieving a wide consensus on e-Learning
standards because “… users’ needs and suppliers’ needs are very different. Implementing
standards represent a cost for suppliers, and stops them from protecting their user base from
other suppliers, whereas for users, standards gives them flexibility and choice. Consequently,
suppliers want the smallest possible specification of standards, and users want a broad and
well defined set of standards.” A second difficulty identified by CETIS (ibid) is that the
priorities that different specifications adopt may represent a bias towards one educational
approach amongst others. In a similar spirit, the TELCERT project2 pointed out that “…online
learning is not a ‘one size fits all’ undertaking... Conformance testing needs to be allied with
the capability to adequately service localisation issues required to meet the full requirements
1 CETIS represents UK higher-education and further-education institutions on international
learning technology standards initiatives.
2 See
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
of user communities. This is of special importance in Europe with its large diversity of culture
and learning settings”. This suggests that while interoperability is a highly important goal it is
questionable if the adoption of the same set of standards and specifications worldwide is
either achievable or indeed desirable.
One of the most concrete efforts today to address the issue of interoperability and
reusability of e-Learning contents has been done by the ADL initiative which developed the
Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM). It is important to point out that already
the US government has made SCORM conformance a requirement in federal government
contracts with colleges and universities.
At conceptual level that interests us more at this point, SCORM supports the notion of
learning content composed from “sharable content objects”, relatively small, reusable content
objects aggregated together to form meaningful units of instruction (activities in SCORM’s
terms), such as courses, modules, chapters, assignments, etc. Content objects are
composed of one or more “assets” (digital files of any kind), which in this model are
considered the most basic form of a learning resource. These content objects may not
actually serve any particular learning purpose or adopt a clear-cut pedagogy, in other words
they are conceived as “context-free” units of information and in principle they do not
constitute learning content proper. The conception of content objects as “context-free” units of
information is believed to be necessary because this enhances the reusability of such
information in different learning contexts. Learning content and context is specified when
different content objects are aggregated and organised into one package to form a unit of
instruction and define a learning experience. This approach therefore adopts the assumption
that the application of different sequencing/navigation paths on the same set of content
objects can lead to the development of units of instruction that serve different instructional
methodologies and hence different learning experiences (which ideally would be tailored to
the needs of individuals and whole organisations -the adaptability requirement).
SCORM has a long way to go to become a de facto technical framework beyond USA.
However it has already attracted the interest of different stakeholders in education and
training worldwide. For example, most if not all leading LMS solutions, commercial or open-
source, are already offering tools to integrate SCORM-compliant content. Compliance to
SCORM is becoming part of the technical specifications endorsed by governments and
education bodies3 for learning platform software and systems to be used in educational
establishments and world leading content providers are developing SCORM-compliant
learning content4. There are also already affordable or even free content authoring programs
to create SCORM-compliant content that can be deployed to learning management systems
(LMS)5 and so is the case for stand-alone SCORM package players6.
A frequent criticism of the SCORM approach to learning content is that the pedagogy is quite
unsophisticated and more suitable for training than for education. It places great emphasis to
the model of a single, self-reliant self-directed-learner and it is appropriate only to a very
limited range of learning activities (Friesen, 2004).This is not surprising as this framework
was originally developed to serve the massive training needs US military personnel but it
should be pointed out that SCORM packages, irrespective of their built-in pedagogy, are for
use in LMSs. The latter are usually packed with a wide range of pedagogic tools (forum and
chat modules, blogs, whiteboards etc) which facilitate a flexible integration of SCORM content
into more balanced approaches. For example a pedagogically competent teacher/trainer can
use such tools to implement different pedagogic approaches and in effect overcome the
limitations of the SCORM framework.
Overall, within the wider converging forces of harmonisation and homogenisation that
brings the globalisation of markets including the “learning content” market and connectivity
and the diverging forces of autonomisation and decentralisation of education administration
and cultural diversification, conceptions of learning contents as “learning objects” are bound
to be controversial in essence as their “object” conception is referring to something that can
3 For example BECTA in the UK.
4 For example, BBC’s “World Wide Interactive Learning”.
5 An excellent example of free authoring application is the eXe editor by the Auckland
University of Technology and Tairawhiti Polytechnic. See
6 For example the RELOAD Content Package and Metadata Editor, and SCORM Player. See .
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
be handled, shaped and transferred in many different ways and their “learning” conception is
always bound to specific contexts and situations.
1.2. E-Learning content metatada
Metadata, i.e. on descriptions of learning contents at various levels of aggregation, are of
critical importance for the indexing, storage, searching, and retrieval of learning content by
different tools across diverse learning content repositories. It is practically impossible to
achieve wide and easy sharing of e-Learning contents without the use of metadata. E-
Learning content quality per se is, of course, not directly related to the use of a certain
metadata standard or indeed the lack of use of metadata. Books of excellent quality in terms
of their content do not have less quality if they are not indexed using a standard (for example
the Dewey Decimal Classification scheme). However, what is affected is their accessibility
potential which if it is close to nil then their content quality is really unimportant. On the other
side, metadata and any other classification scheme are cultural artefacts which means that
they impose a certain view on what is classified, something which, in turn, may affect our
perceptions of the quality of content in relation to our purposes.
A major barrier to the widespread adoption of a common metadata scheme for learning
content is the diversity of the terminology used to describe educational services, processes,
tools, competencies and content not only between EU countries and across sectors (formal
general education, vocational education, work-based training etc) but sometimes within
national contexts. Regarding competencies, as it is characteristically argued by the Learning
Technology Standards Observatory (LTSO7), “every organisation that is engaged in the fields
of formal education, technical, vocational or corporate training or workforce development is
creating its own competency definitions and structures. Many of them are involved in the
design and implementation of digital repositories in order to support the storage, search,
retrieval and management of these definitions, thus dealing with issues ranging from learning
resource discovery to accreditation or skill gap analysis, depending on the context of the
application. However, the use of different information models or assumptions makes the
exchange between such repositories and the referencing of competency and skills definitions
by relevant systems (learning, learning content, human resource systems, etc.) an impossible
task.” The huge challenge is therefore to achieve a valid mapping between different
vocabularies used in EU respecting in parallel the national and sectoral idiosyncrasies.
1.3. E-Learning content accessibility issues
People of all ages with temporary or permanent disabilities which include hearing, visual,
language and speech, learning, dexterity or mobility difficulties or impairments may face huge
barriers in using on or off-line digital content for learning. This may also be true for healthy
senior people who are faced with normal, gradual age-associated declines in vision and
certain cognitive abilities. One step towards addressing their learning needs is therefore to
make sure that proprietary authoring tools developers, learning content developers, training
organisations and tutors take active steps to enhance learning content accessibility for
disabled and senior learners. Harmonisation of accessibility standards for authoring tools,
browsers and media players is also essential to increase the accessibility of the Web for
learning. The above directly link to the emerging design approaches often referred to as
“universal design”, “inclusive design” or “design for all”, "accessible design", "universal
access", or "barrier free design" and more widely to the ideal of inclusive societies.
Regarding the WWW, the W3C/WAI’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are
widely regarded as international standard. At EU level the Web Content Accessibility
Guidelines have been adopted for public web sites in the context of the eEurope 2002 Action
Plan and W3C/WAI has received support from various EC-funded research programmes.
Beyond however the level of policy intentions regarding WWW accessibility, the actual
implementation of accessibility standards in government and other web sites. For example, in
the UK all government web pages are expected to comply with the W3C/WAI
recommendations. In Italy, accessibility is regulated by a newly introduced Ministerial Decree
of the Italian Innovation Ministry, which was inspired by W3C WCAG 1.0 and the U.S.A.
Section 508 Rehabilitation Act. In some EU countries accessibility regulations are introduced
7 See
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
by government bodies or independent ones8 but given the diversity in Europe the obvious risk
is the fragmentation of the methodologies and actual implementation of the W3C/WAI
recommendations across EU. According to the EuroAccessibility9 project some important
factors that can act against Web accessibility in Europe is the lack of a harmonised
methodology for implementation of W3C/WAI guidelines, and (consequently) the absence of
a harmonised methodology for assessing the quality of Web sites. A new initiative, the “WAB
cluster” projects (IST) aims to harmonise the specifications towards a European Quality Mark
for Web Content Accessibility on the basis of the “Unified Web Evaluation Methodology”.
Despite the above initiatives, the actual web accessibility situation in EU seems rather
disappointing. A comparative study regarding the WCAG 1.0 conformance and HTML validity
of a large sample of Irish, UK, French and German public and private sector web sites
(n=4,877) was conducted in 2003 by Marincu and McMullin (2004) with the use of the
WebXACT tool predecessor “Bobby”. The key results showed a disappointing situation. More
than 94% of the Irish, UK, French and German web sites assessed failed “Bobby” at the
minimal accessibility level (WCAG–A). According to Marincu and McMullin (ibid.), “… the poor
conformance to Web accessibility guidelines is presumably due to a lack of information and a
misunderstanding of their importance on the part of content designers and authors”. More
widely, they argued that despite very laudable goals in documents such as the eEurope 2002
Action Plan, the current commitment to accessibility for users with disabilities is, at best,
aspirational and, at worst, cynically inadequate. Another recent study on the “eAccessibility of
Public Sector services in the European Union” (2005) organised by the UK Presidency of the
EU, shed some further light regarding the accessibility policies in online public services in
EU(25) and the European Commission, and provided a detailed assessment of 436
government service web sites across Europe using automated and manual evaluation
techniques. The findings revealed that 97% of the reviewed sites failed both the automated
and the manual checks for Level A conformance with WCAG.
On top of the above, some concerns have been expressed about the applicability,
relevance and vagueness of some guidelines. A particular point that we would like to highlight
here is the requirements of complying with the “Guideline 11. Use W3C technologies and
guidelines”. The recommendation for W3C technologies is based on the rationale that “many
non-W3C formats (e.g., PDF, Shockwave, etc.) require viewing with either plug-ins or stand-
alone applications. Often, these formats cannot be viewed or navigated with standard user
agents (including assistive technologies). Avoiding non-W3C and non-standard features
(proprietary elements, attributes, properties, and extensions) will tend to make pages more
accessible to more people using a wider variety of hardware and software.” The problem with
this guideline is that they do not acknowledge the work done by proprietary formats. On the
other side, proprietary software developers are not always easy to abandon their market
interests to set their own standards and align behind any common standard. Adobe on its
part, for example, has developed guidelines for creating accessible Portable Document
Format (PDF) documents, a widely adopted standard on the WWW, by people with
disabilities and has developed partnerships with leading screen reader companies in order to
make its products accessible by people with low vision or blindness. These guidelines apply
8 Various national level initiatives have been undertaken to regulate the process of verification
of WCAG compliance by web sites. In the Netherlands, the project “” (Barrier-
Free) has undertaken the task of promoting the accessibility of Dutch internet sites via a
Quality Mark (Velleman, 2004). It has established regulations and standards based on the
W3C/WAI recommendations and sites wishing to use its logo must meet them. In France, the
work done on web accessibility by the BrailleNet association since 1997 has led to the
establishment of the quality control mark "AccessiWeb" which is aiming to certify the
accessibility of web sites on the basis of the W3C/WAI recommendations. The "AccessiWeb"
includes a list of 92 criteria and a methodology of evaluation. Furthermore, "AccessiWeb"
offers an internet search engine for web sites and blogs which contain information about the
topic of web accessibility (in French and English). In Belgium, the corresponding quality
control mark for accessible web sites is named “AnySurfer”, which replaced “BlindSurfer”
since 2006. In Spain the quality control mark is named “Sello de Accessibilidad”. In Italy, the
“Centro Nazionale per l'Informatica nella Pubblica Amministrazione“ (CNIPA) is responsible
for providing the “logo di accessibilità” to conforming web sites.
9 See: .
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
to Adobe’s own products and indirectly to other authoring applications which print out pdf
documents, such as Microsoft Word.
When considering higher levels of WCAG conformance, much depends on the
commitment of e-Learning content developers and providers (including training providers via
the Web, as well as tutors), and to a critical degree on improvements in content management
systems and content authoring tools. The situation regarding LMSs and authoring tools is
currently rather vague. ATutor is claiming to be the first inclusive LMS, complying with the
W3C WCAG 1.0 accessibility specifications at the AA+ level, allowing access to all potential
learners, instructors, and administrators, including those with disabilities who may be
accessing the system using assistive technologies. Moodle has done work on accessibility
specifications and has set up an “Accessibility Compliance in Moodle 1.8” “issue tracker” to
track issues that need to be fixed to ensure accessibility compliance with WCAG. The
“Environment for Freedom in E-Learning” (EifFE-L) is another LMS claiming to conform with
W3C WCAG 1.0. The Docebo LMS offers its users an accessibility manual with information
about solutions to the implementation of the guidelines. This is also the case for the ILIAS
Making a concluding comment we would like to point out that WCAG has helped raining
the awareness of various stakeholders on the importance of making the Web accessible to
all. However, we should not forget that conformance to WCAG is just a (small) part of the
solution to the problem of digital content accessibility. Readability, presentation and
navigation are issues that do not emerge only in html coded e-Learning content, but
essentially in any digital learning content and application that is accessed through the Internet
or off-line as well as in the delivery technology. Unavoidably the focus turns on assistive
technologies for learning. Assistive ICTs are specially designed software and hardware with
the aim to enable access and use of computers and other ICTs for disabled and older people.
Perhaps the most common software assistive technologies are text-to-speech programmes,
screen magnifiers and high contrast utilities for people with visual impairments. Less
widespread but extremely helpful are refreshable Braille displays and Braille page printers.
These require a learning curve and tutors for older people with visual impairments need to be
able to teach them how customize levels of magnification, views, colours, and mouse and
cursor enhancements, to help them practice with keyboard shortcuts, and explore the speech
options offered by text-to-speech programmes. Beyond the above there is a wide variety of
assistive technologies for people with hearing difficulties, physical disabilities etc which all
demand a certain degree of familiarisation in order to exploit their advantages over
conventional technologies. Training providers and tutors for disabled people and seniors
need to be informed about a wide array of available accessibility aids and assistive
technologies that can be used to facilitate ICTs use for learning. Particularly tutors need to
know how to effectively integrate them into their own pedagogic approach and teaching
practice, and develop adaptive strategies that help people improve their interaction with ICTs.
Finally, e-Learning content developers and developers of learning applications need to
integrate into their products accessibility features and exploit the accessibility aids offered by
operating systems and graphic user interfaces.
As it is directly implied by the above, the development and implementation of standards
and guidelines regarding specifically learning content accessibility is of particular importance.
In the USA there is already some work done towards the National Instructional Materials
Accessibility Standard (NIMAS). NIMAS is aimed to guide the production and distribution of
digital versions of textbooks and other instructional materials so they can be more easily
converted to accessible formats, including braille and text-to-speech. Furthermore, the Center
for Applied Special Technology, which is also working for the NIMAS initiative, is focusing on
research and development of innovative, technology-based educational resources and
strategies to expand the learning opportunities for all individuals, especially those with
disabilities. Equal Access to Software and Information (EASI) is another, non-profit,
organization with the mission to make information technologies more accessible to users with
disabilities. In general, however, there is still a long way to go regarding e-Learning content
accessibility as we know very little about what makes learning content accessible to
audiences with different abilities. For example, Susan Shoemaker (2003) in her review of
research on the cognitive challenges for older computer users identified as possible beneficial
suggestions for improving interfaces and end-user instruction for older users the following:
removal of unnecessary options; very clear, explicit instructions; low task complexity; slower
presentations; illustrated, self-paced instructional media; a standard format presented in small
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
segments; menus with little complexity; interface designs based on users’ pre-existing task
models; and instructions in strategy. All the above sound as reasonable suggestions but we
need not to forget that seniors are perhaps the most heterogeneous group within the general
population and several dimensions (socio-cultural, educational, economic, intellectual etc)
which contribute to this heterogeneity can be directly or indirectly related to their learning
capacities, needs and preferences and therefore further and extensive research is badly
Discussions about standards often sound too technical for many stakeholders in
education and training such as practitioners, social theorists, pedagogues, learners, parents,
administrators and educational policy makers. As a matter of fact it is convenient to think
about standards as a technical issue that is better leave at the hands of experts. We often
assume that it is easier to develop a shared understanding of the issues at stake from a
technical point of view than consider them as political, ideological, cultural or pedagogic
battlefields. Therefore many things such as pedagogic or cultural relevance of e-Learning
content which are more open to different interpretations and heavily context dependent are
often left out of the discussions about e-Learning standards.
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
2. Conceptual issues and actual practices regarding “e-
Learning contents”
The term “e-Learning content” is widely used in the academic literature, policy papers,
among practitioners, researchers, policy makers and various other interest groups and
stakeholders such as learners, electronic content developers and distributors, committees
responsible for developing standards etc. but it is not always clear what this term actually
means. Other terms treated almost as synonyms to the “e-Learning content” are “digital
learning materials” and “educational e-content” and, depending on the national context, digital
contents for e-Learning are referenced to as digital instructional or teaching materials, or
teaching and learning resources. It is also becoming widespread the use of more “technical”
terms such as “learning objects” and “digital assets”. Digital content (or digital resources) in
the EU’s eContentplus 2005 work programme is defined as “anything that can be
produced/created, stored, processed, managed and transmitted using digital technologies”
(p.3). In the eContentplus 2006 work programme digital content is defined as “…machine-
processable information that has been either digitised or created in digital form. In both these
documents “educational content” is identified as a target area in parallel to geographical
information and cultural and scientific/scholarly content. Specifically, educational digital
content is defined as “… content that can be used for learning in different contexts: in formal
education and training programmes, in non-formal general education and in continuing
vocational training courses, as well as for self-learning” (2006 work programme, p.9). If we
join these two definitions then we have the following statement: Educational digital content (or
educational digital resources) is “anything that can be produced/created, stored, processed,
managed and transmitted using digital technologies and can be used for learning in different
contexts: in formal education and training programmes, in non-formal general education and
in continuing vocational training courses, as well as for self-learning.” Such a definition is
really wide and therefore quite problematic. Several different kinds of online or offline digital
files can at some point be used by a learner or a teacher/trainer in order to support or
facilitate learning but does this automatically entitles them as “educational digital content” or
“e-Learning content”? If this is the case then millions of people around the world do deserve
to be named as “e-Learning content developers” just because they publish over the Internet
digital content that can be potentially used by others to support or facilitate learning by an
individual, a group, a network or other kind of collectivity. Sara de Freitas (2007) in a recent
review of the literature related to post-16 e-Learning content production in the UK, although
she recognizes the rather problematic all-encompassing use of this term she still finds it
convenient for her purposes to use it in its broad sense which includes “…lesson plans,
Internet resources, digital library resources and e-Learning and interactive content including
in-house and bought-in learning materials used for supported learning and training in addition
to content development tools (eg, RELOAD), virtual learning environments (VLEs) and
learning designs (eg, LAMS)” (p.2). As she argues, this is necessitated by “…an
understanding of e-Learning as a social process whereby content is used to facilitate and
underpin learning processes and social learning relationships” (ibid).
The above may leave many with the sense that e-Learning content can be nearly
everything in digital form. This apparently all-encompassing use of the term “e-Learning
content” is rooted in its rather polysemus constituents, (e)learning and content which afford
various interpretations and uses in different contexts and discourses. The problem is not that
they are polysemus; it is rather that even within the same context and discourse people tend
to use them freely without always making it clear to others and to themselves what they
actually mean. Several parallel shifts in our understandings about “learning” and “learning
content” have contributed to this.
2.1. Learning content from the point of view of the learner
Learning, in its broad sense, is a dynamic purposeful socio-psychological process of
change in individuals and collectivities. Changes, permanent or less permanent and even
circumstantial do take place within and between people and many of them are attributed to
learning. Although not all changes that result through some kind of learning have positive
consequences for individuals and collectivities (all sorts of abuses aren’t socially learned
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behaviours?), learning is all too often assumed to be behind all kinds of positive changes
recorded in the history of human kind. The unique value of learning for the survival and
prosperity of human societies is not news at all but it is only lately that we seem to have
placed “learning” at the centre of our grand societal projects. Today if we attach the term
“learning” next to anything it automatically acquires a very appealing aura. We are
envisioning the “learning age”, we are targeting to the grand transformation of our societies
and nations into “learning societies” and “learning nations”, we have “learning economies”, we
believe that we can make our organisations highly competitive if we transform them into
“learning organisations” and we are also convinced that people should join “learning
networks”, “learning groups” or “learning teams”, and that they will become better and better
for themselves and our societies if they engage in “lifelong learning”. In other words, learning
has been transformed into a generic concept but it is quite questionable whether learning can
be understood independently of its object, the actual learners and the learning situation and
of course the wider context that learning takes place.
Within the wider discourse about the learning societies, economies and organisations,
being a “learner” has become a way of living where being a “learner as student” in a
traditional teaching/learning setting is just an instance in the perpetual strive for learning. As
Kenneth Wain (2006) observes, “the self-directed learner is one whose skills in learning,
having learnt how to learn, reassure her of economic, social, and cultural survival in this fast
changing world of ours, and whose control over her learning ensures her control on her life.
This is a good thing in itself though everything then turns on the purposes to which one turns
one’s learning” (p.41). This is obviously a very important issue. Traditional educational
discourses about learning have taken for granted that it is best for the individual and the
society as a whole to turn his/her learning towards things that are best suited to his/her
aptitudes, interests, inclinations etc. Ideally, education should help individual learners
discover and exploit them in the fullest possible way. When we integrate lifelong learning
within this route of thought then we can easily realise its emancipatory, empowering role for
the individual. As Geoff Hinchliffe (2006) observes, when someone brings into the foreground
the emancipatory role of lifelong learning then “…lifelong learning is not simply a survival kit
in a hostile world: it actually provides agents the means and resources whereby they can
impact on that environment and have some influence over their own destinies. This is
redolent of Dewey’s view of education as being one of the key factors in making for a
democratic citizenry” (p.96).
The turn to the “learner” have great implications on how we understand “learning
content”. From the point of view of the individual “learner”, contents become learning contents
proper every time a learner interacts with them as an object of their learning activity with the
purpose to think about, understand and create meaning out of them, to develop new
knowledge and skills, to practice on them, to use them as a reference points for further
developing his/her competencies. Otherwise it is just “content”, i.e. content in its very basic
meaning as “this that is contained” (for example, the contents of a specific text, an image or a
piece of music).
Furthermore, from the point of view of the individual “learner”, content seizes to be
considered as learning content when (s)he believes (justifiably or not) has exhausted its
potentials for learning. For example, a practice sheet is learning content for a learner who
uses it to practice on the specific object of her learning activity but it becomes just a practice
sheet when there is nothing more to learn out of it. On the other side, content also seizes to
be considered as learning content when (s)he has no prior knowledge, skills or experiences
that would help her learn something out of it. For all those of us who do not know a thing
about statistics a table with results of a statistical test is just a table with numbers and letters
on it. Finally, from the point of view of the individual “learner” any content has the potential of
becoming learning content just because in principle there are no boundaries in what people
want to learn. So, any contents can be considered as learning contents when they become
an object of a specific learning activity of the learner and are not far beyond his/her existing
knowledge, skills and attitudes (i.e. beyond his/her grasp). While this is essentially true for the
learner, the transformation of “learning” into a generic concept and of the “learner” into a de-
contextualised self-reliant entity has relativised the concept of “learning content” to such a
great extent so as to be any piece of information that is or can be used for learning.
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2.2. Textbooks as “carriers” of learning content
In contrast to such, both generic and utterly subjective, conceptions of learning and
learners, the long tradition of educational and training systems in Europe made sure that the
meaning of content in learning was shared among students, teachers, parents, policy makers,
administrators and content developers. Content was what learners had to know and be able
to perform in order to progress into a well defined system subject and skill areas, timetables,
grades and exams. Textbooks apart from teachers of course, were the “carriers” and
“transmitters” of the content in most of the education and training areas.
Today textbooks from primary to tertiary education and training of any kind still play a
critical role, very often as “intermediaries” between what is described in formal curricula or
what is explicitly indented by education/training providers and what is actually learned in
teaching/learning practice. In many cases, textbooks and other supplementary materials
(such as worksheets, teacher guides etc in digital or printed form) practically organise and
materialise the curriculum contents into specific topics, specify the organization and pacing of
ordinary lessons and offer descriptions of learning activities that teachers/trainers and
students can engage in throughout a course. Everyday teachers all around the world do their
job on the basis of a textbook. As Mark Montgomery (2006) comments, “of course, for those
star teachers who have a strong background in content and who have years of experience
and a natural knack for teaching, a textbook may not be so important. But the research on
how curriculum is enacted strongly suggests that even in the United States, the vast majority
of teachers at all levels and all grades use textbooks nearly every day.” There is no reason to
believe that this is not the case for European teachers. The textbook availability for every
student and teacher in almost any kind of curriculum area may sound as a commonplace in
our ears. However, it still holds a conclusion made by Pernille Askerud (1997) in a Unesco
report 10 years ago that it is the availability of textbooks and other traditional supplementary
materials that “determine the kind of education a country is able to provide” (ibid).
Textbooks may come from the past, unconnected, world of whole classroom teaching but
it is one thing to challenge the “authority” of textbooks in “conveying” a curriculum content and
being used as a straight jacket to everyday school life and quite another to believe that
because we connected schools to the internet we “opened a huge window to the world of
knowledge.” Actually, they still can teach us a lot about “learning content”. Textbooks
explicitly respond to curriculum content; as a matter of fact they are “textbooks” and not just
“books” because they are written with the intention to do so. Of course there are bad
textbooks but still few would claim that they are not textbooks. As it happens with books of
bad poetry or fiction, it is the intention of the author(s) and the functioning of an established
field of action (the field of education, the academic field or professional fields) but not their
actual quality that makes them textbooks. In the modern history of schooling it is only in
exceptional cases that books originally written with no intention whatsoever to be used as
textbooks managed to become textbooks. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey is such an example in
the case of Greek education. What this can teach us is that any content in digital or analogue
form can be characterised as “learning content” not because it can potentially be used for
educational or training purposes but primarily because it has been developed and organised
with the explicit intention to be used as an object of a meaningful learning activity, with a
specific audience of learners in mind (with explicit assumptions regarding their learning needs
and capacities) and which is compatible with the wider and specific standards set by the
respective field of action (in terms of actual content as well as pedagogy).
2.3. Learner-led content creation
The turn to wide conceptions of “learning content” was further encouraged by the gradual
adoption of cognitive and socio-cultural approaches to learning and their proposals regarding
the role of learners, peers and teachers in the co-creation of learning content. Within the
wider pedagogic framework of constructivist and socio-cultural theories of learning, learners
are not passive recipients of knowledge, skills etc that are developed through exposure to
certain teaching contents. They have, among others, to be actively involved in processes that
have to do with selection, organization and creation of learning contents.
There are various kinds of learning activities in formal, and non formal and informal
education that require from learners develop their own learning contents. One characteristic
representative of such activities is learning projects which involve learners in tasks which
have to do with research and processing of relevant to the object of the learning activity data.
In history projects for example learners may be involved in research on various sources of
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historic data, their selection and processing to support arguments related to a historic period,
a course of past events etc. Lab experiments where learners are required to handle various
materials and measurement instruments and observe, record and understand the outcome of
their actions are also representatives of activities where the learning content is primarily
created by the learners themselves. Lots of activities in typical and on-line classrooms require
learning content creation, such as design and development activities (computer programming
tasks for example, or 3d design), composition, essay writing, constructions, activities that
depend largely on communication among learners via e-mails, forums, chat-rooms, blogs,
etc. Various learning activities with the use of software/hardware equipment that allow
learners to observe, manipulate, measure etc real world phenomena and objects through
control interfaces and sensors also help learners develop learning content.
In such activities the learning contents do not “exist” prior to the involvement of learners.
They are “constructed” by the learners during their involvement with them, usually with the
support of teachers or field experts on the basis of the affordances of the learning
environment and the available tools.
In work places learning content creation by the employees themselves is often
considered as a crucial method in order to enhance the capacity of organizations to develop
and exploit new learning. Learning content creation can be seen as a process where tacit
knowledge that is developed during on-going involvement in work tasks is transformed into
some kind of explicit knowledge (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995) that is objectified in “learning
content”. As characteristically Gracham Attwell (2003) argues, “the learning materials of the
future in SMEs may not be bought in or prepared by e-Learning specialists, software houses
or multimedia publishers, but will be the products of employees documented and shared
enquiry into their own practice” (p.12).
We name such school or work-based activities as learner-led content creation activities to
contrast them with other kinds of learning activities where the learning content is largely
developed and organised by people other than the learners themselves. Such activities are
also common among people who are organising their self-learning through the collection and
organisation of information on a topic into a body of “learning content” adapted to their
personal interests and learning needs. Learner-led content creation activities are of
paramount importance in learning, particularly because they help people become
autonomous learners. However there is no ground to believe that such content can serve the
learning needs of learners other than those who originally developed them or those who were
in some way involved in the process of development. Their publication as is therefore over
the internet can best serve as “best practice” examples.
2.4. Teachers/trainers as learning content developers
Widening our scope to include teachers in the context of a learning activity we are faced
with new challenges in defining the term learning contents. Teachers usually use various
contents as learning contents by directing coordinating, focusing, suggesting, asking, etc
learners to interact with them as an object of their learning activity. Traditionally it has been a
very important function of the role of teachers to choose and organise contents and introduce
them to the learners as learning contents. In many national educational patrimonies, contexts
and activities it is assumed that it is the responsibility of the teacher to define (beyond the
object of the teaching-learning activity) what content is relevant and within the capacities of
the learners.
In the primary and secondary education sector, as characteristically Gerry Graham
(2005) puts it, “…teachers up and down the length and breadth of the country [UK] and
across other countries as well, this is what they do. They create content. They’ll use other
people’s content but they’ll create their own content”. Recent findings (BECTA, 2006) related
to the use of digital content by teachers in the UK, a world leader in the implementation of ICT
in education, indicate that digital content continues to be overwhelmingly delivered and used
offline (more than 80% of the surveyed schools had a repository of digital resources which
was not however publicly available), something that could reflect such practices as those
described by Graham. The widening of use of school-based learning platforms is also
challenging the ‘curriculum-in-a-box’ approach as teachers become more competent in
exploiting diverse resources in a granular way.
The latter are at odds with the ‘curriculum-in-a-box’ or the “hardware/software/services
bundle” approach of vendors who are interested to sell in bulks and preferably in proprietary
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format and are threatened by unauthorised re-uses of their content by teachers. As eLIG
points out,
…there has been much confusion between this demand for flexibility and a
misconception of granularity. Too often, granularity has been put forward as a
requirement for poorly structured and low added-value learning objects in the form
of basic interactive animations.
Unfortunately, this misconception of granularity has provoked detrimental
effects on the quality of eLearning content. Users’ expectations for a tailored, yet
rich, learning experience have not been met. Educators have long been presented
by some as substitutes for publishers. Content created and exchanged by
educators may sometimes fit the required quality standards but it should be
obvious to everyone that a teacher’s job is different from that of a publisher. (p.16)
Various different and sometimes conflicting pressures and realities have strengthened
the role of teachers as arbiters of learning contents. Depending on the national context,
curriculum changes that moved away from traditional subject-matters to descriptions of skills
have left a relative vacuum that teachers have to fill in with learning content relevant to their
development in pupils. The decentralization of power to regional and local educational
authorities that gave more power to schools to define their own curricula in line with broad
national targets also created further pressure on teachers to undertake more responsibilities
in defining what should be the learning content and choose accordingly the textbooks and
other learning materials.
Furthermore, the whole idea of using computers into the classroom to exploit the
potentials of the Internet, for example, have opened up a window to a vastness of contents
most of which can potentially be accessed by learners at any moment of a learning activity.
This new reality creates considerable demands on teachers to discover on-line contents
which she can then use as learning contents but also to structure learners’ access to on-line
contents on the Web and, furthermore, in cases of classroom Web searches by learners, to
decide on the spot whether or not a certain content accessed by the learners can be
considered as learning content or not. On the other side, it is interesting to note that in the UK
(see ibid) the majority of teachers use interactive whiteboards more than any other kind of
ICT resource, an indication that they prefer a high degree of control over the digital learning
content that is delivered in their classrooms.
At higher education institutions which across Europe enjoy a high degree of autonomy,
the teaching staff is almost exclusively responsible for defining the contents of the courses.
Traditionally the learning content developers, particularly the textbook authors, are the
academics themselves and a specialized academic publishing industry is functioning on the
basis of their production. Therefore it is not surprising that on-line learning contents used in
courses are produced by the teachers of these courses. In a recent report by the E-LUE
project (2006) it is characteristically stated that in Finish universities 85% of the on-line
contents available are produced internally and for about 70% of the courses the contents are
for internal use only (p.59). In France, the use of on-line contents appears to be quite limited
but whatever on-line content is available this is produced internally in most of the cases and
unavailable to the wider public (ibid.p.97) This is also the picture for UK’s Further Education
institutions and in adult and community learning (BECTA, 2006, p.27).
In-house content development is an enormously crucial activity because it can be
adapted to the cultural and social context of its use and highly relevant to the specific learning
needs of the students. It can also be used as a vehicle to attract the interest of
teachers/trainers who are not very familiar with the use of technology and in general motivate
teachers/trainers to take ownership of wider processes within and between institutions of
using ICT for teaching and learning. Because however in-house development is almost
exclusively dependent on the efforts of dedicated practitioners who usually do not get
something tangible out of it (for academics for example, it is publications that matter most in
academic carriers, not the quality of their e-Learning content; teachers usually do not get any
extra money etc), the sustainability of such learning contents even at “local” level can be
limited. More importantly, they are difficult to be reviewed by external evaluators and because
of their predominantly off-line state they have limited diffusion and adoption capacity even if
they may be excellent samples of e-Learning content.
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A solution to the diffusion, adoption and use of such learning content by the wider
community is to support the development of content repositories. This offers great potentials
towards the exploitation of the hidden dynamic of practitioners and the spread of knowledge
and experience about successful, innovative efforts to develop learning content that is best
adapted to the everyday needs of teachers and learners. Obviously issues about content
quality, standardisation and licensing are becoming much more important and need to be
addressed in a comprehensive way.
2.5. Other content developers and the relevance of their products to education and
As perhaps it has already been made clear, defining what “e-Learning contents” are is far
more complex than defining other kinds of “digital contents”. If we turn our focus on cultural
and memory institutions, such as museums and galleries few would disagree that the
digitization of their collections is actually about development, management, preservation and
dissemination of digital content. The same applies to numerous other traditional content
providers, creators, or collectors that transfer their content (images, books, firms, music
records etc) in digital form in the film, music and publishing industry etc. Massive EU
programmes such as the e-Content and e-Content+ fully confirm this belief. The assumption
is that the content already exists and what we need is to find ways to protect it, catalogue it
and deliver it over the Internet or other platforms. Maybe this is the case for the film, music or
publishing industry but it is hardly so for an “e-Learning content” industry.
Recorded music content is delivered through a music content storage medium and a
suitable player. The music content storage medium such as tape or CD-Rom does not alter
dramatically our ways of listening to a recorded song. For most people it is convenience,
affordability, or matters of taste and existing technology. Some buy a CD-Rom with the song
in it, for others it is better to buy it on-line and some other would go for the vinyl or the tape.
The “content” (the recorded song) is there and in most cases the music experience of the
recorded music is not that much affected by the medium considering that the real difference
is actually between the recorded music and the live experience. Roughly the same applies to
various forms of art, cultural items, archeological findings, manuscripts etc that can be
“captured” by some recording device and reproduced in copies. The reproduction technology
is required to reproduce as close as possible the original work (and hence something of the
experiences that the original can provoke to its audience) and the challenge is to use the best
available technology to do so. Perhaps this is why we find it much less problematic to refer to
and possibly understand such copies as “music content”, “cultural content”, “historic content”
or “film content”. This does not mean that digitization of original content do not poses unique
problems that require novel solutions but it highlights the assumption that the digitized copy of
an original content is (among other things) “digital content”.
On the other hand the implementation of ICT in education and training was not just a
breakthrough. ICT meant that we had to re-invent the ways we understand learning and
learning content. It was accompanied by a paradigm shift in pedagogy and often by such
claims about the future of education that almost rendered all previous “learning content” as
obsolete. For example, today few would suggest that it is a good idea to massively digitize
traditional teaching and learning contents as part of a policy to create e-Learning contents.
This is not because traditional teaching and learning contents are in principle unworthy of
digitization but their mere transfer into digital form is usually considered as a sub-optimal
practice given the potentials of digital technologies to offer much more powerful experiences
of learning about and with new digital content.
Consider the following example. If the content of one, very successful, secondary
education physics textbook is transferred “as is” in digital form does this means that as e-
book it offers a quality e-Learning content? Certainly the qualities of the content per se (for
example, explanatory power, reasoning, in-depth coverage of the subject matter) have not
been affected in any way. Therefore it is justified to assert that the digital form of the textbook
offers a quality e-Learning content. If this is the case, then why not doing the same with other
physics quality textbooks? Would it be considered, for example, as a good policy to invest on
projects that would identify quality secondary education physics textbooks for digitization as
part of a plan to develop a pool of quality e-Learning contents about s.e. physics? Few
educators would answer ‘yes’. No company would invest a euro on it. There are so many
possibilities offered by digital technologies such as simulations, interactive graphs, updated
images from satellites, on-line databases etc that could provide secondary education
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students with much more opportunities to understand physics. In comparison the old good
textbook appears now as a quite limited and limiting method of learning. Learning content
cannot be decoupled easily from the learning method and the latter is inextricably tied to the
affordances of the technology used. Thus learning content cannot be simply reproduced and
delivered through different kinds of technology. In a very substantial way it presupposes, is
structured by and becomes understood (or fails to) through a learning technology.
Furthermore, as it is implied by the preceding paragraphs and sub-chapters, because
content and learning method are inextricably linked into “learning content”, collections of
various kinds of e-contents published on the Internet or intranets, even if they are highly
valued in relation to the holistic development of children and adults alike, cannot be a priori
considered as e-Learning contents.
One such example is collections of digital files of cultural artefacts. Few would actually
argue that collections presented or stored in the physical spaces of museums and galleries
are “learning contents” per se. Although the role of such institutions is also educational, and
of course there are lots of things one can learn from exhibits, professionals in the fields of
museum and gallery education have for decades now stressed that simple access to exhibits
is not enough to support deep learning (as meaning making and understanding) by people
with no systematic prior initiation and active participation in the respective field. As a matter of
fact, people with no systematic prior initiation tend to avoid visiting such places. As Pierre
Bourdieu and Alain Darbel (1991) have convincingly argued, “if it is indisputable that our
society offers to all the pure possibility of taking advantage of the works on display in
museums, it remains the case that only some have the real possibility of doing so” (p.37). In
order to offer more possibilities to museum and galleries prospective visitors, the exhibits, the
contents, of museums and galleries have to become objects of systematic learning activities
which require the active involvement of the learners. As Eileen Hooper-Greenhill (1994)
argues “active methods are favoured. Thus, handling objects, using role play, working around
a site or building, being involved in theatre in education, making a large scale collage,
building a group sculpture, making deductions from first hand evidence, watching a
demonstration, and using tape or video-recorders are standard ways of working” (p.4). All
these are organised pedagogic activities that transform a work or a series of works of art
exhibited in a gallery for example into objects of the learners’ activity (not merely objects of
aesthetic perception) with the aim to deepen their knowledge and understanding, skills and
attitudes towards the specific works but also art in its various expressions (factual and
conceptual knowledge about styles or epochs for example, skills in the identification and
appreciation of brushwork or the use of light, attitudes towards art or gallery visiting etc). The
reproduction of a museum’s walls and rooms into a 3d digital application does not constitute
as is a learning content. It may be interesting and highly interactive but as with museums’
visiting it is the educational activities organised around the exhibits that transform them into
learning contents for a specific audience.
2.6. Assessing e-Learning contents for biases and unfounded assumptions
As we argued earlier any content in digital or analogue form can be characterised as
“learning content” not because it can potentially be used for educational or training purposes
but primarily because it has been developed and organised with the explicit intention to be
used as an object of a meaningful learning activity, with a specific audience of learners in
mind and which is compatible with the wider and specific standards set by the respective field
of action (in terms of actual content as well as pedagogy). It is on these grounds that a piece
of “learning content” can also become an object of critical public discourse. Textbooks were
and still are very frequently subject to open criticism not just about the pedagogy they
embody or the accuracy of the information they contain but also and sometimes more
importantly about the various kinds of social/ideological/cultural biases they possibly impose
on their users. Such kind of systematic criticism has still a long way to go to reach the
fragmented and vaguely defined world of “e-Learning contents” which for many pedagogy
theorists may include nearly everything, from any kind of information published over the
WWW, to proprietary content, to teachers’ self-developed materials and learners’ own
learning projects.
Earlier research on bias in textbooks and other learning materials provide us with a
starting point. Bias has been defined as "preference or inclination that inhibits impartiality,
prejudice" (American Heritage Dictionary, 2004), as "a mental leaning or inclination: partiality;
prejudice; bent" (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1982), as “a prejudice in a general or
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specific sense, usually in the sense for having a preference to one particular point of view or
ideological perspective” (Wikipedia, English version), as “a particular inclination or tendency,
especially one that prevents unprejudiced consideration of a question; prejudice”
Perhaps one of the most studied biases in textbooks is gender bias which has produced
a huge number of publications. Gender bias in textbooks is usually treated as a systemic form
of discrimination arising from cultural assumptions about the roles and expected behaviour of
men and women. Gender bias can be seen as an instance of various types of essentially
cultural biases, an umbrella under which many kinds of prejudiced assumptions and claims
have been classified. Other types of biases, cultural or sometimes social and ideological, that
have been identified and become the object of academic research, media reports but also
heated discussions and even diplomatic disputes in relation to textbooks are:
Ageist bias: stereotyping of people grouped on the basis of their age.
Ableist bias: stereotyping of people grouped on the basis of their mental or physical
National bias: stereotyping of people grouped on the basis of their nationality, but
also nationalistic perspectives in history, omission of unpleasant events, undermining
of other nations’ contributions in various fields of human activity etc. This is perhaps
the most controversial form of bias in textbooks as all educational systems are aimed
to develop some sort of national identity to the younger generations. This sometimes
leads to serious disputes between countries (see for example the dispute that
emerged since 2005 between Japan on the one side and China and South Korea on
the other around a series of Japanese history text books10. Some characteristic
efforts to develop more cross-national approaches to textbook content are the
"Project for the Improvement of Balkan History Textbooks11" and the Franco-German
history textbook12)
Racial and ethnic bias: again stereotyping (see, for example, King and Domin, 2007).
Social class bias: stereotyping of people of the basis of their social class
membership. This type of bias together with racial bias has also been discussed in
relation to testing instruments.
Religious bias: (see for example the 2005 1-2 issues of the Religious Studies Review
entitled “Religion/s Between Covers: Dilemmas of the World Religions Textbook”;
Ramesh, 2004)
Ideological bias: stereotyping of people grouped on the basis of their ideology or
political affiliation, but also imbalance and selectivity in the presentation of different
ideological and political stances (see for example Watts, 1987; Nobuyoshi, 2006).
Scientific bias: omission or misrepresentation of scientific methods and findings and
favourable treatment of others.
Biases as those listed above can be expressed in textbooks through many different
forms. Sadker and Sadker (2001) identified seven forms of gender bias which can be also
identified in other types of bias:
Invisibility: The complete or relative exclusion of a group of people from the contents
of learning materials.
Linguistic bias: Linguistic bias is embedded in the language, in the concepts and
metaphors people use, the connotations of certain words, the choice of descriptors
etc. The use of language to convey implicit or explicit biased messages.
Stereotyping: Generalizations, or assumptions about the characteristics of individuals
solely on the basis of their belonging into a group, disregarding of individual attributes
and differences.
Imbalance and selectivity: One-sided interpretations, omissions of valid counter-
arguments or important information.
10 See a series of news reports on the dispute in BBC News International, at:
11 See
12 See
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Unreality: Glossing over of unpleasant or negative facts and events.
Fragmentation and isolation: Presentation of a group in an isolated way within the
text, for example in a “special” chapter or in a side box as if this group is or was
isolated from other groups.
Cosmetic bias: The use of attractive covers, photos, slogans etc which give the
“illusion of equity” which only applies at surface level.
Understandably enough, all the above may apply not only to textbooks but also to e-
Learning contents. Perhaps it is more possible to detect biases in e-Learning contents than in
textbooks because they can come from many different (often non educational) sources that
have not been necessarily assessed by a specially appointed educational body for their
impartiality and accuracy. According to a literature review conducted by Irma Heemskerk and
her colleagues (2005, p.3) research on gender issues in the use of ICTs for learning has
been primarily focused on differences in participation in computer-related learning activities
and differences of attitudes between students. However they found limited published
empirical research on the differential impact of the characteristics of ICTs on learning
processes of different groups of students (in terms of gender, ethnic and socio-economic
status) and hardly any research on the learning outcomes. Their analysis of such research
identified the content as well as audio-visual aspects as major topics in terms of gender and
cultural inclusiveness of ICT applications. Many forms of bias highlighted by Sadker and
Sadker where identified by the reviewed research. For example, the invisibility form of bias
was found in educational software, mostly through the under-representation of female
characters and minorities. Beyond the frequency of presence of such characters, another
issue was that of use of such characters in stereotypical roles and behaviours. Furthermore,
the fragmentation and isolation form of bias was also identified in those cases where the
contributions of some social groups and women in certain areas of human activity were not
integrated into the main content but was presented in separate sections or boxes in the
computer screen. Imbalance and selectivity was also found in educational software which,
according to the review of Heemskerk and her colleagues, promoted ‘Eurocentric’ and male-
oriented perspectives, and omitted non-Western and feminine worldviews, ideas and beliefs
or presented them only superficially. In other cases the content of educational software
showed lack of accuracy, depth, complexity and/or sensitivity in relation to non-mainstream
cultures. Imbalance and selectivity could also apply in the interface design of on and off-line
educational software and content with the choice of background images, music, colour
schemes, icons etc.
Clearly the issue of “localisation” of internationally developed e-Learning content raises
crucial questions regarding the avoidance of biases and unfounded assumptions on behalf of
content designers. In one study aiming to explore the complex multi-faceted cultural issues
that emerge in on-line learning, Clint Rogers and his colleagues (2007) interviewed a small
number of experienced instructional designers who had been involved in cross-cultural
projects. The main research questions they wanted to answer had to do with the cultural
competencies of instructional designers and how they affect their design practices. Although
the interviewees claimed that they had some awareness of differences between themselves
and the cultural groups for whom they are designing instruction, they admitted that there was
a lot that they still wanted to know. The analysis of their interviews revealed that their learning
needs had to do with four general categories:
(a) general cultural and social expectations. As one of the interviewees commented,
knowledge on general cultural and social expectations is essential in order “to make the
materials very relevant to the learners, to make it possible for them to use their life
experience and their work experience and their everyday life environment”.
(b) teaching and learning expectations. According to Rogers et al (2007) “… many of
the informants felt that a deeper understanding of cultural expectations concerning the
teacher-student relationship and roles, issue of saving face, varying need for face-to-face
interaction, ideal classroom environment and types of activities engaged in, meta-
cognitive strategies learned, writing style, assessment types, and categorization and
structuring of knowledge would help instructional designers make wiser decisions as they
create online courses cross-culturally.”
(c) differences in the use of language and symbols. Apart from the fact that different
languages structure in essential ways thinking, the interviewees also commented that
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
when the course language was English, they sometimes failed to take into account the
impact of other cultural issues and misunderstood the learners’ level of proficiency in
English; furthermore, they pointed out that a misuse of other symbols, colours, and
metaphors can unintentionally offend or alienate learners.
(d) technological infrastructure and familiarity. Instructional designers need to be
aware of these issues as they sometimes tend to use the best technology available only
to find that the learners cannot use it because they don’t have the resources or the level
of ICT literacy and even willingness to use their products.
The above learning needs may have been identified by instructional designers working in
the context of international projects but they may very well apply to various levels of
education and training learning patrimonies, at national, regional, sectoral, and/or
professional-vocational levels.
2.7. E-Learning content and learning patrimonies
Learning patrimonies are essentially defined by the prevailing socio-institutional,
education and pedagogic values, dispositions, expectations and traditional practices
regarding education and training. For example, at national level in Europe we can observe
distinctly different learning patrimonies, mainly in compulsory and upper secondary and
vocational education, that have emerged throughout the long process of the establishment of
schooling and mass education in close relationship to the different political, economic and
social histories of European countries. However, the decentralisation policies implemented in
education systems by European national governments throughout the last decades have
offered the opportunity for greater flexibility to regional and local education administration
bodies to define their priorities and targets and this may have led to the emergence of greater
variability in terms of prevailing values, dispositions, expectations and actual practices from
region to region and sometimes from local community to local community. This may pose
great challenges to learning content developers and providers who traditionally targeted their
products at national level. Another important factor that may have increased the variability
within national learning patrimonies is surely the immigration of people that have been
exposed to different learning patrimonies both at school and at home. Many EU countries
have long-established immigrant communities but also many of them faced a more recent
increase in migration which de facto raised the issue of how to respond to the education and
training needs (which includes the major issue of learning content) of an increasingly
multicultural student population. For example, a recent study on discrimination and integration
in 15 member-states of the EU (Luciak, 2004) points out that all the reviewed member-states
have implemented new programmes and curricula (of varying quality, form and extent) to
meet the needs of such students, such as second and native language programmes,
intercultural education, and multicultural curricula. On the other side, several factors, such as
lack of teacher training on intercultural education, lack of comprehensive policies that do not
solely target minority groups but the entire school population, the insistence in a predominant
“mono-cultural” patrimony to which all students have to adjust, lack of funding, pressure from
native parents who do not want their children to be exposed to different worldviews etc have
greatly affected how intercultural and multicultural education are actually conceptualised and
implemented in different national educational systems, regions or local schools.
The European Union, on the other side, has opened up and is driving a dialogue
regarding shared education and training visions and actual policies that promote or at least
hint towards the convergence of important aspects of national learning patrimonies. For
example, at the level of pedagogy we have experienced an active promotion on behalf of EC
of student-centered pedagogies which was in contrast to long-established teacher-centered
classroom practices across Europe. This is also true for life-long learning which is in contrast
to the long tradition of education as age-based schooling. Furthermore, various policies and
programmes at EU level have offered the opportunity to many students and teachers to
spend a period of time studying abroad or collaborating with students and colleagues from
other countries and all these initiatives have created a shared ground for greater
understanding and collaboration at pan-European level. Another factor that may have
challenged “mono-cultural” learning patrimonies is the growing education and training
industry which targets at international audiences not only in the traditional tertiary education
sector with the increasing numbers of European students studying abroad, but also with the
establishment of education and training braches in different European countries and the
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
offering of distance e-Learning courses and whole study programmes leading to certification.
At the level of tertiary education we have also witnessed a growing tendency to the
implementation of study programmes that cross established academic fields in order to better
adjust to the needs of emerging scientific and technological fields. Furthermore, the
globalisation of markets and the wider penetration of multinational companies in local markets
have also created a new environment regarding training content that responds to the needs
of an increasingly multicultural personnel as well as clientele.
All the above are very important issues when it comes to the socio-cultural dimensions of
e-Learning contents and we hope that the FeConE project will offer a solid ground for the
identification and in-depth discussion of their implications regarding the design of socially and
culturally relevant e-Learning contents. So far with our work we have tried (among others) to
unveil some important characteristics of the learning patrimonies in the Netherlands, Italy,
Greece, Austria, Lithuania, Poland and Spain with an emphasis on the state of the art in e-
Learning in each national context, national policies and dominant or emerging pedagogic
models in various national education and training contexts. An outline of the lessons learned
from this activity could be that there is a great variation in the degree to which e-Learning
(both on and off-line) has been implemented for education and training purposes and also,
perhaps as a consequence of the above, a great variation in the degree of the readiness of
each national context to utilize e-Learning for the benefit of the learners. Another conclusion
that is of much interest to our project is that there is also variation in the pedagogic models
that dominate in different national contexts and sectors. For example, in the Polish national
report Maciej Piotrowski and Bartosz Pomianek (2006) pointed out that “e-Learning courses
organized by education institutions and within companies are generally based on behaviorism
theories. The reasons are: it is the cost-effective, easy to develop and maintain. It is
especially valid in case of higher education institutions which are supposed to teach students
according to ministry regulations regarding subjects and topics for each degree program”
(p.8). The implications of using such theories to e-Learning content design is to break down
the learning materials into small instructional steps presented in a deductive way. On the
other side, “constructivism usage can be observed mainly in case of self-directed learning
with the use of online resources” and “cognitivism is perceived by several practitioners as an
attractive model” but it “…is not widespread in Poland due to possible higher costs of
implementation compared to behaviourism model” (ibid). In Italy, Fabio Roma (2006) in the
national report indicated that the “learning as schooling” e-Learning model which is
conceptualised as “… the transferring of knowledge from an authoritative source – e.g.
typically a teacher or a book, or in a broader sense an organisation - to an individual learner”
is very popular in work settings, “…mainly because of its flexibility, of relatively low costs and
of the possibility to customise individual learning processes. The learning curriculum can be
divided in modular items – the so called learning objects – that support a fine customisation
on single learners’ needs and characteristics” (p.12). Another model, the “learning as
imitation” which is reflected into repositories of best practices where success stories are
stored and retrieved for the benefit of the learners is becoming in Italy very popular. As Fabio
Roma (ibid) points out, “the popularity of this type of e-Learning resources has sharply
increased in last ten years, also due to specific actions by the National Ministries or by the
EU” (p13). Four other distinct learning models in the education and training context of Italy
are the “self-learning”, “supported self-learning”, “learning as participation” and “learning by
simulations” but there are no specific data indicating the main contexts of their application
and the degree of their adoption by education and training institutions or individual learners.
Research on the implementation and utilisation of ICT for school learning have focused on
various pedagogic approaches such as collaboration and the study of teacher-student and
student-student interactions, socio-cultural processes in the construction of learning products
and the role of social contexts through which learning occurs and the use of ICT for building
networked communities of learners. However, as Fabio Roma (ibid) argues, there is a
tendency to conceive computers “… as tools to achieve end-products and not to foster the
processes necessary to realize a collaborative product. Computers and Internet are
perceived as ‘windows’ to show classroom final products rather than tools to discuss about
what to do and to plan collaborative strategies” (p.34). The Lithuanian national report (2006)
indicates that there is currently a growing uptaking of ICTs for distance education and training
and blended learning activities. However, there is lack of teacher training and experience on
how to use technology to implement innovative learning methods and tools. As the authors of
the report indicate, “practitioners tend simply to convert their normal practices into “e” format.
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
Neither experienced graduates from the initial teacher training system nor more recent ones
have sufficient understanding of the pedagogical basis of Distance Education. The initial
teacher training system simply reproduces traditional teachers with “added on” IT skills. This
forms a barrier preventing the maximum pedagogical added value that these new
methodologies are capable of providing” (pp.69-70). The Spanish national report (2006)
points out that at primary and secondary education level “… there is evidence of a trend
towards greater use of technology for learning to promote interaction and collaboration rather
than for mere provision of information. Increasingly in this vision, content, rather than being
prepared for the class, is student generated, or found ‘out there’. This has important
implications for the way content is viewed and treated, however it is also clear that better use
of repositories could help teachers and learners considerably. This however for the moment
has yet to be addressed appropriately” (p.42). The tertiary education sector uses various
models mostly on post-graduate and specialist courses. One popular model is that of
development of open-access learning resources repositories used by teachers who usually
ask from their students to study the proposed resources and open discussions in a dedicated
forum or bulletin board. This model in a way reproduces traditional approaches to university
teaching where lecturing has been, at least partly, replaced by the study of learning materials
and classroom discussions by forums. The other model that is appearing is that of proprietary
content integrated into an e-Learning environment but it is difficult to assess both the content
and the pedagogic methods. This is also true for self-learning models primarily because the
late penetration of the internet into households. In work-related e-Learning initiatives, the
emphasis is on content delivery approaches with little social interaction although the latter is
gradually becoming more popular. (p.38) From a market perspective, an emerging “e-
Learning” industry consisted of IT companies and traditional publishers show it as an
opportunity to re-package traditional content and deliver it. However, as it is pointed out, “with
time some of these vendors have come to see that the content that is their central selling
point, is, though important, not ‘king’, and with this realization their products appear to have
begun to incorporate pedagogical considerations in a more serious way” (ibid, p.4). In Greece
(Kollias, 2006) we evidence another national case of late introduction of ICT into primary and
secondary education with vast teacher-training programmes and connected hardware
provisions in schools and little emphasis on pedagogic uses of technology. In terms of “e-
Learning content” there was a rather mixed policy approach in that at a fist stage it was
promoted the “translation” of popular internationally learning environments and tools (for
example Mathworld, The Geometer´s Sketchpad or Cabri Geometry) which assumed a turn
to more constructivist approaches, together with traditional “page turning” multimedia content
delivered in CD-Rom titles. This in a way reflected a wider tendency in the introduction of
constructivist pedagogic approaches promoted by central government education agencies
which however was entirely relied on the readiness and willingness of teachers to adapt such
approaches to an otherwise unchanged school system. At a latter stage, since the last 4 to 5
years there was a second wave of policy initiatives that had to do with the internet
connections of schools and the operation of a central educational portal where all schools
and teachers could connect and upload their web pages and e-Learning content. This
reflected a trend towards the creation of a repository of e-Learning contents developed by the
practitioners themselves, together with the promotion of networking between teachers and
schools. The universities have only occasionally turned to e-Learning, mainly through
projects, and it is only rarely that one can find links to digital resources in university portals or
fully deployed e-Learning courses. In the work environments the picture is rather vague as it
is nearly impossible to assess their e-Learning provisions. Marcel de Leeuwe (2006) in his
national report on the Netherlands highlights the implementation of three pedagogic models,
behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism. As he points out, “constructivism is a strong
model within primary education. But also from the old days we see instructivism models.
Especially within math and language education this model is still quite popular…” (p.15) An
emerging model is the “active learning or action learning” model which assigns great value to
self-regulation and metacognition, and views learning as a social activity which has to take
place in authentic learning environments. Educational games and learning materials
developed by the industry but also by practitioners are offering a variety of solutions for e-
Learning and the availability of suitable content seems greater than in the other countries
reviewed. Constructivism is also widespread as pedagogic model in secondary education.
This trend becomes “even stronger or at least more popular because of a relative lack of
sound e-Learning modules. Therefore teachers and learners are generating their own
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
content. Partly because of didactical reasons, partly because the absence of material” (p.16).
In the corporate sector the situation is quite different in the way e-Learning is utilised from a
pedagogic point of view. Collaborative learning is less popular, and instructivism is the most
popular learning method at least in formal training offerings. (p.19) In the Austrian national
report, Katharina Hagspiel and Kathrin Helling (2006) point out that in the education system
“… an instructor or teacher still plays a very important role. He is a person of respect,
competent in what he is doing. Until now there are a lot of people who cannot imagine getting
education without an instructor who is telling one what to do. This teacher centred method is
reflected in the use of online courses” (p.35). For example, even in cases of professional
training there are instances where the teachers present the slides of online courses and often
just read the text offered on the slides to the students. The development of repositories of
learning objects as a prevailing way of introducing new digital content into every-day school
teaching and learning reflects, in some important ways, such a teacher-centred approach to
learning. Such content is not usually utilised towards changes in traditional forms of teaching
and learning. As Hagspiel and Helling (ibid) characteristically argue, “instead of taking the
chance of developing constructivist learning environments to teach applicable knowledge,
traditional cognitive forms of teaching are used. Instead of showing that one topic can be
observed from different perspectives and can be covered by several subjects, this
interdisciplinary thinking is not encouraged and a very one-sided point of view is presented”
(ibid. p.28). The authors although highlight the importance of developing and sharing of e-
content among practitioners, they identify a kind of vicious circle behind such content sharing
practices through repositories. According to them, the dissemination of such e-content
actually reproduces a traditional approach to teaching and as a result, new pedagogic ideas
take much longer to diffuse among teachers and students. In work environments, e-Learning
is often informal and therefore it is hard to explore how different workers approach it. In terms
of formal training offerings in Austria, “… the most online resources regarding learning at
work and further education are lists on institutions which offer regular or distance learning
courses. Although distance learning is well-known in Austria and some institutions are
somehow famous for using it, they often do not use the chances new communication and
information technologies offer. In best cases e-mail, fora, etc. are used to correspond with the
instructor” (ibid, p.38).
The above insights offer us a valuable resource to ground our understanding of the role
of background learning patrimonies in different national contexts and sectors, and to trace
similar trends across countries but also differentiations in the adoption of pedagogic models
and e-Learning contents which realize or utilize such models. The observed similarities and
differentiations do not simply reflect the ranging history and pace of the introduction of ICTs
into education and training systems or the degree of computer literacy and experience of
teachers/trainers working in different countries. For example in the corporate sectors of most
countries reviewed it was reported a dominance of the instructivist model which has its roots
in behavioural theories mostly developed and implemented in the USA but also USSR and
which reflected the massive needs for literacy and skills development of the industrial epoch
(but also a particular and rather peculiar understanding of how human learning works). On
the other side, it was reported a growing interest in collaborative models and social software
which is more in line with contemporary work organization trends which favours flat
hierarchies, team work and informal networking. In universities we have mostly repositories of
learning materials developed by academics (which reflects long standing traditions in the
creation, validation and transmission of academic knowledge which share many common
ideals across Europe) and in parallel the extension of traditional distance learning offerings
with the use of integrated learning platforms. In countries which are traditionally “exporters” of
educational services the development of such on-line technologies helped critically to the
establishment of massive “virtual universities”. In contrast, in primary and secondary
education schools there appears to be a much greater variety of applied models, with
constructivist ones being more popular in primary education and more collaborative ones in
secondary education. On reflection, we discern some culturally established similarities across
countries in the corporate-adult training and university sectors but a much greater variety in
models and contents used in primary and secondary education across countries. This can be,
at least partly, explained on the basis of the specific roles traditionally assigned to different
levels of education and training. Higher education and adult training are traditionally assumed
to be less culturally biased because they have to do with either “universal” scientific theories
and their applications or the learning of “neutrally” conceived skills (such as using a word
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
processor or a machine). On the other side, primary and secondary education have of course
to do with “universal” truths but also with the gradual assimilation and use of the mother
tongue and the study and “experience” of the national history, culture and religion, the
assimilation in other words of a nationally bounded world view which constitutes national
identity. It is therefore within these levels of education where we can really identify the
workings of what we call “national learning patrimony” and its implications regarding learning
content (its “truths” and unavoidable biases) and the dominant ways of teaching and learning.
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
3. Wider economic-social perspectives in education and
E-Learning content is part of the whole package of learning economies and societies.
Apparently, the turn to “learning” that is so boldly stated in the above terms should sound as
excellent news to educators and students at all levels of education and all kinds of training. A
“learning society” should, after all, be an educated society with high educational quality and
standards of achievement. It’s also the kind of society that should provide the means to all
individuals, independently of their socioeconomic background and other factors that lead to
educational disadvantage (for example ethnic minority status or disability) for better access
and higher participation to education. The above visions are reflected mainly in the first two
(out of three) strategic objectives of the “Education and Training 2010” work programme,
namely “improving the quality and effectiveness of education and training systems in the EU”
and “facilitating the access of all to education and training systems.” Overall, the EU has set
ambitious targets related to these strategic objectives. Reaching the European benchmarks in
the field of education would imply that in 2010:
2 million fewer young people (18-24 yrs old) would have left school early
200.000 less 15 years olds would be low performers in reading literacy
2 million more would have graduated from upper secondary education
All students leaving school would be able to communicate in two foreign languages.
The above targets should be seen against data that reflect the current situation in EU. In
2005 the average ratio of early school leavers was 14,9% (around 6 million young people) -
just an 1% improvement than in 2004. As a recent report warns13, “…at the current rate of
improvement, the benchmark of no more than 10% early school leavers will not be reached
by 2010” (p.154). Furthermore, the PISA 2003 data for reading literacy draw a worrying
picture. The percentage of low reading literacy performers at the age of 15 in the 16 EU
countries for which comparable PISA data is available for 2000 and 2003 was 19.8% in 2003,
and thus did not improve since 2000 (ibid, p.77). To make this more plain, it is estimated that
1 million out of 5 million pupils at the age of 15 can at best locate a single piece of
information, identify the main theme of a text or make a simple connection with everyday
knowledge. But they are largely unable to reach PISA’s level 2 of proficiency in reading
literacy (OECD, 2004, p.274-5), which means they cannot follow logical and linguistic
connections within a paragraph in order to locate or interpret information; or synthesise
information across texts or parts of a text in order to infer the author’s purpose. Furthermore,
they cannot demonstrate a grasp of the underlying structure of a visual display such as a
simple tree diagram or table, or combine two pieces of information from a graph or table.
In order to get a wider picture of the implications of these findings, the above should be
contrasted with the estimation adopted by the EC that over the next five years, only 15 % of
newly created jobs will be for people with basic schooling, whereas 50 % of newly created jobs will
require workers with tertiary level qualifications. According to Manfred Tessaring and Jennifer
Wannan (2004, p.22-3), these estimations mean a dramatic decline in job prospects for the
low skilled and unskilled people (i.e. those not having completed upper secondary education),
who in 2003 (EU25) were estimated to be almost 80 million people aged 25-64 years, around
32% of the working age population. The above are further confirmed by the 2006 edition of
the OECD’s annual publication “Education at a Glance which indicates that on average in
OECD countries, 84% of people who have achieved a tertiary education qualification are in
employment. By contrast, only 56% of people without even an upper secondary qualification
have jobs.
In view of the above we urgently need to learn more about possible determinants of
school failure. A recent report from Haahr and his colleagues (2005), based on an analysis of
data from the international PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS surveys, attempted to focus on the
conditions for the provision of basic skills at a) a systemic level, i.e. systemic characteristics
of educational systems, b) a structural level, i.e. socio-economic background characteristics
13 See references, Detailed Analysis of Progress Towards …
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
of students and the capacities of education systems to adjust for differences in students’
characteristics, c) a school level and d) an individual level.
An interesting finding on the systemic level is that the variance in students’ performance
is much higher within countries than between countries; actually nine tenths of the variation
occurs within countries, i.e. between different learning paths offered by national streaming
systems, between schools and between students within schools. Practically, this suggests to
policy makers and other stakeholders in education that it is an almost useless exercise to
focus on between country differences in student performance because the factors that heavily
affect students’ differences are to be found between different students’ groups and different
schools within each country.
The socio-economic background characteristics14 of students for the PISA 2003 data
explained, depending on the EU Member State, between around 10 per cent and as high as
around 26 per cent of the variance in students’ mathematics performance. One most
interesting finding related to the students’ background in relation to their achievement is that
for some of the best performing countries, the socio-economic background of students
matters the least, something which, according to the authors of this study, supports the
argument that “… it is a viable policy option to focus on equity in performance outcomes and
the same time strive for high average performance outcomes” (ibid. p.102). Finland is the
only EU Member State that is both among the best performing countries and the impact of the
socio-economic background characteristics of students on their performance appears to be
comparatively low (around 10%). This suggests that in EU we have a long way to go to
achieve both equity and improved performance in education. It should also be noted that it is
in Finland that early school leaving is not related to parents’ level of education15.
The analysis further identified groups of students which, depending on the country, may
be at a disadvantage, more specifically students from single parent families, students with a
foreign background, girls in maths and science and boys in reading.
Regarding gender differences in performance in reading as compared to maths and
science this is a clear indication that the cultural constrains of gender stereotyping are
establishing in students at an early age and negatively affect both genders. This can have
huge implications regarding young learners’ future academic choices and professional
careers. From a wider social perspective, the later can help reproduce and strengthen gender
stereotypes and of course from an economy point of view of the learning societies this can
lead to sub-optimal exploitation of the potentials of the human capital…
Students with foreign background in 11 EU countries of the PISA 2003 data analysis also
appear to perform consistently much lower than their native peers in reading, science and
maths, a finding which is consistent with PISA 2000 data (Fuchs and Wößmann, 2004, p.13).
Apart from Latvia and Ireland, two countries with small performance discrepancies between
native and foreign background students, in Belgium and Germany in particular but also in
Austria, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, Greece Portugal and Spain
the differences are high in favour of native students. These differences according to Haahr
and his colleagues are due to cultural, socio-economic and linguistic barriers but their impact
tends to become lower when non-native students attend to schools with a high density of
native students (Haahr et al, 2005, p.81). It is however interesting to point out that differences
in the socio-economic background of students appear to matter more in their performance in
differentiated school systems (tracking systems where decisions on differentiation/selection of
students occurs before the age of 13) than in more comprehensive systems (ibid, p.148-150).
Increased differentiation is also connected with less individualised support to students. In six
EU countries which score high in the differentiation scale (Austria, Germany, the Netherlands,
the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and Luxembourg), “… only little more than half of the
students say that their teachers provide an opportunity of students to express their opinions in
most or every lesson, and only between 45 and 59 per cent of students say that their
teachers help them with their learning in most lessons or all lessons” (ibid., p.150), something
which could reinforce differences in performance between students of different socio-
economic backgrounds. Differences in students’ performance due to differences in the socio-
economic situation of parents apparently begin to establish in pre-school years. So although
14 Considered as parental occupational status, parents’ years of schooling, possessions
related to “classical culture”; family structure, students’ nationality and that of their parents,
and the language spoken at home.
15 See bibliography, Detailed Analysis of Progress Towards…, p.157-8.
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
pre-schooling for more than a year correlates significantly with performance in mathematics,
after adjusting for the socio-economic background of children the performance difference
between students who have attended preschool and those who have not is reduced to about
half. In other words, children from less privileged socio-economic backgrounds have fewer
opportunities for exploiting pre-schooling.
Another finding we wish to highlight here is the large variation in learner characteristics16
among students within schools as compared to variation between schools. Practically this
means that schools in most countries are likely to be consisted of heterogeneous groups of
students in terms of their learner characteristics. As Haahr and his colleagues (2005) argue,
this finding “…underlines the importance for teachers to be able to engage constructively with
the heterogeneity not only of students' abilities but also of students' approaches to learning”
(ibid, p.136). The above are quite interesting from a pedagogic point of view also in terms of
learning content design as the findings indicate that different learning strategies (control,
memorization, elaboration) and different learning situations (cooperative learning, competitive
learning) are at best very weakly related to the achievement scores of students in
mathematics and reading.
3.1. e-Learning content that combats exclusion from education
In view of the above findings several things can be said about how important it is to
provide schools with e-Learning content that will be interesting enough to young people so as
to keep them at school and out of underpaid jobs or the streets, or to provide non-native
students with more access to e-Learning materials, boys with interesting reading stuff and
girls with attractive math and science materials. This is easier said than done. The analysis of
the PISA 2003 data suggests that the quality of educational resources (instructional
materials, computers and software for instruction, calculators, library materials, audio-visual
resources, and science laboratory equipment and materials) of schools explain only 2,5% of
the variation in mathematics performance across OECD countries. In a similar fashion, this
report points out that the PIRLS 2001 data on reading literacy confirm that “… there is no
positive relation between the availability of resources supporting instruction and the average
score in reading, neither between nor within countries” (ibid, p.170) and that the TIMSS 2003
data reveal a similar pattern regarding the availability of school resources for instruction in
mathematics. The authors of this report also make a reference on the findings of Thomas
Fuchs and Ludger Wößmann (2004, 2004a) on the PISA 2000 data. According to the later,
“… the results cast strong doubt that the mere availability of computers at home and at school
does a lot to advance students’ educational performance. While bivariate results would
suggest that there is a positive relationship in both cases, these results are spurious. Once
other features of student, family and school background are held constant, computer
availability at home shows a strong statistically significant negative relationship to math and
reading performance, and computer availability at school is unrelated to performance” (2004,
p.14). The above findings are quite distressing because common sense would suggest that
schools packed with learning materials would be at a much better position to effectively foster
their students’ performance than schools with shortages. An explanation can be that schools
with shortages in learning materials put in motion less measurable but equally effective
powers. Perhaps the teachers of such schools put a lot more effort in developing their own
tailor-made materials that compensate for the scarcity of priced materials. Another
explanation related to the availability of computers at home and at school can be that
teachers find it difficult to locate and use e-Learning content relevant to the school curricula.
Remember that these findings come from the year 2003 and earlier, where only few countries
in the EU had already develop mass long term policies regarding the implementation of ICT in
schools and lack or low connectivity was a major issue. Perhaps as the schools get more and
faster access to on-line resources the impact of the use of such resources on their
performance may be more discernible. But the major issue here has to do with our
conceptualisations of the use of ICT in school learning. Despite the rhetoric that accompanies
the implementation of ICT in schools little effort has been made to reform school curricula in
ways that would lead teachers and students develop skills that require the implementation of
ICT across the curriculum. Although some teachers and students may use advanced ICT
equipment, in science for example, school curricula usually do not explicitly demand the
16 Considered as interest, instrumental motivation, self-efficacy, anxiety, self-concept,
memorisation strategies, elaboration strategies and control strategies.
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
development of skills that had to do with the application of ICT in areas other than computer
literacy (Kollias and Kikis, 2005). Furthermore, in paper-and-pencil tests that are commonly
used to assess the performance of students, those who enjoy ICT rich learning activities may
be at no better position than students who do not.
The findings presented above reveal some further issues regarding e-Learning content
development issues that need to be addressed. The high variation in learner characteristics
that is observed within schools calls for differentiated approaches to learning that are better
adapted to the learner needs and styles. Serving the needs of different learners in a
classroom is a challenging task for the teacher and e-Learning content that is flexible enough
to adapt to different learning styles is likely to be much more effective than content that
embodies a narrowly defined pedagogic approach or technique. The latter may effectively
introduce a kind of bias that is benefiting some but not all students and in turn may widen
already existing gaps in performance.
Today’s schools and classrooms are not only facing diversity in terms of students’
learning preferences and styles but also diversity in terms of their socio-economic and
cultural background that, as we have seen, have a huge impact on their performance. The
findings presented above indicate that within the same classroom where all students are
exposed to the same kind and quality of teaching and learning content, it is likely that some
students will not perform well not quite because they do not try hard enough but just because
they are coming from families that are poor and poorly educated, from single parent families,
from families that do not speak fluently the native language. Most EU countries face such
issues and it is an imperative that they need to devise targeted policies to address them.
Further research from national level to local level is needed to identify disadvantaged student
groups, their proportion and distribution at different levels of education and training and to
develop a deeper understanding of their learning needs. In terms of e-Learning contents
there is a need to formulate policies that will help such groups of students get access to extra,
supportive, e-Learning materials for study at home or school that will come for free or at very
low cost, as well as funding schemes that will help their families get a home pc and Internet
access. One of the policy recommendations of the Haahr et al (2005, p.p11) report was to
consider providing non native students with relevant bilingual tuition because it affects
positively their academic performance. Perhaps the availability of self-study bilingual e-
Learning materials for students as well as their parents could offer a helping hand towards
this direction.
Substantial private investments in content development for such target groups are quite
unlikely to take place because the national target “markets” are quite small and the purchase
power of the potential customers is often low. Non-commercial approaches are probably the
only viable solution and therefore targeted public investments in e-Learning content
development and the establishment of public-private not-for-profit partnerships aiming to
foster the development and distribution of relevant e-content should be considered.
As with the observed discrepancies between the performance of boys and girls there is a
very crucial job to be done to review e-Learning contents in terms of their explicit and implicit
stereotyping functions that may alienate students from specific academic routes or alienate
them from education altogether. It is also recommended that e-Learning content approval
regulations should extent to issues of social and cultural relevance to the target audiences.
Further research is also required towards this direction. Important inputs can be offered by
existing research in intercultural and multicultural education, gender in education studies,
foreign language teaching and comparative education. Furthermore, more attention should be
paid to the ways the use of the Internet as a source for learning is relevant to the needs of
culturally diverse learners. Many things have already been said about the dominance of the
English language on the Internet. But one should not underestimate emergent biases against
ethno-linguistic minorities that can be introduced by well indented massive government-led
efforts to increase the representation of their national languages on the Internet or to create a
critical mass of on-line e-Learning contents and a national market for them. As John Paolillo
(2005) argues, “if national language groups hope to secure their own niche in the global
telecommunications ethnosphere, then they must acknowledge and address linguistic
diversity within their national borders” (p.70).
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
3.2. Harmonization vs diversity: implications about the content of the “learning
So far we have highlighted and discussed issues about what should be considered as “e-
Learning content” against different approaches to e-Learning content creation, efforts and
needs towards e-Learning content standardisation and technical quality assurance. In this
chapter we emphasised on the need to respond to the learning needs of different groups of
young learners who may be at a disadvantage in view of achieving the EU benchmarks in the
field of education by the year 2010.
Obviously, the adoption of a common vision and strategies and common benchmarks in
education, training and lifelong learning by the 25 EU Member States, raises, among others,
important questions related to what basic knowledge, skills and attitudes all European youth
should develop in order EU "to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based
economy in the world". This strategic goal called for fundamental transformations of national
education and training systems. The stated role of the EU in this process is to encourage
cooperation between Member States and, if necessary, to support and supplement their
action, while fully respecting the responsibility of the Member States for the content of
teaching and the organisation of education systems and their cultural and linguistic diversity.
So far the content of teaching is a taboo issue and none was particularly eager to rise to the
challenge. It was only by the end of 2005, for the first time at EU level, that a reference tool
on key competencies was adopted by the EC. Key competences were defined as those which
all individuals need for personal fulfilment and development, active citizenship, social
inclusion and employment and are defined as a combination of knowledge, skills and
attitudes appropriate to the context. This list, as it was amended and approved by the
European Parliament on its 26 September 2006 plenary session, includes the following 8 key
1. Communication in the mother tongue;
2. Communication in foreign languages;
3. Mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology;
4. Digital competence;
5. Learning to learn;
6. Social and civic competences;
7. Sense of initiative and entrepreneurship; and
8. Cultural awareness and expression.
Practically, the mastery of the above competencies is a life-long endeavour but it is
common sense that they have to be developed at a reasonable level within the compulsory
and higher secondary education years and therefore, they also point to curriculum reforms
and adjustments at the level of school teaching and learning content.
Furthermore the discussions about key competencies are related to other discussions
within the “Education and Training 2010” work programme and in particular the current work
on developing a European Qualifications Framework (EQF). The line of reasoning for
developing the framework as a reference tool on key competencies for lifelong learning and
the introduction of instruments that would ensure transparency of qualifications and facilitate
transfer and use of qualifications across different education and training systems and levels
appears to be essentially common. It could be said that -despite differences in the
terminology used, particularly on the term ‘competency’- the Key Competencies Framework
identifies and defines what key knowledge, skills and attitudes all young people and adults
should learn and be capable to appropriately apply in context and the EQF level descriptors
define, among others, the different levels of mastery of such competencies. If indeed there is
such kind of link, the proposed Framework is subject to a wider heated discussion about the
aims or perhaps the unintended effects of the use of such reference tools by Member States
as drivers of change which can effectively, in the mid and long term, lead to the
harmonisation of National Qualification Frameworks and eventually to the harmonisation of
national curricula and learning content.
This prospect is of enormous interest to the international content industry. Practically the
development of a Europe-wide market of e-Learning contents is quite impossible to achieve
unless cross-national diversity in curriculum content is in some way reduced (European
eLearning Industry Group, 2005, p.8). It is quite understandable that the massive production
e-Learning content that will be localised at a later phase for national markets cannot for the
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
moment be part of a suitable business model. The e-Learning content industry needs to
develop a better understanding of the education and training patrimonies at national level in
order to become more flexible in its offerings and therefore more attractive to its potential
clients. This is not something that will become less critical in more harmonised educational
systems because actual teaching and learning cannot be harmonised and linguistic diversity
will also be there. However, there is already a relatively big foreign language learning market
which, with the growing need for foreign language learning in the widened EU, is likely to
grow bigger and more diverse in its offerings. There are also great opportunities in content
that can have a less nationally-bound character such as in maths, science and technology
and the financing of comparative education research and cross-national school projects could
further stimulate the creation of relevant, easily adapted content.
3.3. Lifelong learning: the case of e-Learning content
Learning is not only happening at schools and other conventional teaching/learning
settings. People never cease to learn, so a “learning society” is a society that is not only
educated in the typical sense of qualifications and academic routes but is also, and perhaps
more importantly, a society that actively supports its citizens learn throughout their life span. It
is therefore a society that not only values education but also a society that values learning
that takes place in non-formal and informal education activities and furthermore has
established methods of validating such learning. The emphasis on lifelong learning highlights
this point and calls for action not just in education and training systems but also in many other
policy areas such as employment, social inclusion, active citizenship, active aging, culture.
Reaching the European benchmarks in the field of adult education would imply that in 2010 4
million more adults would participate in lifelong learning; this number is translated into 12,5%
participation rate of people between 25 and 64 years old in any type of education and training
within any four week period.
Although few would fail to see the humanistic implications of the above, the notion of
learning and its role in learning societies and economies is not as uncontroversial and
apolitical as it may seems. On the contrary, it is deeply political with profound implications in
all aspects of economic, social, cultural and personal life.
Under the dominant market economy-driven discourse, not all kinds of learning are really
worthwhile. Learning is good enough as long as it is adjusted into a wider framework of the
“workforce market needs” where the learner-as-worker is directing his/her learning of
knowledge, skills and attitudes primarily towards the learning needs of the employing firm, the
learner-as-job-seeker is directing his/her learning primarily towards skills that will enhance
his/her possibilities to compete in the market, the learner-as-student is directing his/her
learning primarily towards studies that are closely related to the market needs. The dominant
discourse on “lifelong learning” has been criticized as being more about employability in an
employment environment that was becoming less and less willing or able to offer job security,
and less on wider traditional humanistic concerns about personal development (Borg and
Mayo, 2005; Grace, 2004). The high unemployment rate which for the EU25 was 8.0% in
September 200617 (more than 17 million people) as compared to the US and Japanese
unemployment rates (4,6 and 4,2% respectively) creates a huge pressure towards such kinds
of perceptions about the main role of lifelong learning. This pressure is likely be more evident
in European young people as the unemployment rate for the under-25s is 17,5%.
Furthermore, because one third of the labour force in EU25 is currently low skilled and in the
prospect that by 2010 only 15% of the newly created jobs will be for those with low skills it is
not surprising that the discourse on lifelong learning is dominated by views that emphasise its
role as an instrument for employability.
Learning at work also tends to be conceived in unbalanced ways, i.e. primarily as a
means for increasing the competitiveness of firms and less as a means for enriching the work
life of the employees (for example, by making work for them more interesting and
challenging). As Catherine Casey (2004) argues, “a critical interrogation of that literature
reveals that strategic management’s emphasis on learning in organizations privileges the
organization as the learner – it is abstracted, collective learning in order for the organization
to respond and innovate that is regarded as the singular imperative of learning organizations.
The learning needs of the organization, as defined by management, override attention to the
17 Source: Eurostat indicators news release, 143/2006, 3 Nov. 2006.
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
needs of individual learning workers except insofar as individual worker learning is a function
of strategic organizational learning” (p.612-13).
The use of the term “learning” within this ideological, political and economic framework
therefore was on the one side expanded way beyond its traditional contexts of education,
training and the “learning sciences” to characterise societal visions and political agendas, to
describe advanced economies or to characterise organisational capacities for change and
innovation, and on the other side its meaning for the individual was, in important ways,
narrowed down to learning of knowledge, skills and attitudes that are assumed as essential
for employability and the competitiveness of firms.
In any case, the distribution of participation in adult learning is currently not in favour of
those with the lowest levels of initial education, older people, people in rural areas, and
disabled18 and of course immigrants. The bottom line regarding what should be the priorities
in terms of content development and provision for adult learning is, particularly for those with
low skills, key competencies. Apart from promoting basic key competencies, the identification
and anticipation of competence and qualification needs at national and sectoral levels is a
complex but crucial task in order to inform lifelong learning policies.
18 See COM (2006), 614 final, p.6.
Grant Agreement number: 2005 - 3872 / 001 - 001 ELE-ELEB14
Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
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Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
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Project Acronym: Fe-ConE
... Also, it should increase students' motivation, attract attention, and be easy to use (Hakkari et al., 2009). E-content is expressed as digital resources that can be used in all learning environments and can be developed through information technologies by using text, audio, video, animation, and/or image (Kollias, 2007). Digital stories are one of those contents that are frequently used in educational environments. ...
... El aprendizaje en entornos conectados (el antiguo e-learning) implica un concepto global que se refiere ", en su sentido más amplio, a un proceso socio-psicológico, con un propósito dinámico de cambio, en los individuos y en las colectividades." (Kollias, 2006). En comparación con otros tipos de aprendizaje, hay una dimensión específica que tiene que estar presente en el conjunto de todas las experiencias de aprendizaje de la escuela. ...
Full-text available
Massive Online Courses have highlighted a key point which was already present in virtual education whatever their nature: the benefits of technological media or of connectivity among students is not enough for quality learning to take place. Sometimes, it is not enough even for simple learning related to the objectives, or for an educational experience to take place among students. At other times, we have talked about the need for learning interaction. In this paper, we will discuss the effective communication among students in different cultural, communication and life situations. There seems to be a misunderstood voluntarism and altruism whereby MOOCs and online courses, just by setting them up, will make the integration of students and teachers possible in some situations and with some communication problems that were already complex even in cases of simple classroom teaching with students who shared the same community and a common live and communication key. Paradoxically, educators and education professionals see MOOCs as a means of educating students around the world. They are unwilling to seriously consider what happens when thousands of students with a wide range of competence levels, learning situations, cultural and academic backgrounds are all trying to learn, whatever part of the world they happen to be, through videotaped lectures. This is a key problem in MOOCs, as well as in a greater or lesser extent in virtual education. It currently takes place in the design and development of any online course, in any discipline. Yet, little is known of these events by organizers and teachers. The idea in this issue of RED is to open the discussion and propose an element that, integrated with others such as an adequate instructional design, can contribute to its debate and to a possible solution. It is a new Interculturalism. We think it will be solved as long as a new teaching culture develops, as well as a new general education culture on the basis of a progressive development of students’ intercultural competence, critical thinking, awareness and self-regulation practices. In this issue, we have a call to fulfil this purpose. The response has been irregular. But this fact does not diminish the validity of the attempt. The question remains open. Besides, we have received a number of works that even if they do not directly address this issue, they are valuable approaches to the reality of Interculturalism in education in our environment.
... El aprendizaje en entornos conectados (el antiguo e-learning) implica un concepto global que se refiere ", en su sentido más amplio, a un proceso socio-psicológico, con un propósito dinámico de cambio, en los individuos y en las colectividades." (Kollias, 2006). En comparación con otros tipos de aprendizaje, hay una dimensión específica que tiene que estar presente en el conjunto de todas las experiencias de aprendizaje de la escuela. ...
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Resumen.-Los Cursos Masivos Online han puesto de relieve un punto que es clave y ya estaba presente en la educación virtual fuese cual fuese su naturaleza: No basta la bondad de los medios tecnológicos ni que los alumnos estén conectados para que se produzca un aprendizaje de calidad, ni a veces un simple aprendizaje relacionado con los objetivos propuestos, ni tan siquiera para que se produzca una experiencia educativa entre los estudiantes. En otras ocasiones (Zapata-Ros, 2013a) hemos hablado de la necesidad de una interacción orientada al aprendizaje. En este trabajo vamos a hablar de la comunicación efectiva de los alumnos en situaciones culturales, comunicacionales y vitales distintas. Existe un voluntarismo y un altruismo mal entendido según el cual los MOOCs y los cursos virtuales, con solo ponerlos en marcha, van a hacer posible la integración de estudiantes y profesores en unas situaciones y con unos problemas de comunicación que ya eran complejos aún en casos sencillos de la enseñanza presencial con alumnos que compartían una misma comunidad y unas mismas claves comunicacionales y vitales. Se da la paradoja de que educadores y profesionales de la educación ven los MOOCs como un medio de educar a los estudiantes en todo el mundo y no tiene la voluntad de considerar seriamente lo que pasa cuando miles de estudiantes con un amplio espectro de niveles de competencia, situaciones de aprendizaje, bagajes culturales y antecedentes académicos tratan de aprender todos, cualquiera que sea la parte del mundo donde estén, mediante conferencias grabadas en vídeo. Éste que es un problema clave en los MOOCs, en mayor o menor medida lo es igualmente en la educación virtual. Se produce en el diseño y en el desarrollo de cualquier curso online en cualquier disciplina en este momento. Y sin embargo hay un gran desconocimiento de estos hechos por parte de los organizadores y de los docentes. La idea de este monográfico de RED es poner sobre la mesa este problema de tal forma que se generen elementos que, integrados con otros como pueden ser diseños instruccionales adecuados, pueda contribuir a su debate y a una posible vía de solución: ha sido irregular. Pero ello no le quita validez al intento, queda la cuestión abierta y por otra parte hemos recibido una serie de trabajos que sin abordar directamente este tema constituyen valiosas aproximaciones a la realidad de la interculturalidad en la educación en nuestro entorno. Palabras clave.-Interculturalidad, nuevo paradigma educativo, educación transfronteriza
Technology plays an important role in every aspect of life. It is seen that the type of technology used in language teaching is quite diverse. Thanks to the diversity and accessibility of technological tools, teachers' opportunities have increased. Teachers need some web tools to create more effective lesson designs and course materials on the internet. Many of these web tools are Web 2.0 tools that are at the service of teachers free of charge, though limited. LearningApps is one of the Web 2.0 tools. It is a website available at that offers teachers materials such as worksheets and interactive applications and the opportunity to share them directly with students. The aims of this chapter are to introduce the LearningApps tool to foreign language teachers and to create activities using this tool on a sample lesson plan and to contribute to the teachers in this regard.
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Artiklen diskuterer læringspotentialet i den digitaliserede kulturarv dels i et kulturelt perspektiv (kulturarv som national, europæisk og global indikator med potentiale for øget identitetsdannelse og mellemfolkelig forståelse), dels i et læringsteoretisk perspektiv (store åbne læringsressourcer som udgangspunkt for læringsaktiviteter med fokus på sam‐arbejde i problembaseret projektarbejde). Udgangspunktet tages i den nye europæske database for den digitaliserede kulturarv Europeana og erfaringer fra et dansk digitaliseringsprojekt vedrørende digitalisering af biografreklamefilm og TV2 reklamer. Samtidig fokuserer artiklen på behovet for at udvikle/integrere nye samarbejdsvæktøjer i læreprocessen (Web 2.0, annoterings-, segmenterings- og genkendelsesvæktøer, mm.) med henblik på samarbejde som en integreret del af læingsaktiviteterne. Sidst i artiklen diskuteres det om en øget adgang til digitale læringsressourcer, der kan udbygges med brugergenereret indhold og øget tilgængelighed via fremtidens mobile teknologier, rummer et potentiale for en ny oplysningstid!
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A content analysis of eleven college-level general chemistry textbooks was performed to ascertain the extent to which people of color are represented within the textbook photographs. The results of this study show that all of the textbooks’ photographs within this investigation include people of color at a level well below their representation in American society. In addition, photographs containing images of people of color usually depict them in a context that has no relevance to chemistry or in a manner that propagates stereotypes. It is the conclusion of these authors that contemporary undergraduate general chemistry textbooks are laden with instructional bias with respect to people of color. Keywords (Audience): First-Year Undergraduate / General
We use the PISA student-level achievement database to estimate international education production functions. Student characteristics, family backgrounds, home inputs, resources, teachers and institutions are all significantly associated with math, science and reading achievement. Our models account for more than 85% of the between-country performance variation, with roughly 25% accruing to institutional variation. Student performance is higher with external exams and budget formulation, but also with school autonomy in textbook choice, hiring teachers and within-school budget allocations. Autonomy is more positively associated with performance in systems that have external exit exams. Students perform better in privately operated schools, but private funding is not decisive.
This paper provides a critical analysis of the EU's Memorandum on lifelong learning in light of the evolution of the concepts of lifelong education and lifelong learning from the late sixties onward. It also analyses this document in light of the forces of globalisation that impinge on educational policy‐making in Europe as well as the all‐pervasive neo‐liberal ideology. The paper moves from theory to practice to provide critical considerations concerning certain ‘on the ground' projects being presented as ‘best practice' in EU documents. It brings out the neo‐liberal tenets that underlie much of the thinking and rationale for these projects, and indicates, in the process, how much of the old UNESCO discourse of lifelong education has been distorted to accommodate capitalism's contemporary needs. An alternative conception of lifelong learning is called for.
This paper provides a metareview of how e-learning content is currently being produced and embedded in the learning practice in further education, work-based learning and community learning contexts. Based upon this metareview, the paper has identified four categories of content production used: (1) learner-authored content, (2) practitioner-authored content, (3) commercial- and public sector-commissioned content and (4) combinations of these categories. The metareview also identifies several well-used, practitioner-based and institutional models for embedding e-learning content into practice, exploring some of the implications of this upon practitioners.
Much of the current research on training older adults to use computers focuses narrowly on cognitive aspects of the training situation. This study reports data on affective and contextual variables related to acquisition of computer skills by older people. The results suggest that the narrow focus on cognition in research on older computer users does a disservice to this varied group. Findings from this study are used to suggest more effective instruction practices, especially for older women.
A predominant economic and managerial discourse drives imperatives for a ‘knowledge-based’ economy, now widely espoused by economic leaders in much of the developed world. Demands for ever-modernizing ef.ciencies, production growth and competitive advantage encourage heightened emphasis on knowledge-rich production and innovation. They stimulate strategic managerial and organizational contingencies, labour market .exibility and deregulated markets, and weaken existing norms and processes in the social regulation of work. At the same time, political calls for a ‘learning society’ or a ‘knowledge society’ to accompany a knowledge-based economy gain much attention. They include demands for lifelong learning, for learning organizations and greater worker learning and skills development at work. This article critically examines the knowledge-based economy discourse and its formulation of worker and organizational learning. It argues that alternative conceptualizations of organizational learning that recognize workers’ cultural and non-material demands may stimulate resources for culturally innovative practices. In particular, the article considers ways in which learning economy discourses may be strategically utilized by trade unions, worker educators and other workplace actors in a revitalization of the sociocultural regulation of work.
This essay focuses on contemporary lifelong‐learning discourse as it was reflected in deliberations during three events held in Australia, Canada and the UK during 2000–01. Through the dialogical lenses of these Y2K events that brought together an array of international participants, it examines lifelong learning as a chameleonic concept and versatile practice in education and culture. It considers how participants at the three events framed lifelong learning’s parameters and complexities as they discussed perspectives and trends shaping lifelong‐learning discourse, policy‐making and practice. In doing so, three pervasive Y2K‐event themes are discussed: (a) lifelong learning encompasses instrumental, social and cultural education; (b) lifelong learning involves mediation of public and private responsibilities; and (c) lifelong learning occupies a precarious and paradoxical position in a world that desires to position it as a permanent global necessity. The essay concludes with a perspective on lifelong learning as a critical practice in a world where culture as knowledge and culture as community vie for space. It locates this practice in inclusive, holistic terms, suggesting that a critical practice of lifelong learning is guided by a key aim: to help persons become responsive and responsible citizen learners and workers who are able to think, speak and act in life, learning and work situations.
The current dominant concept of lifelong learning has arisen from the pressures of globalisation, economic change and the needs of the “knowledge economy”. Its importance is not disputed in this paper. However, its proponents often advocate it in a form which places unrealistic demands on the individual without at the same time addressing their learning needs. The paper suggests that much of lifelong learning in fact amounts to a “pedagogy of the self” whereby individuals are supposed to learn and imbibe certain pedagogic prescriptions so that they adopt a particular identity of the “learner”. The article suggests that this way of looking at lifelong learning misses the point in so far as learning is only as good as the knowledge-in-use which the individual can deploy and for this to happen situational awareness and situational understanding are vital components of lifelong learning. To this end, the article draws attention, by way of an amalgam of certain ideas of Heidegger and Aristotle, to certain structural features of situations which need to be reflected in the curricula of learning programme, the upshot of which is to emphasise both the social and ethical dimensions of lifelong learning. Finally the article suggests that some of the ideas of Stenhouse could be usefully employed in order to suggest not so much a pedagogy of lifelong learning as a pedagogy of critical learning.