E-learning vital to economic development – HEA

2 Sep 2005

Distance-learning technologies that open up access to education are going to be vital in improving Ireland’s educational standing and create the knowledge basis for economic success in the future, the chairman of the Higher Education Authority (HEA) has said.

Speaking yesterday in Dublin Castle at an international networking event for Minerva, the EU’s open and distance-learning programme, Michael Kelly said it was the HEA’s stated ambition that Ireland be in the top 10 OECD countries in terms of educational performance but to achieve this the issue of access needed to be addressed. “We have to ensure that learners of any age are given the opportunity to succeed and thrive in the digital age,” he said.

Kelly said while Irish universities had been involved in several Minerva projects in recent years that have developed innovative learning technologies, not all aspects of educational attainment were so impressive. “While great strides have been made in Ireland, there are still many areas of educational performance that need urgent attention,” he said, noting that education, training and learning were fundamental to societal and economic development.

Jim Devine, director of Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, who gave the keynote presentation at the seminar, said the falling cost of technology, the spread of broadband, and the rise of digital living had created a seismic shift in education whereby students had the resources and skills to create and manage their own learning materials, generating their own ‘e-portfolios’. “In terms of education, process is as important as product and we’ve got to give students free rein to develop their own content,” he said.

On the other hand, he added, while many universities had implemented learning management systems and got involved in innovative e-learning projects, the jury was still out on whether or not technology was transforming the learning experience or simply e-enabling existing teaching methods. “The question is to what extent are e-learning and digital technologies anticipating and underpinning innovation in teaching itself?”

Making a plea for extra resources for his own sector, Devine said the institutes of technology were at a disadvantage to the universities in terms of their ability to develop learning technology centres. He said they had to contend with “capacity and scale” issues that made it difficult for them to engage in e-learning to the same extent.

By Brian Skelly