Ireland and UK sign higher education e-learning pact

29 Sep 2005

Higher-education funding agencies in Ireland and the UK have joined forces to further the development of e-learning – a major growth area in the delivery of third-level education for a variety of learners.

At a meeting in Dublin, the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and the UK’s Joint Information Services Committee signed a memorandum of co-operation that is seen a major boost to the development a National Digital Repository — a three-year initiative between universities and the institutes of technology that formally began in January 2005.

The repository, which is being funded by the HEA and the Department of Education and Science, will draw together in one resource existing digital images, maps, pieces of film and audio, texts, simulations and other multimedia elements. It is seen as an essential part of the process of reducing the cost of developing e-learning teaching and learning materials.

HEA chief executive Tom Boland who signed the memorandum on behalf of the HEA, said: “The agreement with the UK recognises the shared interest between the two countries in building a technology infrastructure that provides lifelong access to programmes of study for learners in a manner that is flexible and convenient to their particular life circumstances. By co-operating in this way we have the potential to investigate common problems experienced in the design, establishment and operation of national digital learning repositories.”

The development of quality e-learning material is costly relative to traditional methods of delivery. These costs can be offset by using existing material developed commercially or through sharing with other institutional developers. The area of flexibly sharing and re-use of digital learning materials is becoming increasingly more important to the establishment of and collaboration in effective e-learning delivery.

The idea behind the National Digital Repository was that universities could pool certain information – not course content itself but the ingredients of courses – which would lead to more efficiency content creation and sharing. The idea is that the shared data is not held in any one university but in a central repository.

The concept is not unique to Ireland – universities are doing the same thing in a number of countries such as the Australia, Belgium, UK and US.

In Ireland, the project initially involved the seven universities but was then extended to include the 13 institutes of technology as well, with funding coming from the HEA for the universities and the Department of Education for the institutes.

By Brian Skelly