The first thing I do after sitting down at my desktop computer to write this text is go to the NVL website and look at some material on the conference titled ”On the Go”, which was organised in Copenhagen in May and which you can read more about in this issue. Through the website, I learn about the rich array of different concepts associated to web-based learning, such as e-learning, online community learning, flexible learning and computer-assisted learning, and find out that the significance of these concepts varies from one education culture and country to another. Amazingly, before e-learning has had time to become a household word, we now have a something called m-learning (mobile learning)! An example of this is the use of mobile phones to teach teenagers healthier lifestyles. As I am reading this, I get an e-mail from the social networking media Facebook. During the few minutes it takes me to skim the start page, I have time to glance at an article about 50 things that are reputedly being killed by the internet and check out the discussion provoked by these allegations. A friend tips me that limestone dust and ethereal oils are effective ant repellents and that the film about Coco Chanel and Stravinsky is worth seeing. Another Facebook friend has posted links to the Finnish public service broadcasting company YLE (www.yle.fi), whose website tells us that there are serious shortcomings in the care of the elderly in Finland and that it is legal to use a machine which grinds live chicks into animal feed. While reading this, I am listening to Duke Ellington’s music that I have downloaded, quite legally, into my laptop from the online music service Spotify. Then my mobile phone bleeps, reminding me to book a hairdresser’s appointment.
Layer upon layer of innovations
All of us – immigrants and natives, politicians and policy-makers, teachers and students – live in a world where information technology is evolving at a huge speed and where layer upon layer of innovations is generated that we must learn quickly and then forget just as quickly when something even smarter comes along. Mart Laanpere, Director of the Centre of Educational Technology at the University of Tallinn, says that e-learning, which was all the rage in politics ten years ago, is now no longer “new and exciting”. According to him, however, all is not lost: instead, most of the development in web-based learning is now taking place in practical contexts.
Traditional learning must co-exist alongside new learning forms, and there is a risk that it might all be happening too quickly. Kari Pitkänen, Director of Education at the University of Jyväskylä, points out how hard it can be for teachers to juggle several balls in the air simultaneously. In addition to old methods, they need to introduce new ones and stay in touch with the latest developments. The will and the zeal are there, but time is scarce.
Web-based learning can be combined successfully with traditional “contact teaching”, as the Danish example from University College Syd demonstrates. IT project leader Lis Faurholt is very optimistic. In her opinion, the limitations to the use of digital platforms exist only in our minds, and success largely depends on whether we are able to develop a new, common understanding of what education is and how we absorb knowledge.
In this respect there is a lot going on in the Nordic region, as witnessed by the extremely active distance learning network, DISTANS, and current developments in Norway. Norway’s new NVL coordinator, Jakob Sletten, formulates the challenge aptly: “In the future, the challenge will be finding solutions that enable the distribution and production of digital resources that cater to the genuine needs of the population, and making them accessible.” Jakob himself is presented to us in a separate article.