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LSC's Distributed and Electronic Learning Group looks to beef up e-learning support post 16

In a pretty substantial report, the distance and electronic learning group (DELG) of the UK's prime further education body (the Learning and Skills Council, LSC) outline their vision of e-learning post 16 in a series of 154 key issues and recommendations. In very general terms, the aim is to achieve a robust, targeted and comprehensive framework for the whole sector.

The strategy that the Distributed and Electronic Learning Group (DELG) recommends for the LSC does quite a bit to contain the over-hyped expectations that goes with a lot of new(ish) technological developments and their implementation. The DELG manages that by shifting the focus from the technology to the learner, concentrating on areas where e-learning will make the greatest difference and emphasize support structures, staff training and quality assurance mechanisms. Not just that, the more eye-catching ideas -e.g. running a single national resource for e-learning provision, the establishment of common specifications, materials development and interoperability standards- are all wisely cloaked in recognitions of the need to co-operate with established centres. Nonetheless, some of the proposals are rather more adventurous; the need for the strategy framework to be referenced by every other e-learning LSC initiative, right down to the local level, for example. Likewise the drawing up of a set of minimum infrastructure standards that individual course suppliers need to comply with, or the recognition that e-learning and distance courses should be funded in the exact same way as other FE courses.

Even with the rider about cooperation with all stakeholders, the pretty unequivocal recommendation that e-learning interoperability standards should be agreed on nationally and adhered to by institutions that are looking for funding for content development is another example of the less timid streak. The recommendation is informed by the conclusion that it is now possible to identify a coherent set of "de facto" standards as adopted by Ufi Limited, the National Learning Network and Curriculum Online. This, presumably, refers to SCORM, whose value is "noted" elsewhere. That application profile is clearly well suited to the interoperability brief and a range of FE skills courses, but it will be interesting to see how well it will fit the stated aim of developing pedagogically sound content for purposes and learners outside of that range.

Away from content standardisation, there is a strongish call for various agencies to work together on enterprise interoperability. The DELG clearly sees a lot of value in getting Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), college information systems and the Individual Learner Record (ILR) to talk to one another. Not just as means of effective administration, but also as an improvement to the learning experience. In order for that to work properly, the report is quite adamant and specific in insisting that a unique learner identifier needs to be agreed upon by all education institutions. Once that barrier has been removed, a system-wide transferable learner record can be introduced that will stay with a person throughout his or her participation in education.

Other recommendations about specifications and standards mostly concern the process of standard building. There is a firm recommendation that the LSC should be involved in any developments around the proposed E-learning Standards Conformance Authority (ELSCA), and a much more cautious acknowledgment of the JISC's Managed Learning Environment (MLE) steering group's call on the LSC to encourage the setting up of a central standards conformance testing facility.

Accessibility is also a commendably large concern in the report, prompted but not driven by the new accessibility legislation that is coming into effect at the moment. The approach recommended is a bit curious in that it is based on following W3C guidelines and established best practice. This could certainly do the job, but making use of the work that IMS has done in this field might make the task much easier.

A great many more outlines and recommendations on quality control, the learner, sustainability etc. are available in the DELG report (1.11 Mb, pdf) on the LSC website.

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