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E-destination unknown

Those of us who left school in the Seventies went into a pre-computer world of work. When I turned up for my first day as a cub reporter on a paper in North Yorkshire, I brought my own manual typewriter and sat at a desk where five of us shared one phone. Copy was rolled up in a tube and sent along a suction pipe which ran the length of a terrace of houses to the printworks.

Within a few years everything changed and just about every white-collar worker sat before a computer. It was a tool for doing a little more slickly exactly what we had always done. Each cohort of workers was a little better prepared by their schools for learning the latest word-processing package. Surely the brave new world had arrived.

No, the brave new world - like Billy Bunter's postal order - is always coming. Next the web spread, linking and shrinking the world. If technology made us prisoners of the screen, it also brought us new visions.

We have moved from the "just a tool" days towards a democracy of information. Whether e-learning gives us the chance to look at a bronze age jewel or to email a grandson in Jamaica, it can enrich our lives. It has made learners of us all: the FE lecturer, the young mother who needs a qualification, the student with disabilities. Whatever the quantity of dross on the web, never has so much learning been available to so many.

Brave new world?

Well, braver for some than for others. Ireland it seems could teach the rest of the UK a few e-tricks; college managers have something to learn; and the Government is still wondering where its beloved e-university went wrong. And maybe some day we will turn and question the value of our ever-growing heap of instantly available information.

So these pages are not, to borrow terminology from the schools sector, a celebration assembly. They are more of an honest guidebook: an examination of the route so far taken. As for the destination, who knows?

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