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E-learning needs managing carefully

Sue Jones reports on the studies affecting FE presented at the British Educational Research Association's conference

INFORMATION and communication technology is not the quick-fix route to the learning society, the conference at Cardiff heard last week.

The Government is promoting e-learning to widen participation and upgrade the nation's skills, but good planning and the understanding and support of all participants are crucial, according to research conducted by Elizabeth Browne of the Westminster institute of education, part of Oxford Brookes University.

Her findings, based on research into policy documents, staff interviews and student questionnaires in a further education and higher education institution, show that ICT has the potential to "engage and support a wider range of students".

However, she concluded, it will not improve the students' learning experience unless the teaching methods are carefully developed.

Although policy documents in both institutions showed a commitment to using ICT, the success of the policies depended on howthey were implemented.

Where new courses were imposed quickly by top management, they often met with resistance from the lecturers. But when teaching staff initiated the changes, management failed to appreciate their potential.

The concerns of both FE and HE lecturers about ICT included:

too-rapid introduction;

threat to jobs;

inadequate funding;

too little time to develop teaching

materials;

insufficient thought given to the effects of multimedia methods on teaching and learning.

Doubts were also raised about whether ICT does attract new learners. Although the use of virtual conferencing in the HE institution made a significant difference to students' ability to participate, the availability of ICT in the college had not influenced the students' decision to attend, nor had it made access easier.

Ms Browne concluded: "Only when the managers of change and those involved in the change process fully understand the complexities of the changes involved, will delivery of pedagogy through ICT be fully realised."

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