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Nine in search of computer solutions

More than pound;150 million has been spent on the National Learning Network to improve infrastructure, develop e-learning materials and offer support for teaching staff in post-16 education.

Originally targeted at FE and sixth form colleges, its programme is being extended to workplace learning and specialist colleges. Despite its short life-span - it began in 1999 - the network can claim notable successes: a 100 per cent improvement in student access to computers; and fruitful moves towards its aim of having one internet-linked machine for each permanent college staff member.

Becta, the education technology agency, is one of eight original partners with its fingers in the pie. It has commissioned 550 hours of e-learning materials for the post-16 sector.

The presence of so many partners sounds like a recipe for confusion and duplication. Now the Standards Unit has been added to the mix. But, says, Paul Crisp, distance and learning adviser for the Learning and Skills Council, there is little evidence of the new arrival treading on toes.

"We don't have confusion on policy or major themes, though that isn't to say people don't trip over each other on detail," he says. There is, though, a conscious effort to ensure co-ordination; for instance, staff from the Standards Unit are on the network's transformation board, a body set up to extend the scope of its programme. As the Standards Unit works through a number of project management groups, this means that when both bodies are involved in developing course materials, duplication is unlikely. The network, for instance, has developed snippets of course material: 30 to 40-minute chunks for use by teachers, designed to drop into a larger programme. The Standards Unit meanwhile has tackled areas of subject difficulty, producing materials for teachers and students in business studies for mixed-ability groups.

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