COLLEGES and local education authorities will be able to better prepare for "e-learning" with advice about the most suitable the help of a new centre based at the University of Wolverhampton in Telford.
The Learning Lab is a joint venture with the university and 15 organisations including Microsoft, ICL, Granada Learning, Reading College and the University for Industry. It is designed to be the first point of contact for anyone interested in using technology to improve learning.
Jeff Raikes, Microsoft's vicepresident of worldwide sales and marketing, said the lab would give independent advice to educational institutions, training providers and local authorities.
He added that electronic learning had the potential to grow faster than even the booming e-commerce sector. By 2003, learning via e-mail or CD-Rom will represent 39 per cent of the information technology training market (worth $5.7 billion or pound;3.7b in western Europe alone) and 14 per cent of the market for all training.
Professor Steve Molyneux, who will head the centre's four-strong team, said it would also fund research into the impact of technology on learning. The initiative is receiving pound;300,000 a year from participating organisations.
Andrew Boswell, ICL's chief technology officer, said there was a "blizzard of new technologies" looming and teachers and local education authorities could not be expected to keep up with them all.
He believed the lab would help Britain to become the world's leading exporter of education and learning materials. "We can be the Hollywood of learning. The Learning Lab will be a power station on the National Grid for Learning to help make this happen," Mr Boswell said.
The UFI was involved because it needed early warning about technological developments and to shape them to ensure they benefit its learners, said Lord Dearing, UFI chairman.
Michael Wills, the learning and technology minister, said at this week's launch in London that by showcasing the benefits of tech-nology-enhanced learning the lab would increase access and help Britain to become a knowledge society. "This is a very important initiative - education, skills and training and vital to the future economic success of this country," he said. "You can't have a know-ledge-driven economy without a knowledge-driven society."
Other Learning Lab partners include BT, Cisco Systems, Telewest Communications, Reed Educational Publishing and QA Training.
Learning Lab: 01902 323932 or www.learninglab.org.uk