Learning used to be something that mainly happened in class rooms. The emergence of new technologies have changed this and will change it even more in the future. Whilst there is certainly an element of hype and self-interest by the proponents, it would, however, be very risky to ignore the impact of ICTs upon higher education. From a competitive perspective e-learning offers oppportunities to help achieve the Lisbon goal of by 2010 becoming the most innovative an knowledge-based society in the world. From a collaborative perspective, there is considerable potential for the sharing of resources (and costs).
The eEurope 2005 action plan (2002) states that every European citizen should be equipped with the skills needed to live and work in the information society. It proposes to connect all schools to the Internet, to adapt school curricula and to train teachers to use digital technologies. In order to ensure that these objectives were met, the Commission adopted in March 2001 the eLearning Action plan. A staff working paper by the Commission highlights and analyses the results of benchmarking the take-up of new technologies in European schools so far.
In November 2003, the Council adopted a proposal for a specific eLearning Programme to combat digital illiteracy and to promote virtual campuses and virtual twinning of schools. The aim of the eLearning programme is to encourage the integration of the new information and communication technologies into European education and training systems, thereby improving their quality and accessibility. It is not designed to replace the Member States' actions in this sector, but to support and complement them.
European Distance and E-Learning Network states that the "major problem of eLearning and ICT for learning is the knowledge gap on learning innovation. The problem is deriving from a lack of priority for a comprehensive learning innovation within research programmes, the lack of accumulation and utilisation of current practice and the few available research results, including the consolidation of the knowledge gathered and available. "
The network proposes some concrete initiatives to maximize the impact of research on innovation and effectiveness of education and training systems and to better link policy, research and innovative practice.
Miroslav Adamiš, Head of Cabinet for the Education Commissioner said, in the EU eLearning Conference 2005, that "we have noticed over the years (within our programmes) that the attention has moved from the technology and infrastructure - the prerequisites for eLearning - to the context for learning, the pedagogical practice, the learning services and the need for well trained teachers, tutors and trainers. This change in emphasis is reflected in our policies and our programmes, which increasingly stress the need for multi-lingual, multi-cultural approaches that are sensitive to the needs of different learners."
The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) considers that while the eLearning programme addresses the major problems facing education and training and puts forward solutions, the proposal does not adequately take into account the need for involving more actors in the development of "virtual campuses". On the other hand, EFTA welcomes the initiatives regarding the need to define digital literacy in relation to lifelong learning, the fight against the digital divide, the dissemination of good practices and the efforts proposed to involve a large number of secondary schools in twinning projects.