E-Learning Down Under

As a country dominated by space and renowned for its self-sufficiency, distance education has been part of Australia’s educational landscape for a long time. But does it necessarily mean that the nation is also at the forefront of e-learning development? Marc Niemes, founding president of the eLearning Industry Association of Victoria, talks about where Australia and other countries stand in the field of e-learning today, as well as trends in ICT.

OEB: How widespread is e-learning in Australia today and are there any challenges facing its further expansion?

Marc Niemes: I think that Australia now is certainly an active member in the global development community. The use of e-learning is steadily increasing; worldwide standards are also readily adopted and adhered to. Few people realise that many popular content titles such as Moodle, the Open Source Learning Management System (LMSs), have their origin here.

Regarding challenges, Australia faces many of the same problems as the rest of the world. I have certainly found that many people cite Australia’s lack of bandwidth as an obstacle to the advancement of many simulation-based technologies. However, in order to address the issue, the Australian government has just committed to a National Broadband Network with ‘Fibre to the Home’ technology which makes use of optical fibres. This will allow transmission over greater distances and at higher bandwidths. Good instructional design, however, is always more important than multimedia flare.


OEB: What is the purpose of the eLearning Industry Association of Victoria?

Marc Niemes: In simple terms, the association was born out of the necessity for an independent voice to aggregate the needs of three distinct groups: firstly, the producers of e-learning content, usually small developers offering products and services; secondly, the suppliers of e-learning systems and platforms who are typically larger, corporate vendors and lastly, e-learning consumers who tend to be groups of companies that purchase e-learning software. Within each of these groups there are schools, universities, corporations and government sectors. The organisation aims to increase the demand for e-learning and improve the ability of Victoria-based organisations to deliver products and services to the market.


OEB: You have been involved in e-learning for 15 years. What prompted you to dedicate your career to this sector?

Marc Niemes: Simple, I have three loves: people, learning and technology. There is nothing more rewarding than to see people learning, and if technology can help them to do so more efficiently, then it is worth promoting.


Additionally, the projects we are able to bring to life certainly keep me interested in helping to improve the world through access to education and training. For example, last year we ratified the creation of the Asian e-learning association with 11 core member countries that now account for over 60 percent of the world’s population.


OEB: When you look at the wider picture, do you consider one particular country to be leading the way in e-learning?

Marc Niemes: There is really no country or region that strikes me as being ahead in the field of e-learning. I have seen brilliant examples of mobile web being used on ten-year-old mobile phones in India, ingenuity in content development in South Korea and some of the best classroom learning interactions in the backstreets of Sydney in an unknown state school. However, there seems to be a correlation between the appreciation of knowledge and a community’s willingness to adopt e-learning. I am particularly interested in learning more about Europe and the Americas, and Africa seems to have great programmes in place as well.


During my most recent travels to South Korea, I was shown their government plan regarding e-learning. With limited natural resources, it is a manufacturing and knowledge-based economy and the government has even enacted an e-learning bill stipulating that e-learning or a close equivalent must be available for the whole of the population.


OEB: What e-learning trends do you anticipate in the future?

Marc Niemes: I believe that a few key concepts will prove to be highly relevant: device, motivation, context and content. Devices will probably become faster, cheaper or more reliable. We will continue to view teachers as ‘guides’ as opposed to ‘fountains of knowledge’. Systems will become seamless and contextual, while isolated LMSs will become integrated. Informal knowledge will be searchable and indexable, and ‘edutainment’ and gaming will certainly be on the increase.


OEB: Thank you very much for your time, Mr Niemes.

For more information on the eLearning Industry Association of Victoria: www.elearning.org.au


At OEB 2009, Marc Niemes will present: “The Australian E-Learning Experience: Remote, Distant, Harsh and Quick, How This Benefits the World” as part of the session “What Have We Learned from Several Decades of Innovation?” which will take place on Friday, December 4, 2009, from 11:45 – 13:15.


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