Easing in a New Era: OEB-Workshop on the “European Digital Education Agenda”

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The digital education market is seeing dramatic changes, says Elmar Husmann, Public Policy Advisor at the European Learning Industry Group (ELIG). Social networks, increasing accessibility, as well as the advent of new devices, such as the iPad, will transform the market radically. But in order to leverage the potential of this industry, some of the ‘rules of the game’ will have to be aligned with European standards, Husmann argues. He will host a pre-conference workshop at OEB, entitled “The European Digital Education Agenda”. Here, he explains why regulation is the key to this process.

Elmar Husmann is convinced that Internet services such as Facebook, LinkedIn, iTunes, Google or YouTube, mobile devices and mobile high bandwidth Internet connections will play an increasing role in the digital education market. The e-learning sector, which has hitherto been composed of small and specialised players, will increasingly evolve around these services.

“In general, this is not a negative tendency,” Husmann says. “It will certainly lead to more powerful and better integrated digital education services.” However, Europe is not in a leading position in this field, and development is changing the rules of the game, Husmann warns. One example is the way mobile devices, such as the iPhone, are now tightly connected to major Internet service platforms via dedicated mobile apps.

Demands on the European Union

“It is crucial for Europe to preserve the openness of this game,” Husmann argues. For example, the EU should mandate open standards in critical platform areas, such as content or interface standards, and European players should be involved significantly. “The same applies to rules of conduct regarding privacy and information decision rights of the individual, for example when it comes to further commercial exploitation and selling of private information.”

European Learning Industry Group (ELIG)
The European Learning Industry Group (ELIG) is an open industry organisation with members representing the full value chain of services, products and solutions in support of knowledge and learning advancement. ELIG seeks to promote innovation in learning, knowledge creation and dissemination throughout Europe.

The ELIG Public Policy Group (PPG) works on multiple cross cutting concerns that call for collaboration and better alignment. Its issues are as diverse as quality assurance, content licensing schemes, public research funding or funding ventures in digital education.

Apart from these issues the European Union could provide a major stimulus for innovation: “Traditionally, strong buyers in the educational market are public academic and scholarly institutions. But in Europe this is a very fragmented landscape,” Husmann explains. The EU should thus support the sector by designing innovation initiatives on digital education across member states and their diverse languages, educational systems and cultural backgrounds.

Husmann’s third concern is the lack of funding specifically for educational ventures which may have commercial but also partially not-for-profit character. “Typical education-specific ventures are underrepresented in the funding of the European venture capital industry which is small anyway, compared to its US equivalent. In this field, the European Union should use instruments, such as the European Investment Fund, in a more targeted way.”

According to a recent study on behalf of the European Commission, many Internet service providers do not fully comply with European law – not even in their official terms of use. This is a major hurdle for those who would like to apply such services in an educational context, in schools as well as in corporate learning, Husmann stresses: “We need fully trusted and reliable Internet services for digital education and learning use because we are dealing with highly sensitive personal information, particularly when it comes to creating personalised and lifelong learning environments.”

A Europe-wide Content Licensing Scheme

In addition, the public policy expert points out the need for a Europe-wide content licensing scheme that is applicable and reliable and will allow publishers and other content providers to present their content on diverse Internet platforms.

“Google’s struggle for a book settlement agreement – which some of our ELIG members have been involved in – shows that this is not an easy task in the current legal environment,” he says. “We have to focus more on the specifics of educational and learning use – for example, the possibility for learners to re-edit, collaborate on and re-mix content in the learning process.”

Consequently, the licensing scheme should cover a continuum ranging from open educational resources to restricted assets. According to Husmann, the current schemes pose significant risks not only to providers but also to learners and teachers: “You don’t really know which rights you have when you use and replicate a learning asset found on Google in a classroom or other course settings.”

New Era in E-Learning

One of Husmann’s projections for the (near) future is that e-learning will step out of the niche of traditional online courses. Whilst such products and services will still be available, e-learning “will have to open up, integrate with other means of digital education and link into more flexible learning platforms, in order to stay competitive. This is a major disruption for the learning industry.”

“We are indeed talking about a massive discrepancy between the limited adoption of e-learning in a classical sense and the rapidly growing potential of the Internet for education. Grasping this potential by the learning industry, by the learners and institutions, indeed, represents a new era.”

Last year’s European Digital Competitiveness report has clearly shown that e-learning – understood in a traditional sense of “doing an online course” – only accounted for an average of 3% of Internet use across the 27 EU members states, whereas “seeking information with the purpose of learning” already accounted for an average of 26%. According to a recent study published in Germany, 76% of German Internet users found that they had improved their personal level of education via the Internet.

iPad a “Hot Topic” for the Industry

Amongst the ELIG members, it has particularly been the publishing organisations which have reported strong interest from their own investors and stakeholders in this class of devices. “The iPad is indeed a hot topic for our industry and a notable example of the disruptive effect of new platforms,” Husmann says.

The iPad stands for a new dimension of Internet mobility and intuitive use, as well as for the integration into a perfectly designed service platform, Husmann points out. Its multi-touch user interface makes the iPad suitable for new types of educational uses, for example by younger children.

“I am convinced that elements of its user interface, the content and application distribution model, will quickly be seen in a full family of devices from other industry players but will also pervade into smart phones and handheld PCs,” Husmann predicts.

At OEB 2010, Elmar Husmann will host the pre-conference workshop “The European Digital Education Agenda” together with Richard Straub and Matty Smith from the European Learning Industry Group (ELIG).
It will take place on Wednesday, December 1st, 14:00 – 17:00.
More information on ELIG can be found here: http://www.elig.org/

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