Vivian Reding, Responsabile per l'educazione e la cultura alla Commissione Europea

Supported by national and european programmes, there are many e-learning initiatives running in Italy and in Europe too: from your position, which level of maturity the various experiences have reached right now, and when it will be possible to say if these experiences will have achieved the necessary consistency to meet to the goals fixed by european policies?

Today we are no longer wondering if ICT, the Internet and e-learning help us to improve the quality of education and training, as this has been demonstrated through countless examples. The issue now is to define how and when we may best use e-learning in our schools, in our universities, in our training colleges, in the work place. Our attention is moving from the technology and the infrastructure, towards the practice, the pedagogy, the content. We are now concerned with issues of context, effectiveness, efficiency, standards and quality. And we are examining the wider implications for curricula, for training and technical support, and for organisational change within the educational establishments. First attempts at e-learning solutions were often unsuccessful: they isolated the learner, they were inflexible and dictated how we must learn, and they tried to replace the teacher or trainer with automated checklists, pop-up menus and help-pages while modern e-learning solutions now recognise the importance of learning as a social process and offer possibilities for collaboration with other learners, for interaction with the learning content and for guidance from teachers, trainers and tutors. This is a clear sign of the high level of maturity reached by different e-learning solutions and policies.
However, even the « first phase » experiences have been useful and many of the objectives of the eLearning Action Plan have been met. An example ? With some 93% of European schools now connected to the Internet, with a average of 17 pupils per PC and with the rapid uptake in broadband, we see that e-learning is becoming mainstream. The future eLearning programme, which will be launched in 2004, establishes a new set of objective and priorities as for example promoting digital literacy, supporting the integration of virtual services into higher education and school twinning.

The University of Genoa started recently an e-learning programme to develop a specific portal and a procedure meant to involve the teaching staff in the new way of deliver education and promote the development of the e-learning culture: in your opinion how can be stimulated teachers' interest in e-learning and, which are the main resistances you noticed?

Portals, for example, are an excellent instrument to stimulate the participation of teachers, students, experts and to debate e-learning issues. Recently, in the framework of the eLearning Action Plan we launched a European eLearning portal. It is not an «institutional website». Its purpose is to act as a virtual meeting place and directory of information for all aspects of e-learning. The young and the old, the expert and the novice are invited to use the portal to explore the world of e-learning and to gain access to the considerable work that is already going on throughout Europe. Statistics are extremely encouraging. In its first ten days the Portal was visited by almost 11.000 persons with an average visit duration of 11 minutes. 1.140 of them registered as subscribers and signed up for the newsletter. I do not think that there is particular resistance to e-learning, at least as long as we consider it as a learning process enhanced by technology and do not fall into a logic of « technology driven learning » but, for sure, the overall quality of the e-learning services and instruments has still to be improved.

Turning to the students' issue: in your opinion, which is the outline of the e-learning student? The traditional learner or a new one?

Surely at the beginning there was a specific outline of the e-learning student. It was mainly due to a technological barrier. This is why in our eLearning Action Plan we concentrated our efforts also on some quantitative objectives. In a very near future I think that almost every European student should be in the position to access, if he/she so desires, to a e-learning programme. ICT must be seen as a instrument which, as many others, will make the learning process easier and richer.

Summing up, which are the key-words to draw a successful e-learning programme at University?

Some keywords for a successful e-learning programme? Quality content, genuine interactivity, human guidance and collaboration.