Understanding global activity in higher education and research
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This study, prepared by Mindset Research, has looked at activities and developments in the fields of e-Learning and e-Infrastructure supporting the higher education and research sectors in ten countries across the world: Australia; Canada; Denmark; Germany; Korea; Japan; the Netherlands; New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Given JISC's familiarity with and expertise in these areas in the UK, the profile of the UK differs from that of the other study countries in its approach and structure and attempts to see the UK from a global perspective (i.e. the UK's e-Learning and e-Infrastructure landscape as others see it). The study provides a snapshot of e-learning and e-infrastructure activities that support the higher education and research communities in 10 countries.
It is necessary to make a brief point about the language and terminology used in these areas. Throughout this report, the terms 'e-Learning' and 'e-Infrastructure' are used on the basis that these are the terms which appear to have been adopted most widely across the world to embrace the themes that this study concerns itself with. In particular, 'e-Learning', rather than 'on-line learning' has been used as it appears to be considered to be the more all-encompassing term across the countries we reviewed. Across the countries included in this study, the term 'on-line learning' tends to be used and understood in more narrow terms – perhaps describing only the process of learning delivered by the internet, rather than the employment of a wide range of technologies and practices to aid learning and teaching which is made possible through ICT in the broadest sense.
This report attempts to offer a flavour of e-Learning and e-Infrastructure activity in each of the study countries and in particular evaluates the geographic, economic and cultural factors which shape the way that e-Learning and e-Infrastructure are developing. It needs to be stressed that this study is not an attempt to objectively and exhaustively identify all aspects of e-Learning and e-Infrastructure in each country. We have endeavored to highlight some interesting, innovative and important initiatives – but in so doing we offer no guarantees that major initiatives have not been over-looked. Any subjects with technology at their core are subject to the problem of being out-of-date almost before they can be reported. This is clearly true of e-Learning and e-Infrastructure developments. Additionally the scope of this study – e-Learning and e-Infrastructure across ten different countries – is considerable and without limitless time and resources, the best that can be achieved is a snapshot of each country.
What is apparent is that while some countries share certain characteristics, such as population sizes and densities, systems of government and even language, in almost all cases there are factors unique to each which have shaped the way in which e-Learning and e-Infrastructure have evolved and will continue to influence their development in the future.
For example, whilst superficially Korea and Japan might appear to be subject to similar influences, advantages, constraints and challenges, the way in which e-Learning is being adopted by these countries differs quite markedly. Whereas Korea appears to have embraced e-Learning with enthusiasm, cultural factors in Japan mean that, despite a well-developed e-Infrastructure, it is struggling to embed e-Learning into its higher education institutions. Many factors are responsible for this but in simple terms it would appear that the concept of 'learner-centred' strategies conflict with a Japanese tradition of elevating the position and status of teachers.
Other examples of the way in which a unique set of factors is shaping the way in which e-Learning and e-Infrastructure are developing include:
Distance and online learning have played a key role in Canadian life for some time. Important factors are the huge distances involved and also the presence of a large French-speaking minority. Despite a well-developed e-Infrastructure, jurisdiction over education lies with the provincial authorities, rather than the federal government and, therefore e-Learning policy and strategy is generally set at provincial level.
Education is fundamental to the Scandinavian welfare model and Denmark has set it sights very high in relation to the development of e-Learning and e-Infrastructure. Being a relatively small country, nationally co-ordinated policies, strategies and initiatives are easier to implement. The result is a country which perhaps 'punches above its weight' in matters of technology and education.
Both the importance of the private sector and the presence of well-established, grant-awarding not-for-profit organisations are major features of the e-Learning and e-Infrastructure landscape in the US. In addition, individual states, rather than the federal government tend to look after higher education plans. Despite this, many important e-Learning and infrastructure developments come out of the states, including increasingly innovative uses of Web 2.0 technologies and platforms.
Although this study did not set out to 'benchmark' the UK against the other study countries, it is nevertheless impossible not to consider in very broad terms the UK's position on the world stage. Clearly the UK enjoys several key advantages: its compact size; the English language; and the UK's system of powerful central government to name but three. JISC is seen by other countries as a strong centralizing force and, largely as a result of JISC's role, the UK is viewed as being a leading player in most areas of e-Learning and e-Infrastructure development. Various reviews of specific areas of e-Learning and e-Infrastructure identify the UK as amongst the leaders in areas such as digitisation, data repositories and co-ordinated Web 2.0 enablement strategies, paving the way for the opportunities it opens up to be successfully and consistently introduced into learning and teaching practices.
This report includes synopses of each of the 10 study countries which outline in very broad terms the factors shaping the development of e-Learning and e-Infrastructure and some examples of interesting and/or important initiatives. We have also included a chapter for each country which sets out information in far greater detail.