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Highlight Round table: Theory, policy and practice in lifelong learning

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Subject Potentials of ICT for learning (Ian Bennet)*
Outline I have been invited to offer a practitioner's perspective on the implementation of ICT strategies to enhance individual and organisational learning. What I picked up from this conference shows that the business case and justification for adopting IT is still the same as before: the basics are to determine the desired outcomes and to create mobility for evaluating measures and results. Those seem to be as crucial as ever.
    One of the issues we address in the beginning when implementing ICT based strategies are whether the learning is going to be separate, incidental to strategic policy, whether it can be run independently, conductive, as stand-alone, or whether it's going to entirely integrate with the organisational practices and activities. Where it is entirely integrated, for example, someone may pick up on learning about interview techniques using the intranet, if some interview is coming up. It is possible that there are also implications, for instance to determine whether someone has indeed taken that opportunity; you can trace whether they continually have to replace people. There are also some implications for the assessment of competences. Of course, learning can be modified almost as it needs be; the technology helps to determine skills gaps, to create knowledge maps, to determine what kind of learning is appropriate, to choose appropriate times of learning, to create an online record for tracing where people are with their learning and skills. 
    When I go back to basics, measuring the outcomes, the technology is a very useful tool for monitoring and mediating. It's possible to create mentoring sessions, virtual classrooms where somebody is learning remotely. One of the things that came across in several conference sessions is that it's still appropriate to offer support during distance learning, and mentoring is one way we are doing that, creating virtual classrooms. 
    There's lots of ways of using the technology to create a hybrid scenario and support people who might otherwise be left to their own devices. You can manage learning as well both from the organisation's and the individual's point of view. It's an appropriate way of re-using training material that has been created; it can of course be updated and amended frequently. One of the benefits is that it can be rewound and revisited by the learner, rather than in a passive way sitting and looking at a video or whatever. It is and should be quite an engaging and involving way of learning. Also, learning can be steered according to the progress the learner is making. It is possible to monitor, for instance, how many times people are going back over a particular topic. The mentor could intervene and offer guidance.
    Accreditation is another role that technology has a lot to offer for. It's possible to set the required standards that you would need to achieve. It enables a unified approach; it can be coordinated centrally; it means the adoption of standards is much more prevalent; it can be deployed very quickly; it certainly can be widespread, also reaching remote people. 
    IT enhances and encourages collaboration. In this morning's session we talked about an organisation that had a company-wide intranet, collaborating globally using IT. There was a lot of communication across the enterprise, access to more extensive knowledge, better common understanding. So the options are greater using IT. It is just another means of delivering learning; it allows the creation of an appropriate way of learning. It's easy to use, but again should be encouraged so that people feel inclined to take it up; it should encourage the inclination to learn continually. 
    One of the things that came across in presentations is that motivation is on top of the list of people choosing to adopt this or not. They do need to be motivated and encouraged, and they need to be supported while they are conducting it. Also, it is a digital medium, it can be and should be interactive. There's a lot more scope in using ICT than the traditional methods; so it definitely has a role to play.
Note *Andorra Group, Harrogate, UK
Source Recording of the presentation made at the final session (plenary round table) of the HRD conference in Toulouse, May 2003 (see proceedings).
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