E-learning undergoes study

Report: The State of E-Learning in the States

Whether online, through videoconferencing or with CD-ROMs, e-learning is one of the fastest growing fields in work-related education. But it is also largely based on traditional learning methods, quality isn't always assured and access isn't always equitable, according to a national study.

The study, "A Vision of E-Learning for America's Workforce," was co-sponsored by National Governors Association (www.nga.org) and the American Society for Training and Development (www.astd.org). It aims to frame emerging policy issues regarding e-learning — delivering instructional content via electronic technology, such as the Internet, satellite downlinks and interactive TV.

One of its contributors, Evelyn Ganzglass, the NGA's director of employment and social services policy studies, said it's important for the public and private sectors to jointly develop e-learning in a nonregulatory framework.

"This is a very borderless environment — across states as well as countries — so the instruction comes from all sides," she said. "Government has a real interest in consumer protection and quality."

E-learning is a mostly private endeavor that is expected to grow into a $7 billion industry by 2003 in this country. It has the potential to retrain adults to keep pace with the rapidly changing business environment, and it can expand the reach of higher education. But the public needs information to steer them to quality courseware that's accredited and ensures their privacy, Ganzglass said.

Also, she said students need to be judged on their experiences and demonstrated abilities to perform instead of traditional assessments, such as completing a course within a specified time. E-learning institutions should be certified on different measures, she said.

Ganzglass also said the e-learning market needs to be broadened to ensure access for low-income and low-skilled individuals. This can be achieved by developing common technical standards and reducing development costs.

In a companion survey, "The State of E-Learning in the States," the groups looked at what states are doing to expand their postsecondary e-learning facilities for work-related education and training, such as developing virtual colleges and digital libraries.

Most states are developing delivery systems, promoting access and exploring ways to ensure quality, privacy and security. Many states have commissions looking into such matters, Ganzglass said. Their main concerns, she added, are infrastructure improvement and the costs of developing content and training instructors.

Ganzglass said the groups plan to convene another meeting in the fall to move the agenda forward.

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