La Red E D U C A L E N

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  • 1. La Red EDUC@L Strengthening e-learning capacities in Latin America Johanna Meza johannameza6@gmail.com EDUC@L Summary This paper highlights the importance of e-learning in order to improve the life quality in Latin America. It also explains that this can only be achieved if the methodology is carried out in an adequate way which implies a different process of learning and teaching. Therefore lecturers and students need to be qualified for implementing the e-learning process. La Red EDUC@L, integrating various other institutions in Latin America, has been founded in order to contribute in the process of strengthening capacities. Its objective is to collaborate precisely in the development of an adequate methodology in order to succeed in training the participants. Keywords E-learning, EDUC@L, development of Latin America, life-long learning, methodology of e- learning What is e-learning? The systems of distance learning can be differentiated from other education models by allowing its students to break free from traditional restraints found in class rooms, exploiting the advantages of modern technology, reducing government expenditure and making education accessible to those who work and live in remote areas. (Ramírez, 2000). Therefore institutions of distance learning enter a new educational territory capable of attending to those who have not had access to traditional Higher Education Institutions. Thereby they support social and economic progress, democratization and other important social priorities (World Conference on Higher Education in the 21st century, 1998). Different studies that have been carried out on the topic of distance learning have confirmed that this is the appropriate response to those whom it is aimed at, meaning employees and persons who live in remote areas. It is also very attractive for women since it enables self- promotion and offers an opportunity to be more independent. Furthermore it is one of the main means to train educators. Its direct and indirect costs are lower and the training of its graduates meets employers’ expectations. In general it is a good generator of income (Ramírez, 2000). Currently enhanced by Internet and multimedia technologies, distance learning has enormous potential since it can mitigate some of the problems that have presented themselves in traditional distance learning like e.g. isolation and the impossibility of carrying out group works. This new modality in distance learning is called virtual education or e-learning.
  • 2. For this reason e-learning refers to a modular education system, which integrates computer and communication networks into a framework conducive to an educational environment. Why is strengthening e-learning capacities important for the development of Latin America? Since the 1990’s and thanks to various studies and investigations developed for this purpose, the Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL) has emphasized the existence of an interlinkage between education, knowledge and development. Based on the results, various regions in Latin America have drafted several proposals concerning different education standards in order to facilitate a better quality of education and in addition to a better quality of life. Concerning the standard in primary and secondary school, changes have manifested themselves through educational reforms like the extension of compulsory education until the age of 10 as the basic education, alterations in content and methodologies and the incorporation of various models for further training in lecturing techniques. However changes are less evident in other fields of education like e.g. vocational education and training for adults who work in certain organizations and companies and therefore need new skills in order to benefit from the scientific-technological progress. The main reason why it is impossible for these persons to empower themselves lies in their lack of time available in order to expose themselves to an educational programme for their vocational education and training. Persons who until recently showed an adequate performance in their work, appear to be affected by the velocity of scientific and technological changes and by joining the Knowledge Society. They need a particular learning platform that allows them to engage in life-long learning. In this context e-learning presents an accessible and dynamic possibility. It is able to offer the working population, a learning platform that will provide the necessary resources without disturbing their professional or family lives. The necessary conditions for the success of e-learning As we have seen, the possibilities that come with e-learning definitely eliminate spatial and temporal limitations as well as improve the interactive process. New communication platforms appear in the field of education which allow for group education. A forum will be established from where members with an educational background can contact and reach out to other relevant sectors that they should be in contact with. However the step to this new option is not simple. When continuing this process a few obstacles will present themselves that arise from this new situation. Although a big share of the target audience does not possess adequate technology in order to access this type of education the main problem does not lie in the lack of technology but in the mind of the people who are involved. A lot of change and resistance appears. The difficulties do not lie in the amount of information but in the capacity of thinking, organizing information, analyzing, creating or criticizing.
  • 3. Therefore this new educational option should not restrict the applications of the learning and teaching process to new information and communication technologies in order to achieve content assimilation. It is rather necessary to realize that these new means give the process a different modality. In fact the educational concept strives towards the students’ ability to create, decide, criticize and reflect independently about the contents that are proposed to them. This hopefully enables them to learn based on several documentary sources and based on the interaction with their fellow students and lecturers. Online education is also characterized by permitting an idea of distance education with a student-centred approach. Learner-centred education that teaches or rather, learner-centred education within distance education that administrates is problematic since it will be converted into an education system dominated by administrators, bureaucratic structures, managerial structures and forms that equip a peripheral and knowledge-generating institution together with a company. Therefore no strategy for change can work unless the way of thinking changes. It is unconceivable to create programmes on the basis of what the student should know and not on the basis of what the teacher knows or believes to know. The student should be understood as a creative protagonist of his or her learning process by acquiring and using technological tools. This will oblige lecturers to re-evaluate theories, techniques and processes permanently since online education should especially teach to think, use common sense and give free rein to creative imagination. On the other hand during theses times of rapidly changing contents this type of education will allow for the distribution of continuously updated content. Therefore lecturers can not play the same role anymore. From this point of view, their role embraces the task of teaching the trade of learning and increasing activities aiming at promoting the governance of intellectual operations on the highest level. Another important feature of these new communication processes is the accentuation on presenting constructive and open proposals that need different or unconventional ways of content creation to the user. In conclusion it can be said that online education changes the relation between materials, lecturers, students, instruction and evaluation of the lessons. Therefore all types of the courses offered online will have to be planed out carefully and meet a series of conditions in order to concentrate less in purely and simply transmitting knowledge but rather in transmitting new aptitudes. As currently is well-known it is of no interest how much a person knows. It rather counts what a person is capable of learning. This represents a teaching and learning process that will bring alterations concerning the way of administrating education, designing courses, producing materials, presenting the process, evaluating quality, using technologies and considering many other aspects that emerge within this transformation. Therefore it is necessary to offer opportunities to those who are going to implement e-learning at their institutions. One form of doing that could be a consortium of all the institutions in
  • 4. Latin America that are experienced in this field and pursue all together the strengthening of e- learning capacities in several institutions and organizations in Latin America. La Red EDUC@L as an answer to the need of strengthening e-learning La Red was created as an answer to a necessity. Its objective is the strengthening of e-learning capacities in Latin America. It incorporates various educational institutions in Latin America that are interested in distance and virtual learning like a network aimed at research and capabilities in the field of e-learning. Due to La Red EDUC@L we are able to strengthen collaboration and exchange between countries, advance those features that specify and unite us and strongly collaborate on funding of e-learning in Latin America. How? - creating projects in order to overcome digital obstacles - offering access to training programs on e-learning on an international platform - contributing to the accreditation of e-learning training programmes - offering exchanges and internships - forming research communities on e-learning - defining the best implementation methods - disseminating success stories to potential users like companies, governments, etc. who hopefully loosen their resistance to change from a fixed attending to a virtual platform - putting our culture of learning into context - developing quality standards so that learners can distinguish between good learning platforms and weak ones - qualifying personnel who can take charge of the learning process The formation of La Red La Red EDUC@L was founded in the year 2005 through a study carried out by The Network University (TNU) on behalf of InWEnt in Germany on institutions and organizations offering e-learning in Latin America. On the 25th of August in 2006 TNU finalized their work with a list of 53 institutions that are involved in the process of e-learning. 41 of them were selected and contact via telephone was established. In April 2006, 16 institutions were selected to participate in a workshop (online and attending) which pursued the following goals: ● identifying potential synergies offering eServices and eSkills using ICTs in Latin America ● coordinating and standardizing e-learning strategies (e.g. by using server infrastructure and Learning Content Management Systems), quality standards for course production and content management, etc ● cooperating with InWEnt by using modules of eSkills training in own capability range, as commissioned by InWEnt
  • 5. The first workshop had three phases, a virtual phase that began in September 2006, an attending phase that started in November 2006 in Lima and another virtual phase that started after the virtual was finished. During the virtual phase with the assistance of Carlos Zárate, a consultant hired by InWEnt, different experiences and necessities of the participating institutions concerning e-learning were exchanged. Furthermore success factors as well as the consideration of recent challenges of the different institutions concerning e-learning were addressed. During the attending phase, after having clarified the values and necessities of the institutions in Latin America, four groups established a work plan in order to develop tasks concerning administration, quality, training offers and contextualization of the program called IDEL. That is how la Red EDUC@L, its objectives and target group emerged from the group working in the field of administration. Afterwards the decision of creating a management unit was made. It is constituted by a representative of each member country, who was chosen according to his/her contribution and performance in the process of constructing a network up until then as well as the amount of time that can be dedicated to EDUC@L. The persons who contributed were invited to a reunion in Lima which started in November 2007. The results of this reunion were the following: ● developing an organic structure of La Red and its internal charter and external cooperation ● designing the Portal and its operational units (editing committee, technical support) ● elaborating the Strategic Plan 2007-2009 including indicators and persons of charge ● initiating the development of a negotiation plan that manifests its self-sufficiency Ever since then they have accomplished every single challenge recorded in the Strategic Plan which has counted on the commitment of all Red members including its new members who are constantly joining. Description of La Red The Network that strengthens e-learning capacities in Latin America - Red EDUC@L – incorporates various educational institutions in Latin America that have an interest in Distance and virtual learning. La Red EDUC@L intends to establish contact between different experts in Latin America in the field of Distance and virtual training and education. They use the exchange of experience and resources of ICT and the consideration of quality as a lateral axis. Its job is developing training activities, updating, specializing and strengthening of capacities concerning virtual education in Latin America. The vision that was establishes was the following: EDUC@L is a network leader in training and strengthening capacities for virtual education in Latin America. Its objectives are the following: ● defining management strategies, sustainable development and the growth of the network ● improving the quality of training, of distance and virtual education in the participating institutions of the network
  • 6. ● offering human and technological support as well as training material for the pedagogical use of information and communication to the officers of participating institutions in Latin America. ● maximize the improvement of ICTs through implementing joint activities that strengthen the capacities in distance and virtual education of the participating countries in the network ● elaborating and executing specific projects to accomplish their goals The target audience of EDUC@L: ● The staff of the member institutions of La Red, working in the fields of management, strategic planning implementation, operations and teaching. ● The staff of official management units, national and international agencies, people with an educational and/or professional training background as well as people with an aptitude for quality management ● Partners, including any person or institution that forms a part of La Red based on the charter ● Members of the academic community and other networks of institutions that offer services and collaborate with member institutions of La Red ● Students who receive educational services and professional training from members of La Red. Their first projects were offering courses, internships and up-to-date information about distance and virtual education partly accomplished through member institutions, a quality observatory for e-learning and offering quality standards and a guide for self-evaluation of virtual education. On the website of La Red you find their fields of specialization and current projects. They offer discussion forums, an updated bibliography about the topic, vacancies for internships, quality standards for online education etc. A virtual library and an electronic magazine are planned as well as a competition in e-learning that will be accredited by various universities in Latin America. The website address of EDUC@L is following: www.educ-al.org