The boom in online courses has led to a campaign for global agreements on e-learning standards. The project, eLearn Accredit, was launched at the annual meeting of the Open and Distance Learning Quality Council in London last week.
It is the brainchild of Andrew Brown, an Oxford county councillor and former teacher who has lobbied organisations nationally and internationally to back his plans for a virtual forum to debate e-learning standards this autumn.
He hopes to follow this with a physical forum at the World Education Market meeting in Portugal next year.
The University for Industry would provide the computer architecture and moderators to host the virtual forum if the campaign generated sufficient interest, Mr Brown said.
David Morley, chief executive of the ODLQC, said there was a need for a debate on global cooperation "not just because of e-learning but also because of the degree mills".
Mike Lambert, executive director of the US ODLQC, told the meeting that the course providers his organisation accredited were reporting more "leads" from the internet. So many learners looked to buy courses there that there was no longer a need to advertise in conventional ways, he said.
Dr Morley said this was a boon for the good-quality provider. "But it also allows all kinds of suspect providers to appear. Control of such provision on a global scale is a long way off. But a recognition scheme on which learners can rely must be realisable."
Any initiative that sought to clarify the global picture was welcome, he said. "But I would want to avoid any initiative which started from the assumption that e-learning is qualitatively different from other types of distance learning (it is not), or seemed likely to establish some wholly new international body which ignored those national and international bodies already in place."
Mr Brown said the idea for a campaign arose out of a conversation he had about the lack of standards in online English language courses. "When you sign up for the internet, how do you know what you're getting when there are myriad options offered from all over the world?"
Mike Lambert, executive director of the Distance Learning and Training Council, said the campaign could help bring a sense of order and a common understanding of how to assess quality in a fast-developing field.
The campaign was also endorsed by Henricus Verwiejen, executive director of the European Association for Distance Learning, and Erwin Wagner, president of the European Distance Education Network.