The creation of a national e-learning authority to ensure technologies used by universities, colleges and schools comply with agreed standards is a step closer following an initiative by UfI learndirect Ltd and the Learning Lab, based at Wolverhampton University.
The Office of the e-Envoy's technology policy division, responsible for getting the UK online, is inviting private and public-sector providers and users of education services to discuss the adoption of a set of e-learning standards at a meeting on Wednesday. The e-Envoy is a senior Cabinet Office official.
This follows a successful roundtable meeting of 50 leading industry figures in e-learning provision, organised by UfI Learndirect Ltd and the Learning Lab.
Steve Molyneux, director of Learning Lab, a non-profit technology education and training organisation, said the private and public sector were pumping huge sums of money into e-learning. But with no defined set of recommended technical standards that industry and academia could adhere to, people were questioning whether they were getting value for money, he said.
"We need interoperability between technology systems. If not, how are the e-university or the National Health Service University going to collaborate with colleges or nursing schools and how are universities going to make the best use of content under the UfI?"
Professor Molyneux, who leads the Department for Education and Skills Information and Communication Technology Research centre, said academics were hampered by the barriers. "We have one university running WebCT, another running Learnwise. They'd like to share ideas but they can't.
"We need to champion e-learning technical standards so that commercial content developers... know that their content is compatible with a variety of virtual learning environments. We also need it so that the purchasers - universities, colleges and schools - can ensure that their content can work on a particular system."
Keith Morgan, business development manager at BT Education, said that it was vital to get material online and that momentum was not lost because users could not mix and match e-learning content.
Professor Molyneux said that The Learning Lab was collaborating with the United States Advanced Distributed Learning initiative. This has produced the e-learning standard Shareable Courseware Object Reference Model, which allows internet-based education materials to be shared across different technologies.