Brussels, 14 Jun 2004
An EU funded Network of Excellence is hoping to revolutionise the way that individuals learn, both in the workplace and in a university context.
The focus of the network is technology enhanced professional learning. With 20 co-partners and 140 associate partners, the ProLearn Network of Excellence is surely one of the largest projects that the European Commission is funding.
A knowledge-based society has been recognised by the EU's Heads of State and Government as being key to securing EU competitiveness, and it is therefore unsurprising that the ProLearn Network of Excellence was able to secure EU funding for its efforts to make professional learning both more efficient and more widespread.
The principal aims of the network are twofold, its coordinator, Wolfgang Nejdl, told CORDIS News: to personalise learning, and to introduce an interactive aspect. The partners will assess the best learning environment, the most appropriate methodology, and the best technology. In addition, the network has the parallel objectives of making technology enhanced learning more widespread, particularly among small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and of introducing a common set of standards.
Companies, as well as employees or students, benefit from the personalisation or customisation of this learning, explained Mr Nejdl. 'If you have one-size-fits-all courses in a company it makes it difficult to tailor a course for what an employee needs the learning for. The company doesn't want to have to make individual courses for every employee.'
Beneficiaries of a more interactive mode of professional learning will include employees who travel and are therefore cut off from the learning environment. Mr Nejdl expects mobile learning to gain in both popularity and visibility over the next five years.
The concrete results of the project will include a roadmap for technology enhanced professional learning, which will pinpoint areas for further research, and a virtual competence centre.
In recent years, companies have come to realise that human potential is the basis for competitiveness, and therefore warrants investment. Continuous learning processes, as well as access to high-quality learning material and methods, are key to success in this field. ProLearn will therefore provide support to companies wishing to establish a virtual competence centre. The aim of the centre will be to spread excellence to company-driven competence centres, chambers of commerce, employment centres and trade and industry associations. This, it is hoped, will create alliances between these associations and the network members in the form of different European-wide competence centres dealing with professional learning tasks.
Currently, there is a gap between institutions that carry out basic research and those that focus on applied research, believes Mr Nejdl. He is, however, confident that this division can be tackled successfully during the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).
'In FP5 there was a separation of applied research and thematic networks, which mainly focused on research aspects. In an FP6 Network of Excellence it is possible to tackle both,' said Mr Nejdl. In the ProLearn network, for example, the consortium is tackling both state of the art research, the application of research results and user requirements, he added.
Coordinating such a large network is both more difficult and more time consuming than coordinating a smaller project, admitted Mr Nejdl. 'But I think it is more rewarding because we can really integrate critical mass. It's more effective,' he told CORDIS News.
Mr Nejdl is also extremely positive about the integrative effects of the Network of Excellence. Asked whether he expects cooperation to continue after the EU funding comes to end, he replied: 'I am convinced of that.' Cooperation beyond what is required by ProLearn has already been initiated, leading to additional research and new proposals, said Mr Nejdl. 'It is very encouraging to look back and see the additional cooperation that has begun in just the first half year of the project,' he concluded.
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