Three Ws the key to universities' online future

April 20, 2001

The learning landscape will be refashioned by technology to deliver much more "just-in-time" knowledge, delegates at the 20th world conference on open and distance education heard.

Lecturers standing in front of classes are no longer an adequate preparation for the kind of problem-solving and active learning that will be required of workforces in the information society, delegates heard.

The acquisition of knowledge will have to become more target-oriented. Open and distance education will play an increasingly central role in this, "assuring the continuous updating of skills and knowledge", said Molly Broad, president of the International Council on Open and Distance Education, which hosted the conference, and president of the University of North Carolina.

Universities will have no easy task in facing up to this challenge, said James C. Taylor, vice-president of the University of Southern Queensland, Australia. "Trying to change a university is like relocating a cemetery," he said.

Professor Taylor showed how his university was tackling it with a presentation of its online activities. The university's recipe for success is based on the three "Ws principle: to give people what they want, where they want it, and when they want it".

Delegates were given a soundbite of the new landscape by eavesdropping on a live internet audio seminar for six teachers in different locations in Germany and Switzerland.

The German continuing education organisation IPTS has carried out 150 such seminars using standard computer technology.

The conference also heard about Festum, a joint initiative by the North Rhine-Westphalia education ministry, the Open University of Hagen and Paderborn University, to equip teachers with new media and teaching skills. The first 338 "students" began the four-semester course this April, which leads to a state-recognised certificate in new media and innovative teaching methods.

Delegates heard how large companies are also adapting to new training demands. Deutsche Bank's head of personnel development and continuing education, Wolfgang Rautenberg, said that in the information society the bank's 98,000 employees, half of them working outside Germany, would need the technological and linguistic skills to take part in virtual international decision-making groups. He said big companies could set up corporate universities, providing tailor-made education. Some 1,300 professionals from 100 countries were at the conference.

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