The LACE team was well represented at the EDEN (European Distance and e-Learning Network) conference held in Zagreb on 10-13 June which brought together just over 300 participants mostly from Europe. For those not familiar with this event, EDEN is one of Europe’s largest and most long-established networks of institutions and professionals working in e-learning and is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2015. Traditionally, the people who take part in this annual conference come from academic institutions led by many of Europe’s open universities however this year with its emphasis on e-learning at work and in the workplace there was a marked broadening of focus to address the value and impact of e-learning in the working environment. This matches the experience of many of those taking part who are offering online learning opportunities to a growing variety of learners who are often in either full or part-term employment or looking for employment. Alan Tait from the OUUK and former President of EDEN in his excellent keynote presentation highlighted the responsibility felt by many academic e-learning providers towards providing relevant, timely and appropriate learning opportunities to redress Europe’s potentially devastating youth unemployment crisis. The presence of Andre Richier from DG Industry & Enterprise served to further underline this shift in emphasis as well as highlighting a renewal of interest on the part of this DG in workplace learning policies.
LACE partners actively promoting associate membership
It was difficult to avoid LACE on the EDEN agenda this year. Tore Hoel gave a highly engaging presentation about LACE from his perspective which is well-described in his earlier blog-post. It provided an excellent complement to a thought-provoking presentation highlighting ethical questions related to LA and EDM by Paul Prinsloo from the University of South Africa and Sharon Slade from the OUUK. Fabrizio Cardinali’s keynote presentation on the second day of the conference was very well received by the almost 300-strong EDEN audience in which he tracked the changes taking place in manufacturing and work-place training. Fabrizio went on in a parallel presentation on the same day to discuss the role of learning analytics in this change process and highlighted many of the issues faced by those interested in using learning analytics in workplace training. Finally, I had an opportunity to present LACE in one of the synergy sessions which were designed to bring together European project representatives to give brief introductions of key relevant projects and to then take the opportunity to discuss possible collaboration and clustering activities with other European project teams.
Filling the Learning Analytics information gap
It is clear that there is a lot of interest amongst this community in the topic of Learning Analytics and there were many requests to take up associated membership both immediately after the various inputs as well as during the informal networking opportunities. Such expressions of interest came from academic researchers eager to share relevant research activities in the LACE evidence hub as well as individuals simply keen to expand their own knowledge on the subject. It also included strategically interesting offers from key organisations and networks to expand the LACE community. Much of this interest on the parts of individual practitioners and researchers is marked by a hesitancy and I had the impression that while many people attending felt they really needed to know more about learning analytics and EDM generally, they weren’t quite sure where this would lead them. General anxieties about data protection, ethics and the basic value of collecting and using such information abound and there seems to quite an information gap in terms of what people know and what they feel they should know about the field. There is certainly a lot that can be done by the LACE team in this area by helping to bring non-specialist colleagues up to speed on the topic of learning analytics in practical learning sessions that not only share and compare different strategies, tools and experiences in collecting and using data emerging from online learning activities but also address the ethical and other issues involved. LACE is in a good position to provide such support according as the community and its activities grow. This extends to both the community of academics teaching online as well as the workplace skills sector which is increasingly in the remit of many of the organisations who take part in EDEN and similar conferences in Europe.