Redressing disadvantage and ensuring social cohesion: the role of distance education and elearning policies in the European Union 1957-2007
MacKeogh, Kay (2007) Redressing disadvantage and ensuring social cohesion: the role of distance education and elearning policies in the European Union 1957-2007. In: ICODL 2007 - 4th International Conference in Open and Distance Learning - Forms of Democracy in Education: Open Access and Distance Education, 23 - 25 November 2007, Athens, Greece.
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This paper analyses the development and implementation of the European Union's policies in distance higher education and elearning since the 1957 Treaty of Rome. Distance education emerged in the 1960s and 70s as an instrument at national level to redress disadvantage, and to provide flexible, high-quality and cost-effective access to higher education to adults who were unable, for geographical, employment or personal reasons, to attend on-campus. Analysis of EU policy documents and interviews with key individuals indicates that the support of influential policy entrepreneurs and networks brought distance education to the centre stage in EU education and training policy for a brief period in the early 1990s, culminating in the Maastricht Treaty on European Union (1992), which committed the EU to ‘encouraging the development of distance education’. Since then, distance learning has been superceded by elearning, and is linked in EU rhetoric to social cohesion in the context of making Europe the most competitive economy in the world. Yet, despite the great potential of elearning, this paper outlines the challenges to its wider adoption. These include the persistence of the digital divide in Europe; student resistance to elearning approaches; and the problem of achieving cost-effectiveness in elearning. Much remains to be done to ensure the flexibility in terms of time, place, pace, and indeed accessibility, which would enable adult students to participate in lifelong learning on a truly democratic basis.
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