Lifelong Education in Upper Secondary Distance Learning Schools and Virtual Networks

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Helsinki, 1 February, 2003 — Launching of the Upper Secondary Distance Education

In 1997 the National Board of Education and the National Broadcasting Company started, together with 12 educational institutes, a development project funded by the EU for Upper Secondary Distance Education.

Launching of the Upper Secondary Distance Education

In 1997 the National Board of Education and the National Broadcasting Company started, together with 12 educational institutes, a development project funded by the EU for Upper Secondary Distance Education. By January 2001, there are nearly 80 upper secondary distance learning institutes with approximately 2 500 distance students. Most of these institutes are upper secondary schools for adults, but include also some regular upper secondary schools and vocational schools.

The first distance students graduated in 2 years. Some of the students completed the whole upper secondary level (curriculum) as distance education taking advantage of the new information and communication technology. The average grades of the distance learners have been close to the average grades of regular upper secondary school students. The age of distance learning students varies from 18 to 70.

The Upper Secondary Distance Education project will continue through till the end of 2004. It is coordinated by the National Board of Education and financed mainly through ESF. The providers of the cooperating educational institutes are also committed to partial funding of the development of the project. Interest groups from the economic life include the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE, publishing companies, leading suppliers of computer related equipment and network operators.

Training of Network-Based Learning Environments

The National Board of Education has developed a training of the pedagogics of network-based learning environments together with the units of continuing education of the finnish universities. The training aimed at teachers and principals of participating schools consists of network-based learning environment related pedagocical training and of an additional training course. The plan is to provide training for at least 50% of the teaching staff of the distance learning institutes participating in the project. In addition to the network pedagogical training, the teachers are given further training in content production.

Cooperative Networks

The development work is based on local aspects. The National Board of Education is in close cooperation with the county governments, provincial federations and local communities. The institutes form local and national networks. The coordination takes place mainly through telematic communication. In addition, when necessary, conferences and development seminars will be arranged.

Through the Internet, the distance learning student will choose the institute which will be responsible for study counseling, tutoring and receive study attainments. Students may choose courses also from the other institutes of the virtual networks.

Content Production

The National Board of Education produces, together with the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE, materials supporting distance learning and teaching. The development process involves approximately 100 teachers, editors, and producers.

The basis of the distance learning in this project is formed by textbooks as well as radio and television programs and adjoining WWW-pages. The produced material amounted to 40 TV-distance learning programs (30 minutes each), 160 radio distance learning programs (30 minutes each) and 80 WWW-study modules. The National Board of Education is responsible for the planning of development and coordination as well as for the equivalence of the materials with the national core curriculum, whereas the Finnish Broadcasting Company is responsible for the technical matters and the broadcasting. In addition to this, personal counseling and study materials are produced by the participating institutes.

Different kinds of network-based groupware tools (IDLE's, Integrated Distributed Learning Environments) are utilized in distance teaching. Local networks select the groupware/software to be used. The National Board of Education and the editors of the programs are responsible for the training of the teachers. As home computers become more and more common in the finnish households, students will be using their personal computer as a study tool. In addition, computers available at municipal libraries and also at work places are utilized. Distance students also have the right to participate in the regular teaching and counseling classes of their institute if they wish. Part of the students continue to have only a normal telephone and traditional mail connections to their institute. Possibilities for face-to-face interaction are increased by the use of video conferencing.

Experiences

The local activity of upper secondary distance learning institutes has strengthened and distance learning is beginning to establish itself as one of the educational routes for both young people and adults. Gradually also regular upper secondary schools are joining the distance learning networks in places where there are no upper secondary schools for adults or where the distance to such schools is long. Distance learning is flexible and it is based upon the students' needs and the time available to them. The implementation of distance education requires a change in the attitudes and a change in the traditional working culture of schools toward a more customer oriented, open and flexible learning culture.

The future prospects of distance learning are fascinating and they are linked to the great speed at which information and communications technologies are developing. Interactive digital television and radio program services will increase the possibility of distance learning students to receive versatile and newest possible information to support their studies in the coming years. The problem will be the cost of high quality content production.

The purchasing and maintenance costs will have an effect on how distance learning, which is based upon (new) information and communication technologies, will increase educational equality and how it will enable lifelong education to all citizens. The implementation and pedagogical utilization of distance learning also requires a massive process of further training for the teachers.

The need for distance learning possibilities in a sparsely populated country such as Finland is great. The use of information and communication technologies for studying also increases the potential for creating distance employment opportunities outside the growth areas.

Objectives

* To develop a possibility for adults participating in full-time employment to achieve the matriculation examination or to complete specific subjects
* To develop distance learning methods utilizing new information and communication technology and teacher training in instruction in network-based pedagogics
* To enhance the possibilities for distance learning in the European mobile workforce environment
* To increase equality in education
* To develop models of cooperation between educational administration, National Broadcasting Company YLE and economic life and to collaboratively produce contents supporting distance learning

Further information

Project Manager Tellervo Renko
National Board of Education

Project Planning Specialist Kimmo Koskinen
National Board of Education

More information
tellervo.renko@oph.fi
kimmo.koskinen@oph.fi
http://www.oph.fi