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Taking a Regional Approach to e-Learning

Sarah Davies and Christina Smart
Last modified 23 Aug, 2005
Published 02 Aug, 2005
Exploring why the e-Learning Programme is funding 21 large scale regional projects as part of the Distributed e-Learning strand.


The Distributed e-Learning strand (DeL) of the e-Learning Programme is funding work with regional and subject communities to use technology to support learning and teaching for the benefit of learners, teachers and institutions. Particular emphasis has been placed on the development of open source e-learning tools for teachers, the development of the e-learning framework through reference model projects, and subject specific developments in collaboration with the HE Academy subject centres [1]. In addition, large scale regional pilots in the regions of England will demonstrate the impact of the programme [2]. These projects are based in England because HEFCE provided funding for the strand from its IT infrastructure funds.

This article looks at the rationale behind the regional approach and the focus of some of the individual projects. The article is based on recent presentations given by Sarah Davies the programme manager for the DeL Regional Pilot projects [3].

Why take a regional approach?

While some school leavers still move location to go to university increasingly learners choose to stay in their local region to study. There are many reasons for this, including financial concerns but often mature students also have commitments to family and work which mean that moving is not an option. In theory e-learning could meet the needs of these learners through online courses. But in practice, very few courses are offered as entirely online, most use a combination of face to face and online delivery, so called ‘blended learning’. Therefore to meet the needs of these learners institutions will need to work together across regions to provide learning opportunities. What would these regionally based learners want to be able to do? They will need to be able to find out what opportunities are available to them in their geographical region. Some learners will need to be able to move between local institutions or to study at more than one institution at a time. There will be people who need to integrate study with work. It is clear that technology can be used to support all these learner needs particularly in the areas of learner records, personal development planning (PDP), e-portfolios, shared content and support resources.

The following scenario illustrates some aspects of the vision for the Regional Pilots:

The vision - Jenny’s story

Jenny is a student at a Further Education college. She isn’t sure whether or how to continue her studies when she finishes her course. Through her college portal, she logs into an online PDP (Personal Development Planning) system and reflects on her skills and her personal objectives. She realises that she needs to improve her communications skills to work in the sorts of careers that appeal to her. She uses the college portal to find mini courses on communications skills offered by universities and HE colleges in the region, and applies for a place on one. The course is taught largely online, with three face to face sessions.

Jenny stores some of the work she does on the course in her e-portfolio, and reflects on it in her personal development planning system. She gains 5 credits at HE level 0, which are recorded in her learner record.

Taking the course boosted Jenny’s confidence and gave her an insight into what studying at university is like. She uses her e-portfolio to support her application to several local universities. Jenny is accepted at one of the universities and her e-portfolio, key PDP reflections and learner record are transferred to the university systems.

From the project plan for the Learning Matrix Project [4]

Building on the MLEs for Life Long Learning programme The new Regional Pilot projects will build on projects in the MLEs for Lifelong Learning Programme which are now coming to an end. This three year programme focused on organisational issues as well as technical ones including learner records and PDP and e-portfolios [5].

Some of the technologies and expertise developed in the MLE Lifelong Learning projects will be used in the new regional pilots including from the SHELL [6] and NIIMLE [7] projects. Other regional pilot projects will be using e-learning tools developed in the Distributed e-Learning strand, such as the PETAL and ePET e-portfolio tools [8 , 9], the Horus tool to support placement based learning [10] and the DELTA tool for sharing pedagogical content [11].

The new Regional Pilot projects are focusing on the themes of:

  • Facilitating progression
  • Sharing content and services
  • Supporting the independent lifelong learner

PDP and e-portfolios remain priority areas for institutions particularly because they will need to meet the UUK requirement for provision of personal development planning tools by autumn 2005 [12].

The following concept map illustrates the scale and range of issues that the projects are investigating.

Themes addressed by the regional pilot projects

Partner organisations

To truly support lifelong learning educational institutions will need to work with employers schools and other organisations. Regional partnerships for the new projects include other organisations ranging from Local Education Authorities, local employers, Sector skills councils to Ufi Learn Direct. This will build valuable relationships between institutions and other partners in the region.

Regions and Projects

Projects are based in the nine English regions (Yorkshire and Humberside, North East, North West, East Midlands, West Midlands, East, South East, South West, London). Each of the projects cover several of the issues or themes of the programme. The examples below illustrate the range and complexity of the projects.

RIPPLL – Regional Interoperability on Progression

The RIPPLL (Regional Interoperability Project on Progression for Lifelong Learning) project based at the University of Nottingham in the East Midlands will be joining up learner records and PDP processes across schools, LEAs, FE colleges and two universities. The idea is that learners will be able to take their personal information and reflections from school through college and into university, and use these to support the applications they make. Or learners on part-time or sandwich courses will be able to capture their reflections from work and be able to use these for their studies [13].

L2O – Sharing Language Learning

In the South East the L2O project based at the University of Southampton will be sharing language learning objects across four universities, and 14-19 and ACL partner organisations. The idea is that learners on evening courses at their local college can benefit from a wide range of resources in the language they are studying. The project will also benefit learners in the region for whom English is not their first language, offering them a wide range of resources [14].

The Learning Matrix – Supporting Student Progression

The Learning Matrix project based at Liverpool John Moores University in the North West will be supporting learner progression between FE and HE by offering personal development planning linked to skills development. Tutors in local centres will help students to reflect on the skills they will need to enter their preferred course or career, identify and apply to mini-courses to boost their relevant skills, and then to reflect and build on their newly-developed skills [4].

Emerging Issues

All these projects recognise and demonstrate the benefits to learners of institutions working together to provide a learner centred service. However, aligning processes and collaborating between different institutions can be difficult and time consuming. Institutions will have different ways of making decisions and different legacy systems which need to interoperate. It will be necessary for projects to deeply understand the business processes of the organisations involved to provide appropriate new processes and systems.

When students are taught collaboratively between different institutions an issue arises about which institution they belong to. The problem is that institutional funding is based on the numbers of students taking and completing courses. Projects may come up with creative ways of addressing this problem.

Those projects sharing courses and learning objects will need to address the issue of how staff and students will securely access materials based at other institutions. Several of the projects will be piloting the Shibboleth system for authorisation and authentication [15]. Shibboleth is a set of protocols for the secure passing of identity information.

Many projects will face legal issues to do with IPR and the transfer of student data. Fortunately a legal study within the MLEs for Lifelong Learning programme provides guidance to projects in these areas [16].

Finally, these projects will only receive JISC funding for a year so the regional partnerships established for these projects will have to soon consider how the work will be sustained when funding finishes.


This year’s DfES e-Learning Strategy emphasized the benefits of life long learning for individuals and the need for learner centred and personalised opportunities [17]. In the regional pilot projects institutions will be harmonising systems and business processes for the benefit of local students. In the coming year these institutions and organisations will learn a great deal about how to work effectively together and therefore build capacity for the future.

Details of all the projects can be found at:


[1] Distributed e-Learning strand site

[2] Distributed e-Learning strand Regional Pilot Projects

[3] Joining up e-learning across the regions. A presentation given by Sarah Davies at the JISC conference April 2005

[4] The Learning Matrix (Supporting Student Progression) project

[5] MLEs for Lifelong learning web site

[6] SHELL project

[7] NIIMLE (Northern Ireland Integrated MLE) project

[8] PETAL (Personal ePortfolios for Teaching and Learning) project

[9] ePET (ePortfolio Extensions Toolkit) project

[10] Horus project

[11] DELTA (Distributed e-learning Tool & Resource Architecture) project

[12] Guidelines for HE Progress Files

[13] RIPPLL (Regional Interoperability on Progression) project

[14] L2O (Sharing Language Learning) project

[15] Connecting People to Resources (An article explaining Shibboleth) JISC Inform 9, page 11

[16] Study to Explore the Legal & Records Management Issues Relating to the Concept of the Lifelong Learner Record

[17] DfES e-Strategy: Harnessing Technology: Transforming learning and children's services


Supported by JISC Supported by CETIS
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