E-learning in France: Anything new?

I’m back in France for a couple of months after eight months in Australia. Having spent most of my working life in Europe, particularly in France,  working on various digital media projects I am very interested to see how the French are thinking about e-learning in 2010.

France was slow to pick up on the potential of e-learning and especially slow to integrate any policy concerning e-learning at a government level. Organisations and institutions were ‘dabbling’ when I left France in the last quarter of 2009 but there was none of the buzz around e-learning that exists in other European countries or in countries like Australia, the USA and Canada. Living in France for almost twenty five years I’d say that we may be able to put this down to a combination of the French penchant for Cartesian thinking and problem solving (slow, but often very effective)  coupled with their sluggish, inefficient public service structure.

So has anything changed? Well, from the report that I have just read in 01 Informatique there does seem to have been a huge shift over the past eight months and the French seem to have finally embraced e-learning and are stepping up to where most other EU and non-EU countries are going in terms of  government policy making and changes in organisational culture that will enable e-learning to be adopted at the level of national education as well as for lifelong learning and business training.

According to the article, France will, in 2010, catch up with other European countries. To highlight the gap that France has to cover: in 2009 only 24% of French employees took an e-learning course as opposed to 51% in Spain and 47% in the UK (CEGOS study).

01 Informatique cites 7 trends that they believe are helping France close the gap:

  1. Post GFC adoption of cost-effective training for widely dispersed work forces. The GFC knocked holes in most French organisation’s training budgets. One way they now feel they can do ‘more with less’ is to adopt e-learning.
  2. E-learning is compatible with ‘la gestion des talents‘ (an organisation’s ability to attract, retain and develop individual talent): E-learning provides a potentially vast pool to nurture an individual’s talent throughout their working life and, of course, to the benefit of both the organisation and the individual.
  3. E-Learning is shifting to the SaaS (Software as a Service)  model: with the development and the widespread adoption of SaaS models for e-learning there is now cost-effective access to e-learning that also offers rapid integration, easy administration and, frequently, sector-specific customisation of content.
  4. Capacity to capitalise on expert knowledge: With the evolution of Web 2 tools there are a number of ‘knowledge pooling’ resources such as Conerstone and  MindOnSite that index  blogs etc written by subject specialists. They become useful tools in the e-learning mix.
  5. Serious Gaming – Learn while you have fun: Serious gaming is probably one of the next ‘big’ things that will hit the online learning world. In France it has the unconditional support of  Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the Secretary of State responsible for the development of the digital economy. Serious gaming, although not quite off the starting blocks, will enable organisations to run simulated environment games for nearly all business and work-flow processes – a clear leap forward from the ‘read and regurgitate’ methodology of a lot of current e-learning.
  6. M-learning is coming of age: the increased sophistication of hand-held, mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad are taking e-learning to  mobile devices in a big way. Learners will have more flexibility as to where and how they access learning and in what environment.
  7. La visioformation: advantages of the web + presence of trainer: Well, the French do like to re-invent terms and ‘visioformation‘ is simply video-conferencing with a twist of training. Not a bad term as it wraps visibility (visio) up with the idea of training (formation) but I hate to think of how many months it took the relevant committee to come up with that one! Behind it though lies an important issue that has been a bug-bear for e-learning: how do you get the often essential  ‘human’ element into online training. As broadband access increases and the speed of broadband also increases, live two-way video becomes more and more acceptable for training – the video and sound quality improve and the integration of the video software with other training tools on the desktop is possible. We will see, of course, a lot more use of live video broadcasting in the future.

Of course, there is nothing exclusive to France in the above list. In fact, you would have to say that the list represents the ‘working list’ that other countries have been developing their e-learning strategies around for the past four years – nothing new there. However, the French, once they do start moving are capable of wonderous things and it will be worthwhile keeping an eye on how they now implement their online learning and digital economy policies and strategies over the coming years.

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