Expansion and personalization will mark the future of distance education
Jordi Rovira

For four days, around 380 experts attending the conference obtained firsthand knowledge of the different projects and experiences of an educational model that, as proven by the data, is in continuous growth throughout the world. This worldwide growth was reflected in the presence of participants from 45 different countries.

Future challenges and problems

Before Teixeira's final conclusions, other speakers made similar observations. Alain Tait, from the UK's Open University, referred to the combination of distance learning and ICT as a "tsunami" within the education system and stressed that "demand is enormous". But it is a tsunami in constant transformation. "In the last 15 years, in which distance learning has continued to grow, the vocabulary has been constantly changing due to technological advances," he explained.

In turn, Albert Sangr, Academic Director of the UNESCO Chair in Education and Technology for Social Change and former director of the eLearn Center at the UOC, agreed with the definition of "tsunami" and illustrated it with statistics showing the strong growth of distance education since the early 1990s. "But we are not talking of distance," he clarified, "but of flexibility. People are calling for more flexibility when learning."

Along with the increase in demand and flexibility, Sangr, like Teixeira, identified personalization as one of the main future challenges. "Personalization means ensuring that individual differences are taken into account," he said. According to Sangr, however, the new situation is not free from problems that must be overcome, such as the power of technological multinationals, the control of citizens by companies that store their personal data or the contradictions and costs in open access to knowledge, among others.

Award for an inclusive project

Teixeira also emphasized "the recognition of the quality of the research produced". In this respect, during the conference different awards were presented, among which both the Best Research Paper Award and the Best Practice Award were given to the same project from Aalborg University, Denmark. The project uses technology to help include students with attention deficit disorders in ordinary classes. In 2012 the Danish government passed a law on inclusion requiring public schools to take almost all students, which means that those with special needs who until then had attended special schools now go to ordinary schools. The experience has shown that use of ICT with these students has had a big impact on levels of inclusion, helping them to pay attention and improve participation, self-control and understanding, among other positive aspects.

The conference, which was widely discussed in social media – generating 1,400 tweets on the first day alone – coincided, on the one hand, with the celebration of EDEN's 25th anniversary and, on the other, with the UOC's 20th anniversary. Next year, this meeting of international distance education experts will be held in Budapest.

EDEN Annual Conference 2015
Expanding Learning Scenarios - Opening out the Educational Landscape

Dates: 9 to 12 June
Venue: Hotel Catalonia Barcelona Plaza
Plaa Espanya, 6-8
08014 Barcelona

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