This obviously does not mean that the use of ICT in formal education does not matter at all. On the contrary, there is evidence that it is quite significant, but it depends on how ICT is used in educational institutions. Currently, it seems that ICTs are used as tools to support and improve the existing learning process and its administration more than for their transformative potential. ICT has not (yet) been able to revolutionise learning and teaching.
It should be emphasised however that this is not just a matter of pressing a button. Realising the potential of ICT needs to be accompanied by the necessary resources and human support, and by a social and institutional environment that is open to innovation and change. Moreover, progress is still needed in providing attractive learning content and learning technologies. However, to disregard the needs of the new digital generation of learners as they enter education and training, and the new requirements of the networked, digital society is not an option either.
Most studies indicate that the use of ICT for learning is most widespread in tertiary education, followed by ICT usage in schools and for vocational education and training. The use of eLearning for continuous training and lifelong learning is regarded as low, although this does not take into account the growing fields of informal and non-formal learning.
The geographical diffusion of eLearning follows roughly other information society diffusion statistics in Europe. These are highest in the Nordic countries and lowest in the new Member States and the Southern European countries, with central Europe somewhere in the middle. This could mean that the impact of ICT on education should be seen within a wider perspective of information society policies and also educational and social policies.
The data indicate that there is still a long way to go before eLearning becomes fully established. It is encouraging, however, that a large majority of those who have already taken online eLearning courses are satisfied and could thus be interested in continuing, especially because they appreciate more than ever the full range of eLearning tools such as discussion boards, chat and video streams.
Special efforts are however needed to get those who have not yet used eLearning services on board. There is evidence from case-studies to support the inclusive potential of ICT-enabled learning in terms of specific learning outcomes and also in terms of motivation, independence and self-esteem. Such experiences would need to be brought together and tested on a larger scale, but it is of crucial importance that strategies such as Public Private Partnerships are established to safeguard the sustainability of projects.
There continues to be a need for more reliable and more comparative data. These should not only consist of the traditional indicators (e.g. the number of PCs per student) but also look at the quantitative and qualitative uses of ICT by educators and students. Moreover, as the use of ICT outside the formal learning context is becoming increasingly important, together with informal learning and adult learning, it is advisable to have a holistic view on assessing the impact of ICT on learning.
In addition, it is necessary to be proactive and to develop a stronger understanding of future learning needs and future learning environments. Prospective work on ICT-enabled learning would help to grasp the opportunities offered by ICT to prepare for learning in the 21 Century that embraces digital technologies for better learning, for better assessment of learning outcomes and achievements, for better teaching and for better social inclusion. st