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E-Learning for EnterpriseStudies: the case of Enterprise College Wales - Page 2

INTRODUCTION

The strategic approach taken by the University of Glamorgan and partners through the ECW project is geared towards addressing weaknesses in the SME sector, particularly business and enterprise skills, slow adoption of new technologies and the low take up of information and communications technology (ICT). Cooper et al (1988) found that people are more likely to pursue opportunities if they have developed entrepreneurship skills from previous employment. In the absence of work based learning for many individuals in the Objective One areas of Wales, ECW provides an important alternative to obtaining such information through its delivery of the BA Enterprise degree award.

The BA Enterprise Award is also aiming to ensure that support infrastructures are in place (Pickernell, et al, 2003; Jones et al, 2003; Jones et al, 2004) to provide opportunities for all members of the region to engage in new technologies, and gain access to training and support to encourage entrepreneurial activity and Community Economic Development (CED) (by providing free lap-top computers and ISDN lines to all students undertaking the course). The on-line delivery mechanism has been designed in recognition of the need to introduce more flexible methods of delivering education and training to Objective One communities, and to exploit more effectively the potential of educational institutions to develop the skills of local populations (using local FE institutions as partners and focal points for the face-to-face contact). This requires innovative approaches to delivery, use of ICT and new technologies to support open and distance learning. The Award also addresses a number of key aims of the National Learning Strategy of Wales, including: providing better access to information and provision; developing new measures to increase and widen participation; strengthening co-operation, collaboration and partnership at the local, regional and all-Wales level.

The concept of the project is based upon forming an alliance of complementary organisations in the commercial, educational, media, communications, public and voluntary sector to deliver training and skills development. The clear focus of the BA Enterprise Award is based upon a broad partnership across these sectors, looking to:

As a result, the BA Enterprise Award has the aim of helping to achieve the following in Wales:

The primary aim of the BA Enterprise Award is to help individuals establish, stabilise and grow their own small company. In order to achieve these objectives, technologies of e-communication, virtual classrooms, Web technology, video conferencing, broadcasting, distance learning techniques and traditional educational excellence are being used. It is envisaged that the use of these technologies in education will also stimulate their introduction into businesses large and small throughout Wales.

THE BENEFITS OF THE E-APPROACH

Given the interlinked importance of education, entrepreneurship and CED within the Objective One Programme, it would seem sensible to utilise approaches that can simultaneously help meet all of these objectives. Use of ICT potentially offers such an approach, in a number of different ways. Edwards (2001) and Anderson and Simpson (1999) provide examples from Australia where provision of access to ICT has linked communities together both internally and externally with other communities and government agencies. In the UK, Edwards (1996) also outlined a clear example with respect to education specifically in his explanation of “community learning empowerment and resources” (CLEAR), community learning utilities which exploit ICT to create widespread affordable access to education and training resources, including for those whose previous access was disadvantaged. As he argues:

“It does not seem beyond the realms of probability that provision of community access to electronic highways at least for education and business purposes could bring a tremendous boost to a local economy. It is true that start-up costs will be very high, and the pay-off uncertain when seen from the point of view of an SME…or even a college…However, there are numerous ways in which competitive advantage and social equity can be delivered through public enablement of community access to electronic highways”
(Edwards, 1996, p.5)

It is also commonly agreed that knowledge will become increasingly important in sustaining a nation’s competitive advantage (Packham and Miller, 2000). In December 1999, the European Commission (EC) also launched the eEuropean initiative, with the aim of accelerating the uptake of digital technologies across Europe and ensuring that all Europeans have the necessary skills to use them. The application of digital technologies has become a key factor for growth and employment in this newly emerging knowledge based or e-economy, which is built around the Internet. The EU eLearning initiative addressed the need for Europe’s education and training systems to adapt to the knowledge society. A proposal has also been presented to create an action programme for encouraging ‘European content’ on the Internet. However, Taylor (2002) outlines a large number of problems and opportunities to on-line learning that institutions need to consider. Thus, the key to its ultimate success is the suitability of the methods it uses relative to the students’ needs and the materials to be delivered. Morgan (2000) argues that the challenge is to use e-learning appropriately, where it is optimum, and use other modes of instruction where they are most effective. Of course, in order to understand this and ascertain the usefulness of ECW, one needs to understand the nature of the main and potential delivery methods.

POTENTIAL DELIVERY METHODS

Potential delivery methods can be used together with e-learning to provide an appropriate and effective means of instruction (Morgan, 2000). These need to be considered to determine what can be used to train individuals. Table 1 shows the training methods used in organisations which are relevant to ECW which have been researched in this paper and are described in the sub sections below.

Table 1: Training methods used in organizations

TRAINING METHOD

Regularly (%)

Sometimes (%)

Never (%)

On-the-job training

87.3

11.4

1.4

Face-to-face

84.3

14.7

1.0

Coaching/mentoring

59.4

32.1

8.6

Formal education

49.6

46.2

4.2

Source: ‘Training and Development 2001’ Survey Report, CIPD

On-the-job training

On the job training is essentially a form of work experience, involving coaching and mentoring, and may take the form of internal secondment. The question of transferring the learning to the actual job and working environment does not therefore arise and if properly planned and carried out it can be very effective for some jobs (Reid and Barrington, 1999). Although the trainee is restricted within this environment as the trainer usually has other responsibilities, if a particular role is being focussed upon then the trainer may act as a role model. Throughout on the job training the trainee must be encouraged to learn how to learn from the experiences at work, thereby providing a relative model from which to glean knowledge and skills. Anderson et al (1998) found in their Scottish study that entrepreneurs acting as mentors were seen as very important to the success of the entrepreneurship education process. Williams and Turnbull (1996) reported that entrepreneurs felt an obligation to undertake such mentoring and teaching as they viewed it as an important method to build future markets. In the case of ECW this was influenced by the fact that students wanted to set up enterprises but many did not have equipment or businesses.

Face-to-face

According to Voci and Young (2001) traditional classroom based learning:

"provides the social interaction that human beings need and enjoy by affording a direct exchange of ideas; it offers a familiar and comfortable method learners are used to; it creates an interactive learning environment in which learners can test their own attitudes, choices and reactions against those of their peers and authority figures - enabling them to receive immediate feedback about the appropriateness and acceptance of their responses." (Voci and Young, 2001, p. 157)

In the case of enterprise-orientated training and education, the learner's objectives are to transfer the acquired skills into the workplace, which is very much distinct from the classroom environment. This brings in the danger of the learner not being able to cope outside the classroom, or not being able to apply the knowledge effectively (Reid and Barrington, 1999).

Coaching/Mentoring

"Mentoring has the advantage of inducting newcomers to the organisation and assisting them with organisational problems and personal development, thereby increasing motivation and job satisfaction. The mentor can also pass on the organisational culture." (Reid and Barrington, 1999 p.241)

By comparison this method of training is inexpensive, providing an efficient method of knowledge development. Mentoring can be an extremely useful method for imparting knowledge in entrepreneurial development, and has already been used in Wales (e.g. Menter a Busnes). Cooper points out in McCarthy (2001) that entrepreneurship tends to flourish in areas already strong in entrepreneurship. However, given the need in Wales, and Objective One areas in particular, to significantly increase the relatively small base of entrepreneurs, then mentoring is not viable as a kick-start to the large scale transfer of basic knowledge. Mullen’s (1997) UK wide study recommended that entrepreneurship communities able to provide guidance and advice through the entire process should be encouraged. This may become increasingly viable as the entrepreneurship base widens, and ECW may facilitate this as it builds up a database of entrepreneurs who have gone through the process and started up their own businesses.

Formal education issues with distance-learning

ECW’s distance-learning Web-based model is clearly driven by practical as well as educational considerations, given the need to reach large numbers of non-traditional students. It clearly builds upon the distance model, which in the UK largely began with the Open University model, through stand-alone Computer Assisted Learning (CAL) systems (that often tried and failed) (see Brooksbank and Pickernell, 1998; Brooksbank et al, 2001) to mimic traditional teaching and learning, to the on-line style that ECW has adopted. However, there are clearly educational issues related to online learning (see Honey, 2001) that require careful consideration prior to implementation.

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