Celebrating EDEN's Silver Jubilee: A reflection by Sir John Daniel

May 31, 2016 by Antonio Moreira Teixeira   Comments (0)

As I've mentioned in previous posts, EDEN is celebrating its silver jubilee (1991-2016). This is a most significant milestone not just for our Association, but for the whole European academic and professional community. In fact, the creation of EDEN opened a new social and political horizon in Europe for the development of a then still emerging field of practice, which proved to be critically relevant throughout the years. The early nineties of the 20th century were a time of great promises and expectations. An exciting moment marked by a great confidence in the future and an almost blind faith in how it would develop.

Looking back at how it all started a quarter of century ago and realizing how much EDEN has evolved and grown both in size, complexity and impact proves that the ambition of our pioneers was not overoptimistic. On the contrary, the progress has been astonishing. This success however expresses how EDEN has been capable of understanding the evolution of the European open, distance and online learning community and interpret correctly its needs and trends, smartly adjusting the Association's strategies and modes of operation to the different emerging scenarios.

Looking now into the future and to its difficult challenges, the European academic and professional community can rest assured that EDEN will always remain faithful to this close bond to the field.

As we approach the EDEN16 in Budapest, this is also the best time to revisit some of the most significant moments in the very rich history of EDEN's service to the European and global community of researchers and practitioners in open, distance and online learning. To help me in this complex task, I've asked all EDEN past Presidents to contribute to the President's Blog and share their personal recollections and retrospections on the development of the Association and the field. They've all graciously accepted. As a result, in the next two weeks you'll be able to find six different but very insightful reflections.

As an introduction to this exciting series of posts, I've invited my dear friend and EDEN Senior Fellow, Sir John Daniel to write a special guest blog post on the creation of the Association. In fact, EDEN owes much to John Daniel, who was more than instrumental to set and shape it. Even today, many of the principles, rules and procedures we use were directly inspired by him. It is therefore a great honour and a privilege to be able to share with you an inspiring account on what led to the foundation of the European Distance Education Network, as it was initially called. This reflection is also a wonderful homage to a certain vision of Europe, certainly much more open and generous than most of the current ones, and also to the colleagues who helped shape our field.

I hope you'll enjoy reading this great contribution. Sir John Daniel will be delivering the official 25th anniversary address at the gala dinner of the EDEN16 in Budapest where he will elaborate in full the ideas and topics presented in this reflection. Be sure not to miss it!




I look forward to the honour of speaking at the EDEN Conference Dinner that will celebrate our Silver Jubilee - EDEN's 25-year contribution to open, distance and online learning (ODL) in Europe. I shall recall the early days of EDEN and what we hoped to achieve through its creation before reflecting on the enormous changes that have occurred over the quarter-century since EDEN emerged.

The preliminary work that led to EDEN's creation took place around the time that the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the first meetings were called the Budapest Platform. It is very appropriate that we are holding this silver jubilee conference in Budapest and in Hungary. In 1990 I arrived from Canada to be Vice-Chancellor of the UK Open University. David Sewart immediately told me about the Budapest Platform and briefed me about the important role that Hungary was playing. In the late 1980s Hungary was the first of the Central and Eastern European countries in the Soviet bloc to sense that major changes were imminent. Its leaders realised that their people would require massive and timely education and training to help them adjust successfully to the western world that they aspired to join. So Hungary sent a delegation on a tour of Western Europe to look for ways of tackling this challenge. It came back with the firm recommendation that open and distance learning (ODL) in general, and the UK Open University in particular, were the most promising avenues to explore. This had two sets of consequences.

First, over the years following the fall of the Berlin Wall, new independent ODL organisations were established in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Russia and Slovakia in order to offer UKOU management courses in the national languages. These institutions have evolved over the years but, like LINK in Russia (image), all retain strong relationships with the UKOU.

Over two decades tens of thousands of students across Europe have benefited from the opportunities for study through ODL that have been created through the links between East and West that EDEN has nourished.

Second, the distance educators of Western Europe - and there were far fewer of us in those days than there are now - realised that they should help colleagues from the former Soviet bloc to acquire the skills necessary to design and deliver ODL in a modern way. The extensive Soviet correspondence course system did not offer an adequate model for the new era. The European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) already existed and I was part of its executive committee as vice-chancellor of the UKOU. But EADTU had been set up for a small number of institutional members. In order to increase the number of ODL practitioners in Central and Eastern Europe we needed a network of individuals that would focus on multiplying contacts and professional exchanges between East and West. And so EDEN was born.

We were most fortunate to have some enormously able and dedicated individuals to build EDEN. I hope it will not be invidious to single out two for special mention. First, EDEN owes a great debt to Alan Tait. I worked with Alan to set up EDEN as a legal entity in the 1990s and he has remained deeply involved in EDEN's development ever since. Second, we have been extraordinarily lucky that Andras Szucs has served as our devoted Secretary-General since the very start. There are many other great EDEN supporters that I could mention, but let Alan and Andras stand as examples of the longevity of commitment that has been such an important element in securing the remarkable impact that EDEN has achieved over the years.

And what tremendous years they have been for ODL! When EDEN began ODL was marginal to established school and university systems despite the large number of students it already attracted. Today ODL is mainstream. Most postsecondary institutions now offer some online courses and governments have seized on ODL as the route to modernising their educational and training systems in the era of the Internet. EDEN can be very proud of the catalytic role that it has played in creating the community of skilled ODL practitioners across the continent that will make these ambitions realities.



Sir John Daniel is a Research Associate at Contact North | Contact Nord and a former Vice-Chancellor of The Open University (1990-2001). He has held appointments at the Télé-université (Directeur des Études, 1973-77), Athabasca University (Vice-President for Learning Services, 1978-80), Concordia University (Vice-Rector, Academic, 1980-84), Laurentian University (President, 1984-90), the UNESCO (Assistant Director-General for Education, 2001-04) and the Commonwealth of Learning (President and C.E.O., 2004-12). His non-executive appointments have included the presidencies of the International Council for Open and Distance Education, the Canadian Association for Distance Education and the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education. He also served as Vice-President of the International Baccalaureate Organisation.

The involvement of Sir John Daniel in the development of open and distance learning spans for 40 years. Knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1994 for services to higher education, he has received 32 honorary doctorates from universities in 17 countries. Best known as a scholar for his book Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education, the most recent of his 330 publications include: Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility and A Guide to Quality in Online Learning. Read more here.