EDEN: 25 years as a Learning Environment

June 3, 2016 by Antonio Moreira Teixeira   Comments (0)

Some two years ago, at the occasion of the 100th meeting of the Executive Committee of EDEN, I had the chance of publishing a dedicated blog post entitled "They are looking at us". In the post I argue the importance of our Association carrying on its rich legacy of values and expertise. Inspired by the venue of that memorable meeting - Oxford -, I've used a classical metaphor to express this idea: «as a river remains basically the same though the waters keep changing, our quest is not essentially different from the one our brave founders embarked on twenty years ago». In spite of the much different historical, cultural and technological contexts, we've shared with those colleagues a similar optimism and generosity, along with a shared dynamism and commitment, as well as the same sense of mission and care for our professional community. This is what makes EDEN such a strong organisation.

As we proudly celebrate EDEN's silver jubilee (1991-2016), I've invited all the past Presidents to share with us some of their personal recollections and retrospections on the development of the Association and the field. As announced in my last post, I'm proud to report that they've all graciously accepted.

We'll start today this special series of posts with the contribution from EDEN's founding President, Erling Ljosa. And what an inspirational way to initiate this journey. As early as 1992, Erling wrote these visionary words: The future of EDEN will grow from our ability to create links across national and regional boundaries, and between people and institutions with either similar or quite different experience, but with common interests and aims in the field of distance learning. Europe is a fragile and complex mixture of societies and people. I hope that by creating new and stronger links in one of the growing fields of education and training, EDEN will contribute significantly to the development of educational opportunities within the whole of Europe (EDEN Newsletter 1, November 1992). You'll be able to learn more about this here.

Over two decades later, in his unique engaging and sensible style, Erling guides us through his personal memories of the exciting and complex days which lead to the creation of the Association. In his itinerary, you'll be able to identify many of the great pioneers who moulded our field in Europe and rediscover their wonderfully visionary ideas. At the end, Erling reminds us of the essential - that EDEN should always be a learning environment. Yes, Erling, we're still learning! This is, in fact, the secret of our enduring success. Thank you, dear friend for your vision and wise guidance. I'm sure you'll enjoy reading this excellent guest post.

António

 


 

The privilege of old people is to be able to look back, to tell stories of the past and to some extent re-imagine the evolving environment which shaped your own view of the world and influenced your behaviour. EDEN has through its 25 years of existence been an important learning environment for all of us who participated. I am grateful to EDEN President António Teixeira for inviting me as a guest writer in his blog in connection with this anniversary of EDEN.

In many ways it was quite accidental that I became the first President of EDEN. When I look back at my own learning history, however, it was a most logical and meaningful accident, as most accidents are. Allow me therefore a brief sketch of development older than EDEN.

My personal interest and involvement in distance learning dates back to around 1970. The world of distance learning seemed then fairly simple. In my home country Norway there was one label only: correspondence education. It was run by a handful of private institutions, under strict regulation and quality control by the government. My first job was as course editor at the biggest of these, NKS, established in 1914. Student numbers at NKS rose during the 70’s to about 80 000 a year, partly due to generous support to students from the government.

At NKS there was a long tradition of contacts with distance learning associations both in Europe and through the ICCE (International Council for Correspondence Education – later named ICDE). A new wind was blowing over the field in these years – with the establishment of Open Universities, the involvement of educational television as well as traditional universities in learning at a distance. A range of new technologies were introduced, and all of them had proponents with prophecies of paradigm shifts and the extinction of earlier forms.

I was thrown into the pond of different species of institutions and traditions – first through editing the book of papers to the ICCE Conference in Brighton in 1975, and then as editor of the ICCE Newsletter 1975-78. I chose to focus the newsletter mainly on research in distance learning. To simplify, there were three focal points of research at the time. The first view was on the individual learner, looked at either as a person with few other opportunities, learning “at the back door”, or as an independent, autonomous agent taking responsibility for her own progress. The second direction was the study of learner-tutor interaction or “two-way communication”, exploring ways of helping the student to reach her goals. And the third approach was systemic, looking at the institutions delivering education and how they could secure better results within an “industrialized” mode of large scale operation, looking at drop-out rates and effects of introducing various technologies, teaching and communication methods.

In the years 1978-82 I served as one of ICCE’s Vice Presidents, and met Sir John S Daniel, who was leading the Programme Committee for the 1982 Conference in Vancouver. John later became a crucial supporter of EDEN, as Vice Chancellor of the UK Open University and host of the first Secretariat of EDEN.

In 1984 the two competing associations of European correspondence schools merged into one (AECS), in which I served as Secretary for six years. I was even able to participate as an associate when the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities was formed in 1987. In addition to the associations already mentioned, there were several European networks concerned with open and distance learning. The most important ones were SATURN (for cooperation between industry, commerce and flexible learning providers), EuroPACE (for advanced continuing education) and EUROSTEP (users of satellites in training and education).

The birth of EDEN

In 1989 the Berlin Wall was torn down. Suddenly we had a new Europe.

The first pan-European meeting at the Technical University of Budapest in May 1990 gave all present a strong feeling of witnessing an historic event. I was particularly impressed by the openness and strength of the appeals from Professor Tamàs Lajos and the Polish Deputy Minister Tadeusz Diem, urging us to open all the bridges and channels of communication so long closed in Europe. This was a call not to be refused. The meeting accepted the invitation from Sir John Daniel to arrange a follow-up under the name of The Budapest Platform, with a Steering Committee to meet in Milton Keynes, UK, in the autumn.

The Budapest meeting had been initiated and organized by ICDE. When the Steering Committee discussed the new situation in Milton Keynes, it became clear that there were many bridges to build and channels to open up in Western Europe as well. The European Community had quite recently taken up “Open and Distance Learning” as a field of interest, and some programs had been established. Countries outside the EU itself were supposed gradually to become involved. However, we had no open and transparent frameworks, mechanisms or organizations in Western Europe which would cover the whole field. The contacts established in Budapest thus offered a golden opportunity not only for Central and Eastern Europe, but for all parts of Europe and for all sectors of distance education.

The Chair of the Budapest meeting and Platform was Dr. Gottfried Leibbrandt, founding President of the Dutch Open Universiteit. As a preparation for the next meeting in Prague 1991 he asked me, together with Armando Trindade, Rector of the Portuguese Universidade Aberta, to help drafting a constitution for a new “umbrella organization”, a true pan-European Network. This constitution was adopted in Prague and EDEN was born. The new network aimed from the beginning towards being open to all types of institutions, networks, project participants and even individuals, membership driven with a democratic structure.

The picture shows the first meeting of the Interim Executive Committee of EDEN in Warszawa in the autumn 1991.

In the beginning EDEN could seem a rather weak construction. But the vision was strong – to include all kinds of species into the common garden. This proved to be a sound and sustainable strategy. Along the route the organization has developed important new activities and services, all of them strengthening its role as a main supporter of professional communication and sharing of experience.

My initial world – of correspondence education – has now disappeared. Or rather, its range of methods, insights and experience has become incorporated in a wider context. But we are still concerned with learning and the learning environments – with the individual, the learning groups, with communication, learning structures and organizations. And, I hope, we are still learning.

 


 

Erling Ljosa was a Head of Product/Market Unit at the NKS Ernst G Mortensens Foundation, in Norway. Founder of EDEN, he was its first President (1992-1995). Erling was a member of the Executive Committee for two terms (1992-1998). He is a Life Member of the Association and an EDEN Senior Fellow.