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Interview with Jane Knight from
e-Learning Centre
by Carmen Holotescu

The special guest of our eLearning Community is Mrs. Jane Knight, from United Kingdom, who generously accepted to share her vast experience with us.

Jane is the founder of the e-Learning Centre and eCLIPSE, the e-Learning Centre's e-learning Intelligence service; with twenty years experience in technology-supported and online learning, she has worked in both universities and in corporate training.

I think the e-Learning Centre is one of the best e-Learning portal, providing the most actual resources, so well organized and commented. Giving to the visitors the possibility to interact, to discuss challenging aspects, Jane has succeeded in creating a real learning community. Visiting her site, you'll be surprised by the news added every day, and above all, by the on-line consultancy Jane kindly gives to everyone ( the blue button shows she's almost all the time there to discuss with you ). This is the way I met Jane a few months ago, and weekly I come back to meet her and her valuable site.

This is Jane's activity, we all can see. Behind this, there are many years of learning, practicing, experiencing in online learning projects. About all of these, we try to find more:

Dear Jane, thank you again for your kindness to answer a few questions for our community. For the beginning, can you please tell us a little about your experience in traditional teaching and which was the moment you started with eLearning? Also, that moment coincided with the signs that eLearning will be important in UK?

Firstly, Carmen, thank you for your kind words of introduction and for inviting me to this interview. I feel very honored that you have asked me.

I have been working in the area of technology-supported learning for about 20 years now. For 14 years I was a lecturer in both Further and Higher Education institutions in the UK, teaching Information Technology, however, my main interest was in the use of IT in teaching and learning, and I gradually took on more and more projects in that area. 

In 1994 I saw the World Wide Web for the first time and realized that this was going to be very important medium for the delivery of learning. This was of course the early days of the WWW and I have to say that others were not so enthusiastic about its future - many people I knew at that time, said the Internet was all hype and it would just be a passing fad. However, I thought I knew better! I therefore become what could be termed an Internet evangelist and spent a lot of time running workshops for staff in HE around the country about its potential. I felt so passionate about it, that in fact I decided to leave teaching in 1997 and work full time for the company I had helped to set up in 1994 that provided Internet consultancy and to specialize in online learning (the term e-learning hadn't quite appeared by that time). Since that time I've been providing consultancy for both companies and, of course, HE - as it is still dear to my heart.

Which do you consider to be the main advantages of eLearning? Do you have some prognosis?

For corporates it provides a cost-effective way of increasing the productivity or performance of their staff by providing them with on-the-job support, access to JIT information, which means they can spend more time at work (where they are making money for their firm) rather than in a classroom. However, having said that the organizational culture needs to be right for e-learning to really succeed. Companies need to appreciate that learning is PART of daily working life and NOT a separate entity carried out solely in a classroom or on a separate PC, and that providing learning opportunities for their staff is not a cost but is adding value to the human capital of the company. 

In Higher Education, e-learning provides a way of improving and enhancing the teaching and learning opportunities for both local and remote students, whether it be used to support a traditional class or to create a hybrid programme (containing both f2f and online elements) or to deliver fully online courses.

As for the future of e-learning, I think (and I certainly hope) that it will mean less huge, complex pieces of courseware that take hours if not days or weeks to complete - that's no better than traditional, f2f courses - but smaller chunks (or blocks) of learning that can be completed in say 15 minutes and that can be delivered in different ways - e.g. to the PC or mobile phone or PDA, and that can be "bolted" together with other elements like collaborative activities, discussion, etc. to create more substantial learning programmes.

During years, you have organized a lot of workshops for universities. Which of them do you consider to be more successful, and from which you also learn; do you prefer to run them f2f or online?

I really enjoy the workshops I run where I can inspire the participants - even if it is a small amount - to go back and think how they could improve their teaching through the use of some technology. I think the most memorable workshop I gave was when at the end the participants filled in their "happy sheets" and in answer to the question "What was the best thing about this workshop?" one participant simply wrote "Jane". I think that for me was the biggest accolade I could have received. 

Of course, it is always good to talk to the participants, to hear about their experiences and for them to show me what they have been doing. There is so much good work happening in a very ad hoc basis in universities around the country. I have to say that these f2f workshops are very useful way of meeting new people and talking with them. Online versions are successful once the people have got to know one another, but I think it is much harder to create that feeling of "community" - this usually happens quite quickly in a f2f situation.

Also, you have had many important projects for eTraining in firms, now you are consultant for Cisco. What projects you found to be interesting and challenging?

Once again I have found customer engagements very exciting, helping them to understand the power and potential of the Internet through looking at what Cisco has achieved - and it is pretty amazing. The challenging elements are helping customers understand that introducing e-learning is not just a cost-cutting exercise but that it can have tremendous impact on the productivity of the company, and too that it works best in a corporate environment, like Cisco's, which is empowering and trusting, not controlling and monitoring.

I know that you have two very good children, who are students. I presume that you consider eCLIPSE to be your third child, don't you? When did you start it, what implies your work to it, and how do you feel the feedback from the visitors of your worth site?

Now that my two children are grown up (20 and 21) they don't need quite as much looking after! However, eCLIPSE is very much still a baby and needs nurturing and tending on a daily basis. That does require time and effort - but I think it is worth it, and I would really like to see it become the most important site about e-learning on the Internet. 

I can't possibly do all this myself, however, so I welcome contributions from anybody who is interested - from around Europe and the world - in whatever form. I guess the roots of eCLIPSE go back as far as 1994 when I first started to collect articles, URLs about the use of the Internet for teaching and learning - but it has come a long way now and many many more people are interested in it.

In UK eLearning is at maturity. Which do you consider to be the trends in this domain?

I'm not really sure how mature e-learning is in the UK. There are some companies that are doing some fantastic things, whilst there are others still tinkering about running pilots for years, and not getting very far. I think they should just follow the Nike example and "Just Do It". 

It is also really important for organizations to understand what the drivers for e-learning are for their specific circumstances - this will help to determine the type of e-learning that is appropriate for them - and not just approach it like it is just another trend that they HAVE to do something about.

To be informed and prepared requires a lot of individual effort, but also collaboration. Who do you consider to be your learning peers and your practice community?

I read a lot and I talk to a lot to people from around the world about e-learning, both practitioners as well as vendors - and am 
particularly interested in innovative products for e-learning. 

You visited our community virtual space, also a version in English for another project. What do you consider to be important for a successful community, and also if you want to transmit a message for our members.

The most important element of a successful community is people who want to participate. I know that sometimes I am a little shy (believe it or not!) in offering my views in an online community, but I think if we respect everybody's opinions and are willing to share, then an online community is of tremendous value to bring people together who are geographically dispersed. I wish you and the members of your community all the best and hope that you all benefit from it in your working lives.

Dear Jane, thank you so much for sharing all these with us. I wish you many successes and we'll meet again very soon on eCLIPSE :-)

Thank you once again Carmen, and thank you too for all the encouraging feedback you give me at eCLIPSE. I am always really pleased to hear from you and to have a discussion with you - even if it is only a few minutes. And of course I would also be very pleased to talk with any of your community members. Just click the button to talk to me live!
Thanks again.

Thank you, Jane.

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