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e-Learning for lifelong learning from the eyes of nine e-ASEM countries

By Prof Dr Mansor Fadzil, Senior Vice President, Open University Malaysia

In August 2009, the Asia-Europe Meeting e-Learning Network (known as e-ASEM), through its secretariat at Korea National Open University, embarked on an international effort to explore the practices of e-learning for lifelong learning in ASEM countries.  By March 2012, nine countries – Denmark, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Slovakia, South Korea, Thailand and the United Kingdom (UK) – had submitted nine White Papers, resulting in a unique and fascinating cross-cultural and global portrait of this educational phenomenon.  Comparing the White Papers offered an opportunity to highlight their similarities, differences and salient features in the planning, implementation and promotion of e-learning for lifelong learning.

The e-ASEM White Papers covered six sections, i.e.:

  • National education systems;

  • Concepts of e-learning and lifelong learning;

  • Policies, regulation and funding in e-learning for lifelong learning;

  • Status & Characteristics of e-learning for lifelong learning;

  • Examples and cases of e-learning for lifelong learning; and

  • Recommendations and prospects.

In general terms, the lifelong learning systems of all nine sample countries involve three categories in education, i.e. formal, non-formal and informal education.  All nine countries also have separate mechanisms for early childhood education, special education, technical and vocational education and training, continuing and adult education.

Not surprisingly, the larger goals of education are commonly described as achieving universal literacy, enhancing employability and contributing to the economy.  More advanced countries have expressed more sophisticated goals that inherently relate to the lifelong learning concept.  For instance, Japan is concerned with the educational needs of an ageing society and providing equal opportunity; South Korea focuses on humanitarianism; while Denmark places importance on enlightenment and liberal values.  Depending on cultural, social and economic backgrounds, the level and emphasis of lifelong learning vary significantly.  However, it is overall clear that lifelong learning is universally linked to ensuring greater access for and continuity in learning, extending learning beyond formal education, as well as enhancing human capital development, mobility and quality of life.

The role of e-learning in lifelong learning has been generally described as the use of information and communication technology (ICT) for learning purposes, i.e. e-learning is a tool for education.  Amongst the e-ASEM countries represented here, South Korea stands unique as the only one that has created a tangible connection between e-learning and lifelong learning at a national level.  This convergence of e-learning and lifelong learning can, in the most part, relate to open and distance learning (ODL), web-based/online learning and computer-assisted training programmes, where many of these sample countries specifically discuss the role of open universities and distance education institutions.

As far as policies are concerned, only Japan and South Korea have developed systems specific for both concepts (e-learning and lifelong learning, the editor), while other countries tend to use a more broad approach under the purview of education or social advancement authorities.  On a positive note, there seems to be ample funding for both e-learning and lifelong learning activities in all nine countries; from national or regional sources, as well as from foundations or the private sector.  Correspondingly, e-learning for lifelong learning initiatives can range from the basic (e.g. improving digital literacy and upgrading school infrastructure) to the more progressive (e.g. creating lifelong learning facilities at museums and participating in regional consortia).  This again demonstrates the different development levels in each country.  The Southeast Asian representatives (Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand) focus more on improving awareness, infrastructure, coordination and driving change at the policy level; Slovakia and Latvia are concerned with strategies to fully utilise their advanced ICT infrastructure to boost development; and Denmark, Japan, South Korea and the UK are all at a more advanced level where a wide variety of programmes have been established.

The e-ASEM White Papers end with each country suggesting recommendations based on its own unique experiences and perspectives, and this, perhaps, is the most intriguing chapter in the story.  Slovakia, South Korea and the UK are wise to heed that ICT is not an ends, but the means for betterment.  Japan and South Korea are exemplary in that they have successfully established national structures and policies; and both Denmark and Latvia express concern for the human and social dimension in learning.  The more basic preoccupations exhibited by Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines simply reflect a more modest landscape that must be improved before they can move on to more sophisticated aims.  These differences mark individual concerns and cultural features that are unique to each country, and of course have had great bearing on educational priorities that directly address lifelong learning and e-learning, or at the very least, influence them on a national scale.

It must be iterated that the White Papers also point to many weak areas and gaps that need to be strengthened and closed.  It is these areas that provide the basis for future direction specific to e-learning for lifelong learning.  Each country faces a different set of challenges to overcome that are openly acknowledged or at least, intimated in these reports.  The list of recommendations that have closed each report can certainly be taken as an opportunity to learn.  Collectively, the reports are a snapshot of e-learning and lifelong learning practices in each sample country; and can certainly serve as an introductory study to the avid reader.

Their recommendations thus relate to each country’s experience, current status, concept, philosophy and environment.  Any exclusion does not point to a lacking in the part of any country or its government, rather, the list merely sketches the key concerns that each country considers important in furthering e-learning for lifelong learning in the present day.  For instance, the Latvia report does not indicate a need to define e-learning or lifelong learning as it appears to be already at ease with its concept of economic and humanistic importance.  The only necessary point to note is that recommendations from the UK report relate to the international context, i.e. in the effort towards creating a global community of policy sharers for e-learning in lifelong learning.

*For more information on the e-ASEM White Papers, visit

Prof Dr Mansor Fadzil, Senior Vice President, Open University Malaysia