Webinar: Distance learning in rural areas – Is there life after the end of educational projects?

When: 5 March 2018, 13.00 – 14.00 CET

Watch the recording of the webinar.

Over the last 20 years there have been hundreds of projects in the Nordic region where distance learning and ICT have been seen as key factors for sustainable development in rural areas. Some projects have been extremely successful and have had significant effects on the local economy whereas others simply disappeared after the funding ran out. We would like to investigate the long-term impact of distance learning projects in rural areas and to identify what conditions and elements in these projects that can cause/lead to successful long-term effects.

In this webinar we heard from several experts with considerable experience in such projects: Hróbjartur Árnason, University of Iceland, Torhild Slåtto, Fleksibel Utdanning Norge, Norway, Taru Kekkonen, Omnia, Espoo, Finland, Jerry Engström, Campus Västervik, Sweden, and Miia Silvén, Otava Folk High School, Finland. The session was moderated by Alastair Creelman from Linnaeus University in Sweden. A total of 25 people from Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Åland participated in the webinar.

We asked the participants about what factors they feel influence the success of educational projects to support rural development? A crucial factor was support from above in the form of local authority/governmental support and legislation that supports the provision and development of distance learning. Support for both teachers and learners in dealing with the technical and didactic challenges of distance education was also vital. The benefits of successful initiatives were clear: keeping talented people in the region, developing and diversifying the local economy, levelling out social and geographic inequalities and offering a better quality of life to all citizens.

A key issue in all cases was the need to create learning communities and to help students connect their studies to the local context and thereby benefit the local situation. Teachers need to learn how to create dynamic online communities to prevent students feeling isolated and students in turn need to learn how to collaborate online and apply their knowledge to real local issues.

Projects that have succeeded have managed to gain the trust of their local authorities by showing that a learning centre is so much more than a place where courses are held. It can be a hub for the area’s competence development and a link between universities, adult and vocational education, the local authority and industry, helping local employers find the competence they need by providing relevant education for the citizens.

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