The introduction of a public sector e-learning standard could save taxpayers' money and lead to a virtual university for all civil servants, according to a senior academic.
Professor Steve Molyneux is calling for the adoption of a national e-learning standard to allow study materials to work across learning management systems.
Molyneux heads the Department for Education and Skills' Information and Communication Technology Research Centre, and is a member of the Government's Post-16 e-Learning strategy taskforce.
He is calling for an e-learning standards authority to sit within the Office of the e-Envoy and regulate and test compliance to the standard.
The initiative would reduce the time and effort of creating new learning resources, protect public investment by ensuring that users can't get locked into proprietary systems, and support open competition in the e-learning market, he said.
Molyneux explained that government investments in e-learning are currently being wasted because of incompatibilities between systems.
The Government has already made a strong commitment to investments in e-learning.
In January this year the NHS said it was investing in 1.2 million licences for the European Computer Driving Licence, and the Ministry of Defence has invested an undisclosed amount to open up e-learning opportunities to staff as part of a commitment to lifelong learning.
"Too much time and money is spent duplicating effort in reengineering and re-testing internet-based content," said Molyneux.
"What we need is a national agreement for a single conformance programme assessed by an independent body which gives us materials that work first time, every time and everywhere."
He also believes that nationwide standards would reduce the burden on already overstretched IT departments by guaranteeing interoperability between systems.
Although technical standards are emerging, including the Sharable Content Object Reference Model and the Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee, the absence of testing authorities means that anyone can claim that their products conform.
"Some of the big players conform to standards, but the problem is that it's meaningless unless you can prove it," explained Molyneux.
The professor is to meet with the Office of the e-Envoy at the end of this month and is confident that a set of e-learning standards will be in place by the end of this year.
"Only then will it provide a comfort blanket for selling into government," he said.
Colin Steed, chief executive of the Institute of IT Training, welcomed the idea but warned that technical standards needed to be mirrored with quality standards.
"It is as important, if not more so, to have content standards for the instructional design," he stated. "If content is going to conform to technical standards, but not engage the learner, they may as well read a book."
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