Leopold Reif
Deutsche Telekom AG
Business Unit Multimedia
Emserstr. 36
10719 Berlin
Phone: +49 - 171 - 228 9656
Fax: +49 - 30 - 4707 - 66 19


14 Years TeleLearning in Europe:
from Luxury for a few to Services for many


Table of content:

  1. From R&D Projects in the 80ties to Services in 2000
  2. What is a Learning Service?
    2a) Example: Global Learning
  3. The Business Model
  4. The Content Issue
    4a) Example: Police Online
  5. A Virtual Knowledge Market
  6. Support and Development of Learning Communities
  7. Telelearning in Developing Countries


1.) From R&D Projects in the 80,s to Services in 2000

It was in 1986 that the European Commission launched a series of major R&D programmes in the field of telematic applications, among them was DELTA – Developing European Learning through Technology Advance. From 1986 until now this programme and its follow-up programmes with a total budget of almost half a billion Euro has initiated hundreds of telelearning projects, involving universities, publishers, training agencies and HRD departments.

Thousands of learners participated in action oriented field trials using cross-border networks and new telematic technologies.

The stakeholders aimed to create effective distribution systems for increasing access to distance learning by using the advances in telecommunication networks. In addition they aimed to develop cost effective tool kits and applications to create interactive learning environments.

This tremendous effort within the European Union lead to the uptake of a whole range of sophisticated telelearning systems by various universities and HRD departments. The cutting-edge DaimlerCrysler global training network has its roots in the DELTA programme, as well as the British Open University course offerings to thousands of students all over the world – to name but two prominent examples.

One important conclusion of the European telelarning actors was, that in order to exploit fully the wealth of experiences gained in these R&D programmes it would be crucial to migrate these projects to real services.

In other words: Only if the findings and knowledge accumulated in the numerous projects and programmes would be taken up as solid services all citizens in our countries would benefit from the achievements in our R&D programmes.

Telecom operators familiar with high quality mass services took up the challenge around 1996/1997. Among them were British Telecom with Solstra, France Telecom with Web Tutor and Studio Internet, Telecom Italia with Trainet, Swisscom with Level Online, and Deutsche Telekom with Global Learning. The key words here are Learning Service and National Learning Service Infrastructure.

Mass services need a high degree in quality with regards to accessibility, reliability, availability, scalability, affordability, security and billing – usually guaranteed by telcos within their telecommunications networks.

The challenge of course is to apply this to telematic and enabling applications above the network layer.

Multimedia and the process of convergence make it necessary today that telecom operators need to absorb knowledge from domains in which they have not been involved so far.

Today we can observe a range of services in the field of education and training offered by various European Telecom operators nationally as well internationally.

In addition to the telecommunications operators large enterprises and universities have been setting up Intranet or Internet based Learning Services, going well beyond their traditional boundaries. Corporations offer their training programmes also to their customers, suppliers and even the public; universities are targeting new market segments in further education.

It is against this background that I would like to present some findings gained in the process of building up the national learning service infrastructure in Germany.

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2.) What is a Learning Service

Services for Learning need to offer more than network infrastructure or Internet access.

A learning service bundles various applications and makes them available to content providers and learners. It does so on a large scale basis. The concept of an Application Service is applied to the Learning Market

Today application services for learning or Learning Portals are emerging in Europe and the USA.

2a) Example: The Learning Service "Global Learning" in Germany

In Germany Deutsche Telekom launched Global Learning (GL) as an electronic marketplace for learning applications and learning programs in the areas of training and continuing education. Content providers include universities, human resources development departments, adult evening schools, publishing companies, etc.. They use the GL applications in order to distribute and sell their learning content and to implement Internet-based learning scenarios within their own courses. To meet the wide range of different, dynamically developing requirements of learning-content providers, GL offers its customers a highly flexible, and expandable system. The expandability of the system is oriented especially to new learning applications that position themselves successfully within the market and set new standards. In addition, new identification mechanisms, billing procedures, etc. are integrated in GL. GL is designed as a public service for learning applications and is scaleable, as a result of its special system architecture.

As an application service, GL offers its content providers a wide range of user-friendly tools, such as tools for producing, administrating and adapting content.

Thanks to the application's ability to handle multiple content partners, there is quasi no restriction to numbers and diversity of programs in the "Global Learning Marketplace" – a precondition for becoming a National Learning Service Infrastructure.

The GL application service has the following important components that support learning-applications and promote continuing commercial growth of content providers' products: functions for identification, registration and administration of users and providers; product and content administration; billing procedures and interfaces for future applications.

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A Learning Service creates various support functions for the stakeholders in education and training. These stakeholders are publishers, universities, schools, HRD departments, training agencies etc. A deep understanding of the businesses in which these content providers operate is therefore of utmost importance.

Through providing a technical infrastructure as well as such diverse and important items as state-of-the-art learning applications, business models with contracts and pricing, training programmes for various types of users etc - it offers a comprehensive platform and environment which allows all relevant actors to jumpstart their telelearning activities and to focus on their core business which is content mediation.

Content Providers shouldn't need to worry about server maintenance, quality and robustness of applications, back-up-systems, hot-lines, scalability and availability issues, billing, etc.

The "Unique Selling Proposition" of a Learning Service is that through the integration of various meaningful applications it offers content providers an enrichment for their traditional courses and make them more effective.

Furthermore it offers a new dimension of reach to the marketplace - a high degree of accessibility - and thus enlarging considerably market segments for its content providers.

For the Learner a Learning Service offers first of all access to learning opportunities. In addition a Learning Service becomes a secure and transparent Electronic Marketplace with a variety of high quality learning programmes.

Today telelearning is a mega-issue in the Corporate World. National programmes for the educational systems, eg "Schools on the Net" mushroom in all countries of the European Union.

At Deutsche Telekom we use extensively Business TV, interactive TV and Global Teach, our internal Intranet based learning service for our 180.000 employees. The Open University in the United Kingdom with over 200.000 distant learners has about 15.000 learners supported through telelearning all over the world. DaimlerCryslers operates the first global training network combining satellite based real time communication and the Internet. And there are many other institutions and corporate units using successfully telelearning.

In the 90,s telelearners have still been a rare species. The reason for this being that - despite the many innovative projects and offerings - has been the lack of a robust service infrastructure for telematic learning applications. This has been the main barrier for a sustained market uptake in Europe.

Now we are wittnessing a fundamental change: Telelearning is becoming a service driven undertaking.

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Various European Telecom operators have been launching such services as mass services comparable to the telephone service or television. High telematics related quality standards with regards to availability, reliability, scalability, affordability, security, billing and robustness are for the first time applied to a learning service.

These services allow all stakeholders such as schools, universities, publishers, training agencies and training departments to jumpstart their telelearning activities and concentrate on their strengths which is content creation and content mediation - which is to educate and to train people.

3.) The Business Model

A service is not just about technical infrastructure and smart learning software. It also offers business models which attract a critical mass of Content Providers. A business model defines the relationship between the service provider and its many content providers. It provides contracts and pricing, a secure billing system, security and privacy and authentication for all users - be it content-providers themselves or their customers subscribing to the various high quality learning programmes on the service.

A business model defines also the services to be offered.

A Learning Service provider needs to be able to control the quality of the content is offered, how it is produced, and which quality criteria and standards are selected. A Learning Service even provides support for content providers in the area of business and offers consultancy and implementation support.

A Learning Service needs to provide facilities for content production and adaptation - what we call Course Factories - for its content providers.

This business model is a crucial precondition to accumulate successfully high quality content on the Learning Service.

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4.) The Content Issue

Rich and interactive content is a precondition of success for any learning service.

Although there is rich content in abundance - most of it is bound to traditional formats.

Telelearning Services help content providers, such as publishers, training agencies, and universities to transform their content, courses and curricula into Internet-content, Internet-courses and Internet-curricula.

We are used to talking a "Style Guide" when we develop a web-site. But what about a "Pedagogical Style Guide", when we intend to put courses on the web? How should learning on the web be defined, which approaches should be taken into consideration, what about the media-mix and tool- mix and which role should which medium and learning-tool fullfill?

Looking at the quality of telelearning is one important aspect, but what about dealing with quantity?

We are not talking about one course to be delivered. Training departments, schools, publishers and universities need to put many courses and curricula on the net - dozens for sure but possibly also hundreds of them. What about the processes and tools which would enable all these institutions to produce efficiently these courses? Rapid course production and rapid course adaptation is of utmost importance in the knowledge driven corporate and academic environment.

This is the reason why we at Deutsche Telekom provide a "Course Factory" as part of our Learning Service. A "Couse Factory" offers a rapid course production facility to the content providers. It supports content providers in their transition phase to become attractive internet-content providers.

4a) Example "Police Online Course Factory" in Germany:

The Police Force in Germany operates a virtual training academy called "Police Online" which offers various learning and information services in a highly secured Intranet. Information and training modules have to be delivered just –in-time.

This is the reason why "Police Online" provides a virtual "Course Factory" with specific workflows and customized templates which allow police force experts with no extensive knowledge in authoring systems or Internet technology to produce and adapt rapidly content. The Course Factory enables the expert to become an Internet author without the costly and time consuming support of multimedia agencies.

Illustration of a "Course Factory"


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5.) A Virtual Knowledge Market

Once the service infrastructure, learning functionalities, commercial environment and "Course Factories" have been set up a true virtual knowledge market is about to emerge.

How does such a Virtual Knowledge Market look like? I will illustrate this with the next transparency.


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6.) Support and Development of Learning Communities

Telelearning thrives on the already existing international community of practitioners and experts. Centres of Excellence and networks of experts are already emerging and should be further supported - a learning service would certainly see this as a task of utmost importance.

Institutions such as Telecom Operators, Universities, and large enterprises have a natural ability to offer a "Learning Service Infrastructure" to these initiatives. This will help them to move from a "Service to a few" to "Services for many".

Once a university or a training department managed to put a considerable amount of their courses on the web, gained rich experiences how to operate efficiently its "Course Factory", it certainly will offer this competence as a service to others, eg publishers or other training departments.

7.) Telelearning in Developing Countries

Because of the need for local learner support and local content as well as the vital interaction between the new emerging telelearning-systems and the existing traditional education and training institutions it seems clear to me that there will be many learning services emerging in the near future - on a national level.

Developing countries especially are poised to bridge the knowledge gap and to link themselves to the emerging knowledge societies.

It is widely accepted that "the capacity to acquire knowledge in all its forms including the recovery and upgrading of traditional knowledge is the most important factor in the improvement of the human condition" (Knowledge Societies - Information Technology for Sustainable Development; United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development, Oxford University Press 1998).

Developing countries would benefit tremendously through the establishment of cost efficient learning application services, set up centrally and serving the national educational and further training community.

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have become a driving force in both the industrialised and in many developing countries.

Although there are many people, especially in the least-developed countries, who have not been affected by ICT at all – it seems to be clear that an exclusion from the global information society would have a severe draw-back for their societies and economies.

"Although the costs of using ITCs to build national information infrastructures which can contribute to innovative 'knowledge societies' are high, the costs of not doing so are likely to be much higher". (Knowledge Societies, ...)

Telelearning facilities as part of an emerging ICT infrastructure could become an important catalyst for the overall development in developing countries. ICTs allow learning programmes to become easier available and accessable.

"Learning Services" could become mass-services similar to the telephone service and television. In some developing countries they have the potential to migrate to larger undertakings with the further roll-out of ICT.

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Telelearning projects are mushrooming in Pakistan (EDUNET), South Africa (Education Management Information System EMIS), People’s Republic of China (China Education and Research Network Project CERNET), Costa Rica (Educational Telecommunications Network STNCR), Chile (Link Project) to name but a few.

In order to support this trend further the World Bank just launched the "Global Distance Learning Network" and the "Global Development Network", the latter to become a global application service for universities and development institutions.

While the performance of ICT are continously increasing, their cost is falling. Nonetheless various other costs have to be taken into consideration with the implementation of ICT. Examples are costs for maintenance and hardware upgrading, hardware and software adaptation and training. As systems application and software become more complex, their introduction will increase costs.

Since the production of high quality content is expensive, content will not be free and the commercialisation of information and content provision amounts to an additional cost factor.

On the other hand there are significant costs savings through efficiency gains in terms of saved time, reduced travel time and expenses, energy savings and product and process innovation. It has been shown in numerous cases in the developed countries that the use of ICT in enterprises can reduce costs of traditional training by at least one third.

A concerted and systematic approach to the introduction of ICT is a precondition to fully exploit the advantages of telematics and to counterbalance new cost items linked to ICT itself .

The implementation of ICT requires technical, managerial and engineering skills as well as organisational and social knowledge. It's implementation is not just about hardware: The most important and difficult issues often concern issues of knowledge, content, and values to the same degree as the detailed technical design of of ITC systems.

Knowledge resides in people and not in technology and databases. From this point of view accessibility to learning programmes and the networking of knowlegable people is a precondition for the development of knowledge societies. Building social and technological capacities among users through ICTbased learning programmes will considerably enhance the development of knowledge societies.

Knowledge creation has become a much more socially distributed process. It is people-to-people communication through which information gets communicated and the number of interconnections is – with the help of ICT – dramatically accelerating. People-to-people communication allows data to become transformed to knowledge because people add context, experience and interpretation. Application services provide the tools, templates and workflows which enable people to communicate, cooperate, publish and learn more efficiently then ever. And they provide access - the utmost precondition for developing countries to bridge the widening gap to knowledge.

The establishment of a national "Telematic based Learning Service Infrastructure" is not a trivial undertaking - as you can observe in Germany. Since 1997 we have been learning many lessons, and we gained of course a wealth of experience with regards to systems integration, business modelling, user requirements (for content providers and learners) and market dynamics.

I would like to invite all interested parties to join our efforts for the development of real Learning Services for the benefit of all citizens.


Telematics for Flexible and Distance Learning, Final report (DELTA), 1995, The European Commission, Directorate-General DG XIII

Knowledge Societies - Information Technology for Sustainable Development; United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development, Oxford University Press 1998

Knowledge for Development, World Development Report 1998/99, The World Bank, Oxford University Press 1999

Working Knowledge: How organizations manage what they know; Thomas H. Davenport, Laurence Prusak; Harvard Business School Press, 1998


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