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SIMPEL - IMPROVING eLEARNING PRACTICES IN SMEs: Report on the Conference 14th April 2008 in Brussels

The final conference of SIMPEL was organised together with the Representation of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia to the European Union in Brussels on the 14th April 2008. SME representatives, consultants, practitioners, educators and researchers from Europe participated in the conference to present results from projects and studies and to exchange experiences on how to improve eLearning practices in SMEs.

Pictureshow from conference (requires Quicktime)

SIMPEL Guidelines online multimedia version

Proceedings (Description and Order Link)

In the plenary session, three key note speakers provided a wide background to the issues under discussion: Dr. Maggie McPherson from the University of Leeds presented conclusions from her research on "eLearning in the workplace", Prof. Karsten Wolf from the University in Bremen spoke about "Communities of Practice" and Prof. Rolf Granow of the University of Applied Sciences in Lübeck reported on the e-learning experience of his institution asking the question: "eLearning in Higher Education and in SMEs: synergies or closed shops?"

After the plenary four workshops took place where short presentations by the participants and the guidelines developed by the SIMPEL project team served as basis for the discussion of sustainable models for the use of eLearning in SMEs. A summary of each working session was presented at a short final plenary. After the conference a discussion took place between participants and representatives of the state NRW to the European Commission.

Workshop (WS) Discussions

Discussions in WS1 were based on the four presentations about different forms of cooperation like social networks, which can help SMEs, particularly in the new member states, to integrate into the European market. One of these concepts are Communities of practice (CoPs), which are a promising form for organising learning. In this the design of CoPs is very important. The guiding principle here is “designing for aliveness”, e.g. design elements should be combined in such a way that they may act as catalysts for a natural evolution to a life-long learning oriented CoP.

WS2 compared experiences of Canada, Russia, Hungary and other European countries in using eLearning within SMEs. There are quite different different realities covered by the term SME with an average of 8 emplyees in the Perm region of Russia, up to 250 employees as in the definition of the European Union, ending up in 500 employees in Canada. Also, models for public support for eLearning in SMEs differ widely, say between Russia and Canada.
From Hungary a model of eLearning has been presented, where training providers offer advertisement, information and small training units to the clients on a web-platform.

In connection with different regional and business strategies for SMEs discussed in WS 3, a proposal was to follow the KISS-scheme: Keep It Small and Simple. The contributions showed different attempts to follow that scheme, two from the side of learner motivation and organisation, two from the side of smart technical solutions. A catalogue of criteria of eLearning readiness was presented as a tool, which may help to decide if eLearning is suitable or not for an organisation.

In WS 4 discussion was on national and branch strategies from different European countries. Different eLearning models for providers and users adapted and developed by the SIMPEL-project were shown. One conclusion was that there is no eLearning model fitting for all target groups from SMEs or eLearning providers. Understanding and practice of eLearning is very different in different countries and branches. A survey carried up by the MMB institute on eLearning for SMEs in Germany between 1999 and 2007 found only 21% of SMEs are using eLearning. An interesting project was presented about eLearning in agriculture (pork sector) underlining the importance of high quality content, a demand-based approach and the need for a business model.

Conclusions and Documents

One of the main conclusions of the conference was that SMEs in many European countries need more professionalism. Especially, they lack human resource (HR) development plans or do not couple eLearning with HR development. The main barriers are the costs. Managers have to be convinced, that the cost-benefit-ratio is favourable also in SMEs. Solution providers and consultants have to come up with products and services which work towards this conviction.

The SIMPEL project presented its findings and recommendations on how to approach eLearning to make it sustainable in its "Guidelines". These are available in printed and multimedia form. The documentation of the conference will be available at the end of June.
Interested organisations or individuals can get printed copies of the Guidelines, a CD ROM with the multimedia version or the printed edition of the conference proceedings them from the coordinator or the project partners