Colchester Institute is building a blended learning programme with the implementation of a new managed learning environment (MLE) from FD Learning.
The further education college has been piloting the system since summer 2003 and expects it to be rolled out to all of its 800 courses and 10,000 students by September.
Jayne Bacon, the college's development manager for information and learning technologies, said: "Students can very quickly find relevant course materials online and tutors can communicate with students easily and effectively, as well as being able to see how individuals are progressing with a particular course."
Although the college plans to develop interactive learning materials in future, Bacon said its blended learning programme would be driven by teaching requirements, not technology.
"Our challenge at the moment is to ensure we can embed e-learning into the college in the most appropriate manner for each subject area. We do use some multimedia-rich content already, but developing that sort of material is extremely time consuming," she explained.
One enthusiastic early adopter of the system has been the hairdressing and beauty therapy course.
"I remember them making a website available on the system explaining all about head lice and hair diseases," said Bacon.
"That sort of thing can be difficult to explain in a classroom, but where there is already well-presented visual information online it makes sense to use it.
"Previously, students might not have had the ability or inclination to search the internet themselves - now tutors can make such material available to them via the MLE."
In future, said Bacon, Colchester Institute plans to integrate online assessment tools into the system and introduce a core set of supportive interactive materials for each subject area, developed in conjunction with the college's experts and tutors.
"We have made huge strides in e-learning over the past three years, but it's not going to be instant or even quick," she said.
"We have to be aware there are some people out there who still aren't comfortable using new technology. Not all students have a PC at home, for instance. We first need to change the culture so everyone is happy using the system on a regular basis."
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