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Today, the term e-learning is widely used in a variety of contexts. Many of us are familiar with concepts like Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), such as those provided by Coursera, Udacity, edX or MIT OpenCourseWare; Content- or Learning-Management Systems (CMSs, LMSs), like Moodle or Blackboard; Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), like EMBER; problem and tutorial portals, such as Rosalind and Train online; repositories for uploading and hosting Educational Resources (ERs), such as that provided by GOBLET; ER aggregators that harvest and disseminate training information, such as TeSS; and so on. Resources like these are seamlessly discussed under the umbrella term ‘e-learning’; however, they are heterogeneous and do not mean the same thing from user, developer, trainer or content-provider perspectives. Confusion can therefore arise if those using the term generically have not grasped each other’s specific meanings.
In the context of ELIXIR, this situation came to the fore in preparations for the EXCELERATE project, whose training programme (WP11) includes an explicit e-learning subtask (11.1.3) as part of the commitment to build an ELIXIR training infrastructure. The ultimate deliverable of the subtask is to develop an ELIXIR e-learning policy and deploy e-learning platform(s) at the ELIXIR level. But what does an ‘e-learning platform for ELIXIR’ mean? Is it an instance of a MOOC platform, a customised LMS, a bespoke VLE, an ER repository, an aggregator, or something else? Clarification of this question was important, because each of the possible answers has very different implementation and resource requirements.
To try to address this question, and to facilitate communication both within ELIXIR, and between the ELIXIR and GOBLET trainer communities, an initial workshop – Defining an e-learning lingua franca – was held in Ljubljana (SI), 15-17 September 2015. At one level, the aim was to develop an overview of some of the e-learning approaches and applications developed or used by representatives from ELIXIR, GOBLET and other organisations – participants were therefore asked briefly to describe the systems they’d developed, to allow them, and their respective strengths and weaknesses, to be compared. At another level, the aim of the workshop was to try to converge on a common e-learning ‘language’, to help the ELIXIR and GOBLET trainer communities to communicate more coherently. To broaden the picture and gain a wider understanding of the challenges, a follow-up event was held during the GOBLET Annual General Meeting in Cape Town (ZA), 18-20 November 2015. Here, the outcomes of the first meeting were further discussed and refined.
Gaining a clearer view of the current e-learning landscape, and consensus on what we collectively mean by e-learning, were the necessary first steps towards formulating appropriate e-learning strategies for ELIXIR and GOBLET, and suggesting solutions that can feasibly be implemented. In the event, the issues were more deep-rooted than we expected, and many additional discussions were needed. This paper reflects the results of those discussions and of the deliberations of the workshop participants.