Are e-learning platforms a promising way forward for social cohesion in Europe?
The aim of this paper is to examine the correlation between e-learning platforms and social cohesion in Europe, where social cohesion is understood as “the ability of a society to ensure the welfare of all its members, minimizing disparities and avoiding polarization” (Council of Europe, 2004). E-learning has recently received increasing public attention because of its potentiality to provide new inputs to lifelong learning, informal education, and ongoing training. Our main argument is that the supposed transformative power of ICT should be translated into evidence-based policies, which requires taking into account the data available as well as pointing out the limits of these new educational formats.
In this paper we assess three of these challenges. First, the current trends regarding digital access and digital literacy across Europe. The data available show that in order to generalize the benefits of e-learning, European Union needs to tackle urgently digital exclusion. In the second section we examine the skills and values that e-learning is presupposed to enhance for the sake of social cohesion. Some transformative arguments have been put forward, in particular some findings showing that e-learning provides a unique opportunity to empower groups of citizens suffering different kinds of exclusion. At the same time, the examples quoted in this paper also show a tendency to use these new educational tools online for consumerist and competition purposes. A tendency that, as we argue in the paper, is affecting not only e-learning but educational public policy in general. Finally, the third section examines the legal challenge behind the expansion of e-learning platforms, especially for vulnerable groups such as children and minors.
We conclude by putting forward a set of possible policy recommendations to contribute to the research, policy-making, and public debate around this topic. In particular, we propose: a) to take a stand to close the gap of digital divide, b) to use e-learning platforms as a tool for public policy objectives, and c) to promote a European legislation promoting some minimum standards among e-learning providers.