|Policies on implementing virtual learning platforms reflect differing contexts in different countries, given variations in household computer equipment, the ways it is used, the features of the education system itself, and the particular policies for the integration of Information and Communication Technologies in Education (ICTE). Some factors assist these policies, others may hinder them. Without identifying in detail the impact of each of these features on the implementation of virtual learning platforms, it is useful to recall these key contextual differences before embarking on the description of national policies and the measures implemented.
According to Eurostat 2009 data, in Denmark 85% of households have access to a home computer, 71% in the United Kingdom, and 57% in Spain. 76% of Danish households have a broadband connection, compared to 69% in the UK, and 51% in Spain.
The sizes of the respective populations vary considerably. Simply in terms of primary and secondary school students, the United Kingdom has just over 10 million, Spain more than 5.5 million, and Denmark just over 900,000 (source: OECD 2007). The number of pupils thus varies on a scale of 1 to 10, which raises issues of scale and nature in implementing systems as complex as virtual learning platforms. The regionalisation of some systems, as in the United Kingdom and Spain, to some extent offsets the problems of scale by reducing the size of the populations concerned. In the case of the United Kingdom, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each have their own educational system. England itself nonetheless still has some 7 million pupils. The division of Spain into 17 Autonomous Communities (regions) means that Andalusia and Catalonia, the regions studied here, which together account for about 45% of Spanish pupils, have 1.5 million and 1.2 million primary and secondary students respectively.
Teachers – key players with regard to virtual learning platforms – also face different situations in different countries in terms of their employment status and continuing education. They are public-sector employees with a status of contract staff in Denmark and the United Kingdom, where they are employed respectively by the local authority and the educational institution (or sometimes the local authority). In-service training is compulsory in the United Kingdom; in Spain it is optional but taken into account in career progression; and in Denmark it is optional without particular incentives.
The curriculum – differing in the nature of its objectives and its degree of specificity – is another differentiating factor between the countries studied that can facilitate or complicate the use of virtual learning platforms. The Danish curriculum lays down some major objectives centrally, leaving schools considerable leeway. The United Kingdom defines skills rather than contents to be taught, and uses standardised tests by level to measure results and ensure a degree of homogeneity. In Spain, central government defines the core curriculum, leaving the Autonomous Communities (regions) and institutions scope to adapt the programme to the local context.
In terms of the areas targeted by the major national or regional ICTE initiatives, there is, however, greater similarity. Denmark, Spain and the United Kingdom have all focused their efforts on equipment and connectivity, the development of digital learning resources, teacher training, and curriculum adaptation. Different emphases have naturally been placed on one or the other of these aspects. Spain has from the outset focused on the pedagogical use of ICTE. The United Kingdom is certainly in the forefront as regards digital content, metadata and interoperability standards. Denmark has also concentrated on other areas of thinking and action, particularly as regards public/private partnerships with commercial publishers and the spatial and temporal organisation of education (use of ICTE outside school in general and virtual platforms in particular).