Developing Telematic-based Learning Servicess – the role of SME Networks
Executive Summary


This study has aimed to identify what are potentially the most effective ways of stimulating the development of telematic-based learning services amongst small and medium enterprises (SMEs) through the process of technology and innovation transfer along SME networks.


A database of 2114 entries has been created of which 1886 were surveyed with a questionnaire. There was a 19% response rate to the survey. The database has been used to provide supporting evidence for this study.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Types of SMEs

a.) SMEs should not be considered as a homogenous mass. Some SME sectors are likely to be more responsive to the utilisation of telematics -based learning than others.

b.) A critical factor is identifying specialised networks rather than generic networks unless generic networks, are to the mutual benefit of the members.

SMEs and Telematics

a.) There are encouraging signs that in some regions of the European Union, SMEs already have the equipment and are utilising telematic systems for some aspects of their daily work activities.

b.) More detailed analysis and research is still needed in this area in order to get a clearer picture of the uptake of telematic systems amongst all sectors of SMEs and across all regions of the European Union. This is critical for the uptake of telematic-based learning services.

c.) SMEs are more likely to consider the use of telematic learning services if they already have existing equipment and are using it within their daily work activities

Development of telematic-based learning services
a.) Most SMEs will require training in the native language of their employees. Although some advanced professional updating could be conducted across Europe using English or French.

b.) Language can cause problems in creating the economies of scale needed to develop multimedia telematic-based learning services. However, the eventual development of “tools” which enable the easy translation of materials into other languages may start to overcome this problem.

c.) There are very few any good examples of telematic-based learning services specifically focused at SMEs. What does exist is generally at the project stage and has still to be proven to be sustainable in the market-place without subsidies. There is an urgent need to stimulate this type of development

Utilisation of Existing Networks

a.) There are already many existing trans-European networks for SMEs, many of which were established with EU funds. These should be fully utilised to disseminate knowledge and know-how about the development of telematics-based learning services.

b.) It is strongly recommended that better use is made of these existing networks by raising awareness of the potential of telematic-based learning services through the organisation of workshop briefings and the establishment of an effective mechanism for dissemination of knowledge and know-how though these networks.

c.) The generic networks like Euro Info Centres, Innovation Relay Centres have a particular role to play in disseminating knowledge and know-how in telematic-based learning services but are not directly involved in being specific learning networks.

d.) Therefore there is a need to actively promote networks which actually are involved directly with SMEs in knowledge transfer.

e.) It is recommended that a more effective mechanism is established for feeding the National Awareness Partners with more information concerning developments in telematics-based learning services in order to better utilise their expertise for exploitation of results.

f.) It is recommended that Science Park managers are better informed about the potential for the development of telematic based learning services. Many skills and expertise that exist within the Science Parks are likely to be very useful for the development of components which could lead to the development of services.

g.) It is recommended that a European directory of consultants interested in the development of telematic-based learning services should be established. Through a mailing list and electronic mail they can be “fed” information in this field. A first stage could be to set up a workshop to bring together consultants from across Europe.

h.) Because of the high turnover rates of personnel in SMEs, encouraging the individual learner to remain associated with a training institution after taking a formal course to can encourage the development towards lifelong learning through the informal acquisition of knowledge.

Encouraging innovation transfer

a.) The European Union’s SPRINT Programme has ten years experience of stimulating the development of innovation and technology transfer. Although it may have had an impact on some companies including SMEs by encouraging them to be more aware and utilise more new technologies and processes within their core business, the techniques do not appear to have been used in the context to encouraging innovation within education and training.

b.) Encouraging the development of telematic-based learning services is clearly an innovation transfer process. There is an urgent need to look at existing techniques and test out “tools” which are already being used in other context within education and training.

c.) Innovation Networks in particular need to be made more aware of the potential for the development of telematic-based learning services as an economic growth sector. Innovation networks themselves should also be making use of telematics systems as a means to disseminate information.

d.) It is recommended that a more effective mechanism is established for feeding the Innovation Relay Centres with more information concerning developments in telematics-based learning services in order to better utilise their expertise for exploitation of results.

e.) Other Member States should look closely at the UK Business Links example with a view to developing similar approaches in their own countries. As a pilot an effective mechanism should be devised and tested to ensure that Business Links, and in particular their Innovation and Technology Counsellors, are fully aware of the potential growth area in telematic-based learning services.

f.) There is a need to compile a databases of innovations (technologies and ideas) in the area of telematic-based learning which could be used by interested organisations

g.) There is a need to develop some innovation transfer diagnostic tools & methodologies to encourage the up-take of telematic-based learning services – target group training providers. A large body of knowledge and know-how is already available from other EU funded projects, and there is a need to fully utilise this expertise when developing strategies towards encouraging SMEs to utilise telematics based systems for training.

h.) It is strongly recommended that a similar scheme to Technology Performance Financing should be tried out, encouraging the use of a particular types of telematic-based learning services.

Utilising mass media for training SMES

a.) This study has not looked at the potential of mass media telecommunications systems like satellite and cable television. But, as new digital compression techniques start to become available and interactivity becomes a reality, there is a tremendous potential for producing cost effective training. Since over 90% of SMEs are micro companies employing less than 10 employees, mass production distance learning techniques may be the most appropriate method of reaching them. In fact it may be the only way of reaching large numbers of people working in SMEs.

b.) Further research is needed to look at “mass media and mass production” techniques aimed at reaching large numbers of SMEs. This should also be framed around the fact that, often, the employer of an SME is unwilling to pay for training as they fear that once trained the employee will move to another job.

c.) There is a need to encourage a culture of “individual responsibility for learning” leading to lifelong learning. Mass media could be extremely effective in encouraging this cultural change.

Dissemination of knowledge and know-how

a.) Existing networks which already exist for SMEs should be better “fed” with information concerning the development of telematic-based learning services for all types of organisations including SMEs.

b.) There is a need to raise awareness that the development of telematic-based learning services not only can help to improve access to education and training, but that it can also be a major creator of new jobs requiring a wide variety of skills and has a huge potential for exporting to a world-wide market.

c.) There is also the need to encourage the “training provider” (i.e. a university, further education college or other training organisation) to “hold on” to their clients by offering informal methods of knowledge transfer to keep them up to date with the broad developments in their specific sector. At certain points the SME will be able to “dip into” more formal courses as and when appropriate.

d.) The generic networks like Chambers of Commerce, EIC and TECs, Banks and Business Links should be made more aware of the potential of telematic based learning services through being fed information such as news releases which give real cases studies and which they can incorporate into their own publications. However, it is critical that the examples given are appropriate. Currently there are very few really good examples around.

e.) A conference should be organised that will bring together all this knowledge in order to stimulate new project proposals.

Establishing Exampler Projects

a.) There is a need to establish more exemplar projects, particularly involving professional associations which will stimulate widespread adoption.

b.) It is highly recommended that professional associations across Europe are made more aware of the potential of telematic-based learning services and are encouraged to take part in pilot projects which promulgate these services among their members.

c.) A follow up study is needed to produce a directory of projects which are utilising various EU Funding mechanisms and to identify “examples of good practice”.

May 1995

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