For a long time, the evolution of industrial society has been represented in terms of growing functional differentiation between different social spheres. According to this paradigm, the more a social phenomenon is developing, the more it moves from an undifferentiated nature to its differentiation into different social spheres or systems, assuming different functions in each of these.
Thus, it could very well be true that the evolution of e-Learning over recent years has corresponded to its functional differentiation. However, it is not possible to assume that the only divisions of evolution for e-Learning are to be associated purely with functional differentiation in social sub-systems. Many other possible divisions are emerging (e.g. by sector, purpose and target group) and have contributed to a growing differentiation of e-Learning. Moreover, technology enables an increasing number of scenarios of use; e-Learning has been often associated to face to face learning in blended formats and country-specific e-Learning developments can be identified. Instead of focusing on unidirectional laws of evolution, taking a descriptive and inductive approach and attempting to insulate and spot coherent areas of e-Learning, it is probably more appropriate to capture a multiform phenomenon such as e-Learning. Therefore, this article presents the so-called ‘e-Learning Territories’, created by the HELIOS consortium. The e-Learning Territories are considered useful for several reasons:
- They help to overcome views on purely functional differentiations of e-Learning and its development;
- They contribute to overcoming the debate on the disappearance versus full deployment of e-Learning, as it is argued that e-Learning is at different evolutionary stages in different territories;
- They provide a platform for dialogue for practitioners and policy-makers, and they are expected to nurture the research agenda of researchers;
- They support networking, coordination and integration among sectoral, specialised and national observatories and projects;
- They promote ‘benchlearning’, as they suggest a shift from comparative assessments towards reflective and adaptive analysis;
- They therefore contribute to the identification and collection of relevant indicators on e-Learning development and impact within each territory.
- They can finally be used as a roadmap for e-Learning developments, starting from a territorial, instead of an aggregating, position.