The paper demonstrates how the Internet can be used to enable people to become aware of, and
develop their learning potential.It also examines some of the problems of the Internet and shows
how as it becomes more commercial it can also exclude,as well as include, thoses who seek to learn.


This article examines the current and potential role of the Internet in lifelong learning.
Taking the UK as an example of Western societies, approximately 3% of the
population have access to the Internet either at home or at work.As Banbury
points out, this does not compare particularly favourably with the availability of other
household appliances such as the telephone (85%) or television and radio (nearly
100%). The provision of on-line services, however, is currently growing at the rate of
about 100% a year, reaching into the 22% of UK homes that possess computers, and
connecting into institutions of higher education, further and continuing education and
into schools. British Interactive Broadcasting will soon launch digital satellite services
which, apart from providing 200 television channels, will bring the Internet and email
within the reach of 22 million UK households. Similar ventures will introduce home
digital technology across the globe. The central issues, however, revolve not simply
around the extent to which computers are networked together, but are concerned with
how the technology can be used in ways that invigorate and empower the learner in
formal, informal and non-formal educational settings.
Clearly, in part because of the phenomenon known as technophobia, it is also
recognized that not all learners appreciate studying through the medium of information
technology. Some may experience distinct feelings of alienation, that is, feelings of
powerlessness, and of being controlled by the technology, rather than using it for their
own means. This article, then, will examine some features of the empowerment,
alienation and dichotomy that seem nested in electronic communication interaction.

What is the Internet ?

The Internet is simply a network of hundreds of thousands of computers all over the
world, connected in a way that lets other computers access information on them. So if
a computer is connected to the Internet, in principle, it can be connected to any other
computer on the network. Today, the Internet comprises more than 45000 regional,
David Gray is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Educational Studies at the University of Surrey. He is
currently engaged in developing work-based learning national and internationalnetworks,which connect more than 30 million people in over
200 countries. This includes organizations, schools, universities, companies, governments,
groups and individuals.
The fastest growing and most versatile part of the Internet is the World Wide Web
(Web) which oå ers learners enormous opportunities for learning, including accessing
information on formal educational courses, and collecting an unheard of wealth of data
and information on a seemingly endless range of subjects.
Other growing, and potentially educationally powerful, parts of the Internet are
computer and video conferencing. Computer conferencing may be synchronous (all
participants being on-line at the same time) or asynchronous, whereby the system
archives all email messages and displays them to all participants, if and when they log
onto the system. Video conferencing allows learners from across the globe to see each
other while they communicate, potentially, at least, a more invigorating experience
than email communication.

The Internet in learning: the supreme tool of self-direction?

If the basis of lifelong learning is self-directed learning (Brockett and Hiemstra, 1991:
24± 33), then the Internet could probably be classi® ed as one of the most powerful and
important self-directed learning tools in existence. Let us take a hypothetical scenario.
A manual worker who left school at the age of 16 with negligible formal quali® cations
has developed a lifelong passion for the game of chess. Last year his teenage son
persuaded him to buy a computer. Since then, further money has been spent going ` online’
through the purchase of a modem and a subscription to an Internet service
provider. At ® rst, our worker resented spending the money, but now ® nds that the
Internet can help him in his passion for chess. Firstly, he uses one of the Web search
engines to look up the word ` chess ’ (a search engine is a software tool that allows the user
to input keywords, which the engine looks up in its index and displays all global Web
pages containing those words). Using the WebCrawler search engine, for example, he
® nds there are 4727 references to chess. Over a series of evenings he begins to look
through themand ® nds simple tutorials for beginners, an interactive chess programthat
can be downloaded from the Web itself (with links to other chess programs), and
biographies of chess grandmasters.
Next, he discovers that he can join a Listserv (an asynchronous computer conference)
which exists only for chess enthusiasts. Virtually every day, messages arrive via
electronic mail. Some are questions from other enthusiasts and some are answers to the
same questions. He ® nds that some of the questions are rather trivial and he learns to
look carefully at the information in the ` subject ’ part of the message to see if it is worth
reading. After several weeks of ` lurking’ , Internet parlance for those who read but who
do not take an active part in electronic discussions, he plucks up courage and ` posts ’ a
Then one of the subscribers, who happens to be involved in publishing, has the
bright suggestion that they begin an on-line chess magazine. Another subscriber, who
is a computer programmer with some experience inWeb design, volunteers to design the
pages and requests suggestions on what hyperlinks to make to other global Web sites.
Yet another subscriber, a graphics artist, oå ers to help with the input of coloured
graphics which will add to the aesthetic appeal of the pages. Our worker oå ers one of
the ® rst articles ± on the history of chess. To gather data, he accesses various library
reference services across the world to ascertain book titles availableon this subject. Once
the article is written, he sends an email message to the magazine editor (or, in the
parlance, Webmaster) with the article as an attached document (so that it can be
directly downloaded onto the Webmaster’ s computer for editorial scrutiny). The
message arrives at its destination on other side of the globe within the hour.
To summarize, from his experience, our lifelong learner has learned to :

** install computer software, use a computer keyboard and navigate the global Web
** interact with, learn from and provide information for other learners around the world
** discriminate and select what he needs from a mass of information
** gather and synthesize information on selected topics
** design and produce IT materials
** produce a creative piece of writing for, potentially, a world wide audience

Above all, this new learning has given him, for the ® rst time, con® dence in his own
abilities as a learner and a substantially enhanced feeling of self-worth. He has ful® lled,
in large part,Mocker and Spears ’ criteria (cited in Brocket and Hiemstra 1991: 19) for
self-directed lifelong learning ± controlling both the objectives of his studies and the
means. For this lifelong learner, using the Internet has truly been a liberating

Yet, perhaps this is not a typical example, since lifelong learning is not just within
the remit of private individuals, but also organizations. Businesses, for example, have
also recognized the potential power of information technology in learning and the
opportunities it oå ers for, amongst other things, skills training. This is why so many
large employers have installed learning centres into their workplaces,many equipped to
oå er, not just interactive learning courses, but access to the Information Superhighway.
ICL (1997) suggest that the Information Superhighway will act an ` enabler’ to lifelong
learning, with schools, colleges, libraries, community clubs and neighbourhood oæ ces
becoming learning centres, skilling people for the new world.
This idea has been taken a stage further by the concept of the ` University for
Industry ’ , a UK project with the backing of several large companies including British
Telecom, the Open University and the BBC. When launched, the University for
Industry will act as a kind of broker between learners and teaching institutions and will:

** market courses
** franchise learning centres where people can network and receive support
** collaborate with industry to commission new courses in areas where industry deems there to be shortage of skills

Such courses may, in principle be print based, but it is likely that the computer
element, particularly the Internet, would be of prime importance. It is probable,
however, that this work-based learning will focus on the business needs of organizations
rather than the learning needs of individuals.As such, it is not so much lifelong learning,
as rather traditional skills training (by other ± electronic ± means). This is not,
inherently, liberating and may, in principle, be linked to quite restrictive and
premeditated forms of employer control. Since employees may lack the means of
in¯ uencingwhat they learn, this may be more akin to an alienatingthan an empowering experience.

Internet learning: superhighway or hype ?

In examining both individual learning and learning via or within organizations, a
positive image of using the Internet in lifelong learning has been suggested. Yet, how
realistic is it ? Pickering (1995) paints a glowing picture of the power of the Internet in
learning, arguing, for example, that the very nature of teaching may change from a
teacher-dominated activity to a student-centred one, as more informal, subjectorientated
groups emerge. The formal curriculum will be replaced by a post-modern
curriculum of the Internet catalogue. In a sense, Pickering argues that this would realise
Illich’ s (1971: 1926) dream.

Each man, at any given moment and at a minimum price, could identify
himself to a computer with his address and telephone number, indicating the
book, article, ® lm or recording on which he seeks a partner for discussion.Within
days he could receive by mail the list of others who had recently taken the same
initiative. This list would enable him by telephone to arrange for a meeting with
persons who initially would be known exclusively by the fact that they requested
a dialogue about the same subject. (Illich 1971: 26)

According to Pickering (1995), instead of essays, learners will present their own writings
coupled to images, sounds and annotated links into interactive hypertext. He concludes
by suggesting that this will change the culture of textual education that has dominated
the Western world for centuries. While Pickering does not state this, it is clear that this
informality and learner dominated mode of learning could almost be one description of
lifelong learning itself.

Given, however, that most formal education, even Internet delivered, will still be
provided by educational institutions, it seems likely that forms of teacher control will
still persist. Even seemingly democratic interactive facilities such as email forums, are
often dominated by tutors rather than students. Indeed, Tagg (1994) suggests that one
reason some users ` lurk ’ during computer conferences is that such interactions are seen
to be dominated by academic tutors. Clearly, we still have much to learn about
appropriate models for tutor-student interaction, mediated by interactive communications

If courses are still to be assessed and accredited by universities and colleges then,
again, the extent of student control over the form and delivery of the curriculum is
bound to have its boundaries. So while the Internet has the potential for delivering new
modes of learning, vested interests (including institutions of higher education) may act
to ensure that this occurs only under their control.
Web learning: lost in hyperspace ?
One of the main navigational tools of the Web is hypertext. There is an implicit
assumption that this is ideally suited to all learners. Certainly, it provides ¯ exibility.
A study by Shroeder (1994), however, casts doubt on the value of hypertext for
all learners. His research amongst 113 college undergraduates found that users of
hypertext require extended practice and experience with the system to become
comfortable and pro® cient in using it. Graphical browsers may provide a degree of
the internet in lifelong learning structure, but it was not evident that all learners internalized this structural knowledge.
Those with high prior knowledge in the experiment did best on most variables, and
showed a greater increase in structural knowledge. Those with low prior knowledge
may not have known what is best for their own learning.

In general, the use of this hypertext system was not intuitive for ® rst-time users.
Students not used to this degree of learner control often felt lost and confused.
Many had trouble developing a viable strategy for moving through and
organizing the information. (Shroeder 1994: 817)
One would imagine that these college undergraduates are, on the whole,
intellectually competent and more con® dent with computers than the average lifelong
learner. If these undergraduates have diæ culty navigating using hypertext, then this
does not bode well for lifelong learners in general, many of whommay have only limited
formal education.

Where are the learning materials?

What is so noticeable about the Web is the scarcity of actual learning materials. A visit
to most Web sites developed by formal educational institutions, ® nds that they oå er
information on the history and structure of the institution and details of staå and
courses. This is commendable, but is no substitute for the provision of interactive
learning materials. Much has still to be learned about how the Web can be used to
deliver these.

One reason for the dearth of educational materials on the Web is the limits of the
technology.After accessing an organization’ s site, data are transferred down telephone
lines to the learner’ s computer. The problem is that, currently, ` bandwidths’ are
narrow, so that ® les, especially if they are large ® les containing graphics, download
slowly (if at all). When ` traæ c ’ is busy, this downloading time gets even worse, to the
extent that often it is impossible to gain access to the desired site. If some learners do
experience a sense of alienation when studying through this technology, then
exasperation felt during long downloading times may be one important cause.
Equality of opportunity ?

Pickering (1995) concedes that the vast majority of Internet users are well educated,
young, white males in ® rst world countries. Internet skills represent a highly localized
monopoly and seem to be increasing the gap between those who bene® t from IT and
those who do not, both within and across cultures. Candy (1991: 93) quotes Borgstro¨m’ s
(1985) study of 6 700 Swedish adults, which found that the greatest gains from selfdirected
learning were made by those from the upper classes. In western societies,
therefore, far from reducing social inequalities, IT in education, and this must include
the Internet, may serve to perpetuate and even extend these diå erences. Pickering
(1995) also concedes that the needs of developing countries are far better met by new
124 david e. gray

schools and libraries than by a few expensive Internet nodes. Indeed, the Internet may
be just another means by which overdeveloped nations impose their values and
practices on the rest of the world. The Internet has had a dramatic impact on the world
of researchers and scientists. Certainly, for it to have a similar impact on education,
there needs to be an enormous jump in accessibility and aå ordability. Furthermore, if
Banbury (1996: 10) is right, and only 10% of Internet users are women, this, again,
represents a gender imbalance in the use of this important learning resource which
requires recti® cation. If the Internet is liberating, then this may be liberation for the

The Internet as an information source

The Web is fast moving away from being a zero-cost data-bank. It is still possible to
access vast amounts of data, but sites containing information of potential commercial
value are increasingly closed and oå ered on a subscription-only basis. Educational
institutions also are providing open access to the marketing parts of their Websites
(providing details on courses on oå er), but will provide courses either internally (via an
Intranet) or externally on a fee-paying basis only. Perhaps the educational potential of
the Web is not as bountiful as many ® rst supposed.
As an educational information base, the Internet also has its drawbacks since much
of the information sent though the Internet is not peer referenced or reviewed, thus its
veracity cannot be substantiated.Learners need to be conscious of this and treat all they
see on the Internet with caution.

Course management and security

Another disadvantage of putting materials on the Web is security. Given that most
formal education institutions are businesses, one would expect them to control access to
the educational section of their site through password security (a password being given
to a student once their fees had been paid). Unfortunately, the Web is notoriously
insecure, and a determined ` hacker’ may gain entry to a protected site.
Pedagogic de® ciencies?

One needs to question the extent to which disembodied communication (such as email
and video conferencing) through information technology can replace face-to-face
interaction between human beings.To what extent, for example, canRogers (1969) call
for personal relationships to be developed between teacher and learner be implemented
through the ` cold’ interaction of email ? In terms ofMaslow’ s (1943) hierarchy of needs,
to what extent can ` love and belonging’ be encouraged when a teacher cannot even be
seen? Furthermore, even in terms of important ingredients of learning such as positive
teacher-expectations, to what extent can these be transmitted electronically, since (with
the exception of video conferencing) the important element of non-verbal communication,
by necessity, must be missing?

It is because of the practical diæ culties which both teachers and learners have faced
when using this form of learning, that Kimball (1995: 54± 56) has been forced to suggest
a number of basic, practical ideas for making on-line groups work eå ectively. She
the internet in lifelong learning recommends, for example, that the tutor ensures that
the roles of participants are all de® ned; this includes whether the tutor is expected to provide expert knowledge,
support and encouragement. She also suggests that the tutor should attempt to create
an ambience by setting the ` tone’ for the group with the ® rst message, stating whether
the atmosphere should be supportive, fast-moving, re¯ ective, focused} unfocussed, etc.
The tutor should attempt to nourish conversation by adding new material including
content, questions,messages and case studies. The tutor should also provide feedback to
encourage writers to send good messages (by sending them a private thank-you via

By having to provide this advice there is a strong implicit assumption here that such
on-line teaching lacks an automatically seamless, comfortable and cognitively eå ective
interaction between tutor and students (and, indeed, between students themselves). We
still have a lot to learn about technology-based distance support, and more research in
this area is urgently needed.


The Internet is an educational tool of enormous potential, especially when new
technical improvements such as digital technology and wider bandwidths allow the
transmission of video. Millions of people, world-wide, now have the capability to
communicate with each other and with many institutions of education. Learners can
join mailing services to receive information on an endless variety of topics, learn from
Web sites, produce their ownWeb sites, or communicate with tutors via email or video
conferencing. What is clear is that the technology is becoming accessible to millions of
people through colleges, universities, and libraries. It is also penetrating into peoples’
homes. The facilities and capabilities of the Information Superhighway will be
enormous (for some examples, see AppendixA). Whatwe knowso little about, however,
is how people will want to make use of it.

The technology is being sold by organizations that have a vested ® nancial interest
in its success (for example, computer manufacturers, software suppliers, and commercial
businesses). Yet what we need to do is establish what ` works ’ for learners in terms of
their educational needs, how they interact with the technology, and how they can be
supported and encouraged in their learning. We need to know more about what entry
skills and knowledge are essential for those embarking on self-directed learning using
interactive technology, what motivates them when using the Information Superhighway,
and how the technology can be made user-friendly for the majority, not just
those who are IT enthusiasts. Interest in the Internet and Web has reached ` almost
plague proportions’ (Wilson 1995: 171).What we now need to see is similar enthusiasm
from educationalists in how the technology can be used to enable learners rather than
alienate them.


Banbury, J., 1996, The Internet and FE: blind data? General Educator V. 40, 10± 11.
Borgstro¨m, L, 1985, ` Self-Directed Learning and the Reproduction of Inequalities’ . Unpublished
manuscript, Department of Educational Research, Stockholm Institute of Education, Stockholm,
Sweden. In P. C. Candy Self-Direction for Lifelong Learning (San Fransisco: Josse-Bass).
Brockett, R. and Hiemstra, R., 1991, Self-direction in adult learning (London: Routledge).
126 david e. gray
Candy, P. C., 1991, Self-Direction for Lifelong Learning (San Francisco: Josse-Bass).
ICL, 1997, URL:
Illich, I. , 1971, Deschooling Society (Harmondsworth: Penguin)
Kimball, L., 1995, Ten Ways to Make On-line Learning GroupsWork Educational Leadership 53 (2), 54± 56.
Maslow, A. .H. , 1943, A Theory of Human Motivation Psychological Review 50, 370± 396.
Mocker, D.W. and Spears, G. E., 1982, ` Lifelong learning: formal, nonformal, informal and self-directed’
(Information Series No. 241). Columbus, Ohio: ERIC Clearinghouse for Adult, Career and
Vocational Education, Ohio State University. In .R. Brockett and R. Hiemstra, Self-direction in adult
learning (London: Routledge).
Pickering, J., 1995, Teaching on the Internet is learning Active Learning No.2. at URL: http ://www.
Rogers, C. R., 1969, Freedom to Learn (Columbus: Charles E. Merrill Publishing).
Schroeder, E. E., 1994,Navigating through Hypertext: Navigational Technique, Individual Diå erences, and Learning
16th Annual Proceedings of Selected Research and Development Presentations. Convention of the
Association for Educational Communications and Technology,Nashville, TN.
Tagg, A., 1994, ` Leadership fromWithin: StudentModeration of Computer Conferences American Journal of
Distance Education V. 8 (3), 40± 50.
Wilson, T. Education for Information and the Internet Education for Information 13, 171± 175.
Appendix A. International Web sites and discussion groups
dealing with adult and continuing education.
Web site Uniform Resource Locator (URL)
ERIC &AskERIC http:} }} index.html
Locating Usenet (distributed
bulletin board) sites
http:} }}
Locating Listservs (email
mailing list) sites
http:} }}
Directory of email discussion
http:} }}
Electronic journals http:} }} ejournal}
http:} }} newjour}
gopher:} }} 11} e-serials}
Educational conferences and exhibitions
http:} }} index.htm
http:} }
Ed Web home page: the Web in education
http:} }
Electonic conferencing http:} }}
EdLinks http:} }} C jmullens} edlinks.html
Universities around the world http:} }} weblake} geogindex.html
Department for Education
and Employment
http:} }} dfee} dfeehome.html
Universities Association for
Continuing Education
http:} }} epd} default.html
International Council for Distance
http:} }
AEDNET (Adult Education
http:} }} Inter-
Links} education} aednet.html
Open Learning Australia http:} }}

Life 8.2 of 10 on the basis of 946 Review.