Open and Distance Education in the French Community of Belgium and
some comparisons with France
Brigitte Denis and Pascal Detroz
The survey made in the TEEODE project by the Belgian team only concerned
implementations observed in France and in the French Community of Belgium (CFB),
including the Brussels region. Therefore our remarks here will be restricted to these areas
and will not include information on the practices of the Flemish and German communities
in Belgium. This chapter presents comparative examples of initiatives developed in France
and in the CF. The chapter is not an exhaustive or representative description of what could
be encountered in these countries, but will be informed by examples drawn from typical
Open and Distance Learning (ODE) services.
Information on ODE initiatives is still difficult to obtain since many ODE experiments are
new and local, nevertheless, interest in ODE is increasing rapidly. This interest is not
simply stimulated by European programmes. There are national and regional initiatives
also. For instance, at the level of the French speaking universities of Belgium, the CREF
(Council of the French Rectors), has launched a survey to identify what is happening in the
different universities, faculties and departments with respect to ODE.
At the end of the twentieth century, the importance of education and training, and
especially of self-directed learning, for the future of our society is no longer and issue
(Straka, 1997). More, ODE has and will have during the next years a great importance for
our society as far as it is generally linked to the development of self-learning abilities
(Denis, 1997). New objectives and new roles for learners and trainers have emerged.
Direct transmission of knowledge is not considered any more as the most efficient or the
only way to train people. Self-learning is now considered as a necessary innovation that
infers cultural, social, organisational and technological levels of organisations and
companies (Fragniere, 1991). It represents a challenge for everyone to which ODE can
Implementing self-learning (SL) or ODE is by no means a spontaneous generation process.
Even if some pure transmission of knowledge can be observed in some ODE practices,
generally SL or ODE are conceptually rooted in theories such as constructivism and active.
So it requires that special attention be dedicated to the didactic tools, to tutors’ training and
to infrastructure needs. For instance, ODE can use sophisticated hardware and software
(e.g. telematics) or just traditional materials (e.g. mail conveyed handbooks).
In the French part of Belgium, several different kinds of institutions that provide ODE can
be identified. These include those created by national authorities, such as the Ministry of
Education or universities as opposed to those created by private companies. This chapter
presents case studies from both types of providers and draws parallels with developments
The Ministry of Education Initiatives
An Historical Perspective
In the Belgian French Community (CFB), self-learning is not a new preoccupation. As
early as 1959, a special department of the Ministry of Education Le Service de
l'Enseignement à Distance (SED) was created to develop distance and self-learning. To
date the interactions between trainers and learners of SED have been managed by mail
with periodic face-to-face meetings. These meetings are to organise discussion groups
between learners, and between learners and teachers. The budget of this Centre is around
200 million Belgian franks (5 millions ECU) per year.
This service aims at the democratisation of studies and life-long education. In March 1965,
a national government decree defined the Centre’s mission as follows: the SED is
dedicated to providing courses to prepare learners for examinations equivalent to the
diploma of secondary education, managed by selection committees or to administrative
entrance examinations organised by public services.
In 1984, the aims of the Centre were expanded in a commentary decree. The Centre now
offers its services to children living outside Belgium (ODE for primary school level) and
to teachers’ continuing professional development. It also provides other courses (e.g.
computer literacy, language, etc.) that are considered important for personal development
and for a good insertion at the social, school or professional levels. About two hundred
courses are given by teachers working under the responsibility of inspectors of education.
Special courses have also been developed to address different target publics’ special needs
such as prisoners or patients in hospitals.
Enrolment and types of courses
Since the creation of the SED, the number of learners has generally increased. The
following table (Table 1) indicates the number of new learners registered at SED during
the last nine years, the total number of enrolled (in 1991-92-93) and the total number of
courses chosen by the learners.
It appears that the number of new enrolments decreased in 1993. This decline in new
student enrolment was due to a new policy of charging for most courses although in a few
specific cases will still be free of charges. Learners now have to pay 1500 BEF per year
(35 ECU per year) irrespective of the number of courses. At SED, the learners can
choose more than one course (for the same price). The average number of courses
followed by individual students has increased since 1992, and particularly since 1994.
Learners have taken the opportunity to choose several courses for the one annual
The learners are drawn from many different categories of people: unemployed people,
students, workers, teachers, military, prisoners, patients in hospitals, handicapped people,
overseas-Belgian-citizens. In summary everyone who wants to learn one of the two
hundred subjects offered by this institution, in disciplines, as varied as native or foreign
languages, mathematics, geography, economy, law, computer sciences can do so.
Table 1: Enrolment in SED courses
1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997
Total - - 40,043 35,973 41,022 - - - -
Total 60,108 71,330 60,436 55,866 - 89,876
New 22,964 22,231 23,097 22,210 15,823 14,440 13,484 12,426 11,511
New - 40,016 39,949 40,266 - 27,142 26,697 25,965 23,898
Average - 1.8 1.7 1.8 - 1.87 1.97 2.08 2.07
The SED courses are based on written documents. They are designed by teachers working
at the SED and sent to the learners by mail. Afterwards, correctors check the learners’
work and provide feedback. When a programme is finished, the learners receive a
certificate, but not a diploma. An evaluation of the return is made every year to examine
whether the learners enrolled have finished the programme of courses they elected to take
or how far they have progressed in the programme to date (e.g. 50% of the programme
courses are finished).
The statistics indicate that 36% of the learners do not continue their studies after the first
lesson despite careful analysis of their individual needs by an educational counsellor to
help them establish their learning programme. Motivation is a very important factor if the
learner is to engage successfully in this process. In 1993, 67 % students actually began the
courses; 12 % arrived at 50% of their programme and 1972 (5%) certificates were
The SED is involved with a number of universities in research into the use of telematics
for ODE. Examples of these partnerships include the TELERGON project (describe
hereafter) by providing one of the courses (management) which have been used as the
basis for the students’ training. Also SED has participated in the LEARN-NETT project
that is described in more detail below.
Let us also note for the future an example of interesting support, the RESTODE network
from the CFB that could help to develop other strategies and tools to provide the learning
materials. More information on this initiative can be found at CFB-ODE WEB site:
A Comparison with France
In France, ODE is also an old preoccupation. In December 1939, a government decree
established the creation of the Centre National d’Enseignement par Correspondance
(CNEC) to meet the educational needs of children whose courses had been dislocated by
war (Keagan, 1996).
In the mid-1980s, the name of this body changed and it now become CNED (Centre
National d’Enseignement à Distance). At the state level, all what is concerned by ODE
is co-ordinated by the CNED. Located in eight different cities at the administrative level,
the offices provide courses covering a variety of content and levels of scholarship to
primary schools, high school and universities (that have special dedicated centres: see
In total, the CNED has approximately 400 000 enrolments per year. Registrants are
distributed all around the world (Europe, Asia, Africa, Americas, Oceania, Dom-Tom).
Courses are very varied. Contrary to the SED, it provides certification (diploma) ; the
validation is based on criteria set by the French Ministry of National Education, of
Research and Technology.
WEB site : CNED : http://www.cned.fr/
ODE in the Universities
Currently, in the French speaking part of Belgium, there is no university dedicated to open
and distance learning. Generally, the universities are old institutions that have first
provided ‘traditional’ face-to-face teaching, and as in other countries, have also
developed ODE experiences or services through specific departments or faculties. It is
apparent that they are going to establish more and more ODE services to answer the
increasing demand of the students and, especially for continuous training.
Five French speaking universities, Université de Liège –(Ulg), Université Libre de
Bruxelles – (ULB), Université de Mons-Hainaut –(UMH), Facultés Universitaires
Notre-Dame de la Paix de Namur – (FNDP), Université Catholique de Louvain –(UCL)
develop experiments in ODE at one level or another.
Examples of ODE practices
The LEARN-NETT project
The departments of education and educational technology within the five universities are
collaborating in the LEARN-NETT project. This project provides students, who are
training to be teachers, from the five sites the opportunities to create groups of two or
three who will work on a personal project related to an educational theme resulting in a
collaborative report and all managed at distance through telematics. The accent is put on a
methodology that emphasises the personal project of learners, but also the necessity to
co-operate. Tutors and professors act as educational facilitators at either the technical or
academic levels. The goal is the production of a personal work (a lesson on a chosen
topic). A special site on Internet is devoted to the project to provide some didactic
resources, news and opportunities for student discussions.
WEB site LEARN-NETT : http://www.ulb.ac.be/project/learnet
The ULg experiments
At ULg, the Service de Technologie de l’Education (STE) develops distance applications
in many domains. In the framework of telematics’ DG XIII ELECTRA 1 programme, the
Eurogional ALMA2 project is dedicated to this kind of application. Inside ELECTRA,
the STE-ULG is the leader of two projects: EUMELT 3 deals with for the continuous
training of general practitioners in medicine while TELEDU 4 focuses on co-operative
Issued from the same DG XIII telematics programme, POST DOC will provide new tools
to enhance ODE in the EURE.G.IO (Liège, Aachen, Maastricht, Diepenbeek).
In the framework of DG XII DELTA program, self learning environments have been
implemented and tested. Generally, these projects focus on the development of SL
materials (e.g. hypertexts and reference guides) and with the use video-conferencing
facilities, but not only for ODE.
In the framework of PASDT 5 , the ADAPTEL project offers interactive TV for deaf
people. Its goal is to help this target audience become more informed through discussion of
issues of direct relevance to them.
During the next academic year, the ULg will provide a virtual campus for students in
participating faculties. Currently all students of the university are connected to
In some faculties, during their courses, the students can receive a basic training in the use
of different computing tools. For instance, if they want, they can go to CAFEIM, the
"Centre d'Auto-Formation et d'Evaluation Interactive Multi-media" situated at the Faculty
of Psychology and Education (FAPSE) that provides a self-learning environment to the
students. They can use computers to construct their reports (e.g. word-processors and
spread sheets are available) or to be evaluated on a topic. CAFEIM also provides
multimedia software and audio-visual materials (tapes and books) for SL of foreign
languages (Leclercq et Gillies, 1994).
New evaluation techniques (Plunus 1996) that contribute to formative and self- assessment
have also been developed (e.g. WEB QUIZZ).A majority of these applications including
ELECTRA =lectronic Learning Environment for the Continual Training and Research in Alma.
ALMA = Euregional Consortium of Universities : Aachen, Liège, Maastricht, Hasselt-Diepenbeek.
Programme d’Appui Scientifique à la Diffusion des Télécommunications.
the study of self-estimation processes have been carried out by the "Service de
Technologie de l'Education" (STE) of ULg and by Leclercq and Bruno (1993). It is an
important component of the SL and ODE process.
Additional information on these practices can be found on the WEB at the following
Cafeim : www.ulg.ac.be/cafeim
Web Quizz: www.ulg.ac.be/cafeim/anglais/quizzgb.htm
The ULB experiments
The ULB also participates to the LEARN-NETT project, but ULB’s involvement in ODE
is not limited to this. Although the university has no central structure that deals with ODE,
ULB has and is going to develop competencies in this topic.
Firstly, the ULB has implemented a video conferencing system run by the Centre
d’Enseignement Ouvert et à Distance (CEOD. Initial trials of the equipment have taken
place with links to New York, delivering the same course the two campuses at the same
time. Other examples can be found in the TELERGON project. Here ODL courses are
provided for handicapped people. Finally, the UVA project (Université Virtuelle
Africaine) has the objective of developing courses for African people via
Secondly, the ULB has developed courses based on telematics (New Information and
Communications Technologies - NITC). Teachers have implemented their course on the
web, with the aid of the general computer department of the university. The ILVP (Institut
des Langues Vivantes et de Phonétique) tries to implement and to evaluate ODE learning
of foreign languages. Other initiatives include the GÉOTEL project, (Grande Ecole
Ouverte de Téléformation) and the FED project (Forum Electronique Didactique.
GÉOTEL provides continuous asynchronous training, based on virtual campus to
workers in the telematics industry. FED provides asynchronous interactions between
learners and teachers.
Thirdly, CUDEC (Centre Universitaire de Didactique pour l’Enseignement de la Chimie)
which offers to the students the opportunity to practise self-learning activities and
self-evaluation. Telematics has not yet been incorporated into this project.
Finally at a larger scale, two projects are worth mentioning. The first one, the CEOD
(Centre d’Enseignement Ouvert et à Distance) works in synergy with the virtual library
PISTE (Point d’Information Scientifique et Technique par voie Electronique). The second
one is the Virtual University that provides telematics support to students. This structure
gives teachers the opportunity to manage student queries and provide resource notes via
WEB site ULB : www.ulb.ac.be
The UMH (University of Mons-Hainaut) experiments
In this university, as in ULB, there is no central structure dealing with ODE. Moreover
video-conferencing has not yet taken place in UMH (this could be done in 1999).
However, some initiative has been taken. The LEARN-NETT experience has already
been mentioned, but other experiments are of interest.
Firstly some European experiments have been undertaken. The ECOMANAGEMENT
project provided telematic help to small Businesses (the SMEs) to aid in the
implementation of ecological management systems. The TELETEENS project promotes
distance care of adolescent students who are long-time patients.
Secondly, they have conducted an experiment with a more local impact. A support net
aimed sharing applications and expertise among ODE programmes has been developed.
Finally, some projects have the goal to develop some NITC material but, until now,
without telematic perspective. For example, CD-ROMS have been created thanks to the
European COMETT program. Also the Educational Technology unit has produced
CD-ROMS dedicated to primary, secondary and higher level school and also to continuous
WEB site: www.umh.ac.be
The UCL (Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve) experiments
Unlike the other CFB universities, there is now a researcher working full time on the
ODE development at this University. He has a key role to provide information on how to
implement ODE across the university. There are courses that are already incorporate ODE.
These include courses based on classical material (videotapes) or on NITC materials (such
as digitised pictures and slides) and delivered using telematics. Histology, in the faculty of
medicine, is taught using telematics to deliver resources to the students.
ODE research projects at the national and European level are being supported For
instance, the engineering faculty supports an EU project whose goal is to implement
telematic practical work with the help of Internet and video-conference. In the setting of
European Organisation Natural, the agronomy faculty is participating to the conception of
a European Virtual Agricultural and Veterinary Faculty.
These initiatives at UCL are mostly based on the efforts of individual academics. Until the
enrolment of the ODE researcher (in March 1997) there was neither central structure nor
infrastructure supporting the emergence of ODE.
WEB site: http://www.ucl.ac.be/
The FUNDP experiments (Facultés Universitaires Notre Dame de la Paix)
At FUNDP, there is no central structure dedicated to ODE. However, two central centres
of competencies could be used to promote ODE at the FUNDP.
The Department of Education and Technology (DET) and the Audio-Visual Centre (AVC)
are collectively working on learning support issues. Secondly, a multimedia committee has
been instituted to foster multimedia initiatives promoted by individual teachers or by
Contrary to UCL, it seems that very few teachers or departments have implemented
distance material in their courses. The Department of Histology appears to be the
exception rather than the rule here.
At the research level there is some level of activity and this includes DET-FUNDP that
co-ordinates the Learn-NETT project (see previous section. Further, a TV series about
Wallonia has been made in collaboration with national TV. Each film covers on a
specific topic - geography, history, sociology of Wallonia - and each film is based on
results of several research reports.
Finally, CEFIS6 promotes technology inside school and for self-learning (UTILE project).
The CEFIS provides help and training to schools that would like to use NITC.
Some other projects that aim at developing NITC material but without a telematics
perspective include the Valise Pédagogique, which provides thirty-five up-to-date videos
CEFIS : Centre pour la formation à l’informatique dans le secondaire.
to secondary teachers covering diverse areas such as sciences, art, culture, psychology,
pedagogy and computer science.
WEB site: http://www.fundp.ac.be/
Most of the named universities provide facilities to support individualised learning with
teachers providing syllabi, videos or programmed instruction in a manner that facilitates
ODE. The use or the development of ITC remains rare, however.. The universities
generally participate to European projects to facilitate the development and the use of
multimedia products . There is a motivation to develop and promote ODE, even if
currently there is not a synergy between the universities nor a concrete political directive.
The recent initiative of the CREF (Conseil des Recteurs Francophones) will provide an
official state of the art on what happens in the universities about ODE. This will also
provide some perspectives and recommendations for the future.
Comparison with France
In France, twenty-two centres of télé-enseignement universitaires (CTU) managed by the
CNED and distributed across the country provide distance courses. Each centre takes in
charge the development of different topics.
In 1987, a federation called FIED - the Fédération Interuniversitaire de l’Enseignement à
Distance - grouped the twenty-two French centres. The FIED represents France at the
EADTU (European Association of Distance Teaching University) to which the UCL of
Belgium is affiliated. Now, a member of the FIED has the presidency of the EADTU.
An inter-university telematic service, TELESUP, gathers seventeen universities together. It
offers to a large audience information about the services offered by the universities.
Students are provided with mailing facilities and documents they can download from the
minitel or the Web.
Other initiatives from French universities and high schools are also reported in a study
made by the Oravep7 (1994).
Site FIED : http://telesup.univ-mrs.fr/TELESUP/LaFIED.pag
Site TELESUP : http://telesup.univ-mrs.fr/TELESUP
ORAVEP = Observatoire des Ressources Multimédias pour la Formation
3. PRIVATE ode organisms
In the CFB
If we turn to company initiatives we find that there is a tendency for companies, not
specialised in education or training, to try to upgrade their workers’ knowledge and
competencies through internally developed didactic resources (e.g. books or CD-ROM)
and through periods of time to learn. There is a limited use of training centres but they
are sometimes used to organise specially dedicated courses. Companies rarely use ODE
existing facilities or centres.
Nevertheless, some private institutions propose distance courses for specific contents
areas such as foreign language and medical secretaries). These courses are generally
provided either by telephone or by mail.
Comparison with France
Keagan (1996) reports that there could be about 200 private (not funded by public money)
ODE organisations in France. The association called the Chambre Syndicale Nationale
d’Education à Distance (CHANED) gathers the whole private ODE organisms, schools
and institutes that provide school and professional training for all levels. It aims to the
development of general culture, of continuous training,
The FFFOD, Forum Français pour la Formation Ouverte et à Distance, created in
December 1995, aims to contribute to reflective practice and exchange of ideas. It includes
about 30 members such as the CNED, the CHANED, private ODE organisations.
Site FFOD : http://www.ardemi.fr/fffod/frindex.htm
Conclusions and Perspectives
Amongst ODE practices identified in the French Community of Belgium, most are
initiatives from public organisms. They are the most important in terms of number and of
variety of courses provided and of the number of learners enrolled. Private initiatives are
The creation of ODE institutions
A number of factors have influenced the implementation of the ODE services. Some
institutions have been created in order to promote the training of people who are in search
of work or of workers. Among the institutions that clearly aim at the development of
practices of ODE (e.g. the "Service d'Enseignement à Distance de la CFB), the
implementation of such services aims to complete what already existed at the educational
point of view to reach a population that have no access to classical institutions, such as
prisoners and the handicapped people, or to react to the lack of training opportunities in
some regions. This strategy is applied mostly in the context of adult training.
These factors are not equally weighted when applied to the creation of ODE institutions in
Belgium and in France. For example, in Belgium the traditional educational network is so
well developed that there is no region without schools at each level. The country is very
small (30 158 km2, 16 844 km2 for the Wallonia region) and makes the total coverage an
attainable goal. Even in the area of continuous training, there are many evening courses
(promotion sociale) addressed to people who want to obtain a complementary training in a
domain. The density of the educational network is also illustrated by the existence of five
universities in the CFB within 70 to 100 km of each other. In France there are regions with
low population and a high degree of more isolation and these regions are unable to support
the full range of training possibilities. Telematics has been important in supporting these
isolated regions and client groups. An illustration of this is the CYBER CHAMPION
project that offers virtual school athletes obliged to stay in the mountain to prepare
themselves for ski competition.
Opening of traditional institutions to ODE
Other public institutions have progressively established ODE services (e.g. the
universities). First, the universities addressed to students that just finished the secondary
school. Now more and more people want to access to a continuous training without
necessarily going every day to a campus. Another problem is the fact that there are more
students than before at the university and ODE will be necessary to solve infrastructure
problems. Sometimes, ODE provides the answer to the economic problem of
individualised training. For instance, CAFEIM-ULG could only provide individualised
training to 600 foreign language students, with the available financial resources, through
The audience for ODE courses varies according to the objectives of the institutions. The
courses of the Ministry of Education of the French Community apply to all citizens. Other
organisations such as universities target academic and research issues. Companies, on the
other hand, offer their services to everyone that needs them, but generally to workers that
need to be specialised in a specific topic or to unemployed people.
Although ODE is not widespread in the French-speaking part of Belgium, the situation is
evolving very fast and resources that could help to implement ODE services are becoming
more and more available. Multi-media products, evaluation software, the use of
INTERNET and e-mail, the reduction in hardware costs and the existing national
networks (e.g. BELNET, RESTODE) collectively provide a basis to enlarge the ODE
Is there a need for ODE in Belgium? The development of ODE is not linked to the lack of
competence or creativity to the high cost of start-up costs required by ODE and to the
fact that the country is so small with an educational network well organised and dense. The
added value and the consideration of cost effectiveness of ODE are crucial.
Added value certainly exists: individualisation, timetable flexibility, availability of training
are just some of the factors that are favour ODE. The issue of cost-effectiveness problem
should be considered wholistically and at a European level. Already some high level
courses are being shared. For example, several Flemish universities and companies and
French partners are members of the European consortium EUROPACE 2000.
What could be the next step in Belgium? Already existing initiatives, the SED centre or
experiments in the universities, show that those institutions are real centres of
competencies to which it is necessary to provide measures to develop themselves. For
instance, on the one hand, the SED already answers to ODE needs of many publics. An
improvement could be anticipated about the way to provide courses: the use of telematics
should be enhanced. The kinds of educational materials could also be more ITC centred:
instead of just providing written support, multimedia could support ODE as has been
shown in France with the transformation from CNEC to CNED. On the other hand, the
existing infrastructure in the universities could easily support distance courses, that still
have to be designed. A synergy between the institutions based on the NITC infrastructure
resources available in the universities and on the long expertise of the SED could prove
fruitful, as in the LEARN-NETT and TELERGON projects.
The development of ODE will be realised only if political and financial decisions are
made. There is evidence of greater political interest and will in this area. At the university
level, the Council of the Rectors in Belgium (CREF) is making a survey to establish the
state of the art about the ODE practices and research developments in the universities. At a
local level, projects such as BRUNETTE (Brussels NETwork for Telematics in Education)
are supported by the city of Brussels. Finally, with its WIN project (Wallonie Intranet),
the Région Wallonne has decided to install optic fibre network across all the territory of
Wallonia and afterwards they are going to provide equipment and facilities to connect the
schools. All of these initiatives will be insufficient to establish ODE. A real policy of ODE
development should be defined and supported by a co-ordinating body.
This lack of an ODE co-ordinating structure, such as the TELESUP network in France, is
significant. Such a structure's goals would be to provide to information about the services
offered, documents that can be downloaded, methodological supports (e.g. about how to
design or implement a distance course). Without such a structure ODE development In
Belgium will continue to be patchy.
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