Digital Agenda for Europe
A Europe 2020 Initiative

Do we still need brick-and-mortar schools if we have digital learning environments?


The online learning environment are offering new opportunities for education.  Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), Personal Learning Environment, Personal Learning Networks, Open Education Resources, Open Education Practices, they all offer a mixture of collaboration, peer-to-peer exchange, different levels of engagement and more flexible time schedules and rythm of learning.

Do we still need brick-and-mortar schools or we all will be learning in the cloud? How we should experiment with education to fit this educational change? What should we change in the education policy?


61 users have voted.


Stylianos Mystakidis's picture

Hello all,

I believe ultimately that the paradigm in adult education & training will change. To learn till recently meant to attend class with a teacher/trainer. The effort and cost of such face to face learning practice will have to justified and seen as the exception in the near future. The overwhelming demand for new skills will make online/distance/e-learning the new default learning paradigm focused on flexibility and efficiency. The value of live interaction, communication & socializing in physical space is high but will be limited to K-12 education and to the elite few who will be able to afford it at higher education level.


50 users have voted.
Katarzyna Szkuta's picture

thanks Stylianos. what about the reputation of those new digital providers?

shall we have the same system authorisation system as for formal education (e.g. MOOC intiatives by prestigious universities)? Or maybe encourage newcomers (e.g. Khan Academy) to compete with them and issue similar certification of skills as established actors on the education market?

66 users have voted.
Jim Devine's picture

In a recent article, responding to the IPTS call for vision papers for Schools 2030 (see I suggested that we think differently about schools as physical spaces:
"For a new vision of education and educational practice to become a reality, the nature of schools as physical spaces will need radical reconsideration. Schools and classrooms, as we currently know them, are designed on the premise of teachers as sole practitioners and students as members of homogenous class groups. School 2030 will require removal of many walls and an opening up to provide:
- Flexibly configurable open plan spaces (studios);
- A personal space (desk) for each student within large open ‘home group’ areas to facilitate learning/acquisition of core competences;
- Presentation areas for group work;
- Tele-presence areas to link with other groups and with external organisations;
- Experimental/Simulation Laboratories for the exploration of scientific and technological phenomena;
- Fab-Labs for design and artefact production".

68 users have voted.
Katarzyna Szkuta's picture

Jim, I really like your vision of a transformed education buildings much more accommodating for collaborative work (also remote) and the important place of simulation & creativity labs.  the shift to learning environments from teaching environments is indeed needed.  

56 users have voted.
Cristina Juesas's picture

Are our education systems ready for this BIG deal? Some yes, no doubt... but not all of them, not the most of them.

While these are still working on the starting of digitalizing their works, renewing their webs onto something that is the past even before it's on air... I still think there's a lot to do before thinking on leaving "traditional" schools...
Agreed in this thing with Jim... we are not yet on this, or not only, anyway.

102 users have voted.
Michael Hallissy's picture

While I agree that digital learning environments have the potential of re-imaging how teachers and learners interact we need much greater discussion on this issue. Last week I attended the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA) Conference in UCC,, where the topic of MOOCs was dominant. Though it was agreed they have great potential some suggested we need to proceed with caution and one presenter labeled the use of digital tools in higher education as a "literature of disappointment".

Her argument was that many commercial companies are making 'claims' about these technologies but where is the evidence that this is taking place. This view is also share by others as evidenced by a recent paper, Missing: evidence of a scholarly approach to teaching and learning with technology in higher education (
So we need to consider what type of learning environments we want to design and then figure out the role technology will play in facilitating this. If we are to look to the US and the online school movement it appears that blended learning may be the way to go for now until we have additional evidence.

57 users have voted.
Julie Cullen's picture

Speaking from personal experience, I believe that we do still need brick-and-mortar schools. As a post primary teacher (ages 13-18), I witness daily the positive effect emerging technologies are having on teaching and learning. However, in my opinion these teachnologies are just tools...they provide a gateway for our young learners to engage and develop their skills both online and offline.

Young people need to interact with others their own age and positive role models face to face. MOOCs, blogs and other online learning platforms are proving very effective but they do not provide the social interaction that teenagers need. They may well be suited to more mature learners.

I think that the teachers need to be familiar with these tools and learning environments. The educators need to bring these online tools into the classroom and engage the learners offline.

58 users have voted.
Katarzyna Szkuta's picture

Very interesting, Michael. I agree that we have to evaluate the real impact of digital learning environments also to see where is best fitted - adult education, specific groups, etc. 

59 users have voted.
Katarzyna Szkuta's picture

Julie, thanks for your comment and sharing your teacher experience with us. Your comment goes in line with Michael's above about targeting specific groups based on research data.

But also we have a voice in the previous discussion about the need for other skills (soft skills or social skills) that have to be coupled with ICT in order to prepare young people for the employment market but also for social interactions in general. and here the brick-and-mortar schools and the physical presence of teachers as role models and guidance is crucial in my opinion.

55 users have voted.
Michelle Selinger's picture

Some excellent comments in this thread. I have seen some excellent examples of novel, open plan learning spaces in Australia, UK and Denmark. In Australia I witnessed technology being used as a great enabler for self-directed learning, but it was only part of the story. Much of what I saw in these schools was students making informed choices about the tools they needed to complete tasks and in turn, learning the skills needed for society today. Schools won't go away, but I agree many need to change. There are proof points out there. We need both in and out of school learning environment and also to find ways to bottle excellent practice and scale it in a way that meets the cultural and societal norms of each region or country

47 users have voted.