Adult participation in lifelong learning and training has increased substantially over the last few years in the European Union reaching 8,5% in 2002. Current European policy priorities for the establishment of a highly competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010 (i.e. Lisbon Treaty) have set a target of at least 12,5% average level of participation in lifelong learning among the citizens of the EU. To reach the 2010 targets, according to the EU Joint Employment Report 2003/2004 and CEDEFOP’s Summary Conference Report 2004 “Getting to work on Life Long Learning”, significant policy reforms are required, to ensure access to lifelong learning opportunities for all. Moreover, by combining lifelong learning with e-learning better access to lifelong learning is achieved, giving an advantage to rural areas to redress the “skills divide” which is observed, as a rule, between them and urban areas. For the effective integration of IT in education and training systems in Europe, the Action Plan eEurope 2002 argues that e-learning facilitates learning at work, ensuring cost savings and flexible just-in-time education and training, which are integrated into the worker’s environment. This is particularly important for SMEs whose small size does not allow for expensive, time consuming staff training solutions. Thus, lifelong learning for SMEs with IT support seems to be a valid solution to upgrading skills in rural areas and enhancing the competitiveness of, especially, the smaller and more vulnerable enterprises.
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