France’s Centre national d'enseignement à distance (National Centre for Distance Education) has set up a laboratory with the aim of adapting multimedia tools to the needs of education. The project is supported by companies and research organisations.

Interview with Quentin Rouillard, head of  the Direction Innovation business incubator at CNED, conducted on the sidelines of the Campus européen d'été 2011  (European Summer Campus 2011) at the Cité des Savoirs event organised by the Universityof Poitiers.

L'Atelier: What were the challenges that led to the establishment of this ‘living lab’?

Quentin Rouillard: This initiative began from a simple observation. We realised that in the field of education, the teaching given to students was not really in step with recent innovations. Teaching methods have remained the same, while the environment has changed significantly – especially with the arrival of tablet computers.  To remedy this situation, we came up with the idea of putting a new structure in place, focussing on education-oriented research and the application of new technologies in education. To put it simply, we carry out studies on the subject of enriched learning.  The most surprising thing however is that we’re the first set-up of this kind: of the 250 existing living labs, not a single one apart from us is dealing with education.

What advantage does it bring that you’re carrying out this initiative within a brand new entity which is not simply a research arm of the CNED?

Well, I should point out that CNED, like a good many reseearch bodies, suffers from a high degree of inertia and is somewhat turned in on itself.  We, on the other hand, intend to work on the cross-disciplinary principle, i.e. to get involved with people from very varied fields. So we work in tandem with universities, companies and other living labs. With these partners, our number one goal is to come up with innovations that will be developed by and for the users.  Our intentions are clearly reflected in our triple approach - observation, exploration, experimentation.

How do you set up this kind of research, and what benefits can a company draw from it?

The projects that we carry out may be the result of joint thinking, or put forward by just one of the partners. From the moment a project is ready to take shape, we set up the research along two strands – a pure research strand or ‘think tank’, and a development strand, a ‘do tank’ if you like.  It’s important to understand that we aim to go beyond simple prototypes and try to make sure that the innovations we come up with can eventually be put in place. This is an extremely useful approach from a company’s point of view in that it enables them to get hold of technological innovations without having to set up a lab inside their own firm. In our view, this kind of pooling of skills and resources is definitely the way research should be going in the future.