European Computer Driving Licence

Despite having a naff name, the ECDL could soon become one of the standard qualifications of computing and IT. The ECDL is intended to demonstrate that the person possessing an ECDL certification is able to understand basic concepts of computers and their usage. You do not need to accumulate a certain amount of experience to obtain an ECDL; it doesn't matter if you've never touched a computer in your life or if you're a 1337 5cr1p7 k1dd13. All you have to do is follow the ECDL syllabus; it is made up of seven modules, which are divided into categories, which are divided into "knowledge areas", which are in turn divided into "knowledge items". Each module contains a "Getting Started" category which contains the basics of that module. Mercifully, the ECDL syllabus is constant throughout the whole of Europe.

All of the seven modules must be completed to pass:

  1. Basic Concepts of Information Technology (IT)
    Basic computer security, terminology, how to turn it on and off, the involvement of the telephone network in IT, the Internet and health.
  2. Using the Computer and Managing Files
    File directories and subdirectories, saving files, loading files, printing files, copying, pasting, deleting and editing files. Arf.
  3. Word Processing
    Typing it in, saving, formatting, search and replace, pagination, headers and footers, and mail merge.
  4. Spreadsheets
    Rows and columns, basic functions and charts and graphs.
  5. Database
    Primary keys, querying and generating reports.
  6. Presentation
    Formatting text and pictures, ordering slides, charts and transitions.
  7. Information and Communication
    Bookmarks, printing, sending email, replying to messages and sorting messages. The WWW and email, basically.

Geeks may not like the fact that the ECDL is not so subtly geared toward Windows systems. The jargon and features covered are all oriented toward PCs, Windows 9x and Microsoft Office. This is not a good thing if you want to teach someone about Linux, as only the first two or three modules are actually OS-independent.

Getting the ECDL is fairly easy if you already know your stuff. Just go to a proper training centre, and ask. They should give you a logbook in which your progress is recorded.

Once you receive the logbook, you then have 3 years to pass the tests for all 7 modules. Each time you pass a module, your logbook is signed, and when all 7 modules have been signed for in your logbook, you can exchange the logbook for the ECDL certificate. Got that? And now you've got the certificate, you can pin it on your wall to impress your technophobic parents, take it into your job interview to impress your prospective employer, or cross out your name and sell it to someone else at a profit!

The contents of this writeup are in the public domain.
I've done part of the ECDL, and it is the most painful, pointless computer course I've done since I typed, 'A SAD LAD ASKS DAD FLASK' 20 times in Keyboarding I.

The reason for this venom and contempt is the hopeless, parroting method in which the course is taught. Now, I am a mostly self-taught computer expert (and, as you can tell, extremely modest), but having trained people in IT I can say that a monkey could pass the ECDL if he didn't die of boredom first.

BIG DISCLAIMER: I don't guarantee that your ECDL course is presented in the same way as mine, but it is very likely.

The ECDL is taught exclusively with barely-interactive images. Thousands upon thousands of images, screenshots of Windows and numerous applications in action. You are given a task, such as 'open a document', 'change the page size', or 'resize the window'. You are to perform this task by using the mouse on the screen, just as you would in the field.

However, as it's all based on a few scripts and static images, it's impossible to screw up, as you cannot click on or affect anything except what you're meant to, which, in case you somehow miss the verbal and printed instructions, will often be indicated by a giant arrow and highlight. If you're told to close a window, that's all you can do, nothing else works. Click on that little 'X' button, and the next image loads to show you a new screenshot of what a real copy of Windows would then show you.

The same applies for text entry - type however you like, and that includes using your feet, face, breasts, or palm of your hand - you can *only* type in the correct characters, and exactly as they appear (so, if the file name has uppercase letters, you need to type them as uppercase!)

You can probably imagine how worthless a training tool the ECDL program is when you cannot make a single mistake. There is absolutely no challenge, and you do not really use your knowledge so much as blindly follow instructions.

I won't deny, there is very slight merit in the ECDL in that it does communicate concepts that inexperienced users need to know about the basic workings of Windows. However, it is fundamentally flawed on numerous levels.

  • as it's all image based, it is worthless over a 56k or slow broadband connection. I was accessing it over an office LAN and was still suffering upwards of 30 second waits for some images to load - lessons can be scores of images.
  • experienced PC users cannot skip the tedious, drawn-out introductory lessons
  • tasks are often performed in a needlessly inefficient manner
  • entire steps can be skipped by clickly wildly all over a loading image until you hit the 'sweet spot' to trigger the next image

I spoke to an office temp while I was working as a trainer, who was doing the ECDL at night in her local college. Our experiences and opinions were nearly identical - the program was too slow, too basic, and required little more than clicking where you were told. When I left my post she was considering giving up the course as she felt there was little it could teach her.

If you're considering the ECDL, think long and hard about it. I've yet to come across any job advertisement that specifically asks for or even mentions it, three years on from DrT's wu. While in theory it is a good idea, you'll learn far more buying one of the many 'Windows for Cretins' books and sitting yourself down in front of a PC.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.