For all of his career Michael Foley has been an enthusiastic explorer of how information and communications technologies can transform education’s effectiveness and accessibility. From an early start in the 1970s applying audio-visual media to face-to-face learning in higher education and teacher training, he and his Audio Visual Centre team at the National University of Ireland in Dublin pioneered the educational use of satellite broadcasting in Europe in 1986. The catalyst was an Intellsat sponsored twenty six week course on Water Resource Management delivered live via an Intellsat satellite to students at the University of Jordan in Amman. From then on he and his centre concentrated on researching and applying emerging technologies, learning systems, and communications networks in order to make knowledge and learning more accessible. Through programs sponsored by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the research framework programs of the European Commission (EC) he and his team explored direct broadcasting satellites, videoconferencing, cable systems and early use of the Web for e-learning. In the process he came President of the ESA sponsored EuroStep educational satellite channel and the Irish government’s representative in the EC’s DELTA program.
In 1997 he was invited to join the World Bank Institute in Washington DC to contribute to the design and implementation of what became known as the Global Development Learning Network (GDLN), becoming Lead Distance Learning Specialist in 2004. GDLN is a network of institutional partners in developing countries using blended learning techniques and communications technologies to share knowledge on development. The early years were based on satellite technology but as partner countries began to roll out their own fiber optic based National Research and Education Networks (NRENs), especially in South Asia and Latin America, GDLN partnerships were established with these networks. This led Michael to become a champion of NRENs within the operational side of the World Bank, raising awareness among senior management and staff about the transformational effect that NRENs could play in the integration into the global academic community of the higher education institutions in their client countries. His report on “The Role and Status of National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) in Africa” was commissioned by the Bank as a guide to its own staff and to national governments, institutions, and donors.