Online education is quickly becoming a major phenomenon around the world. The ease and convenience it offers learners appeal to people just about everywhere, especially those who are trying to balance work, family, and other obligations with completing a degree or certification program. Yet certain nations have embraced online education more than others, leading the way both in terms of the number and variety of programs and new innovations to online learning itself. Here, we’ve highlighted some of the nations that are really stepping up the game when it comes to online education, though with the proliferation of high-speed Internet connections and a growing need for highly educated candidates in technical positions around the world, other nations likely aren’t far behind. (Ibid.).
United States: The US is the undisputed leader in online education in the world today, with hundreds of online colleges and thousands of online courses available to students. A 2011 study by the Sloan Consortium found that 6 million students in the US are taking at least one online course, nearly one third of all those enrolled in higher education. In fact, enrollments in online courses are outpacing those of higher education as a whole, with a 10% increase in online students between 2010 and 2011 compared to a just 2% rise overall. Of course, the US isn’t just the leader in terms of sheer numbers. It’s also been the model to follow in developing online delivery systems. Most prestigious universities in the US offer at least some courses online, and some have fully developed online degree programs, even at the master’s and doctoral levels. Even more influential are US open educational programs like those offered at MIT, which have been the international model to emulate.
India: India is playing a major role in the growth of online learning opportunities that are popping up throughout Asia. Over the past few decades, India has developed numerous world-class universities and colleges which are fast becoming destinations for some of Asia’s best and brightest, and their online programs are experiencing a similar boom. Part of the explosion of interest has stemmed from economic concerns, as many simply can’t afford to take two or more years off of work to attend a traditional college. Online schools help to solve that problem, and with programs expecting to bring in a whopping $1 billion in revenue by the end of the decade, it’s clear that distance learning has staying power in India. While home-based schools are doing well, including the popular IITs and private schools like Sikkm-Manipal University, American universities are also bringing online ed to India, offering courses at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Cornell to Indian students.
China: Currently, China is home to almost 70 different online colleges, a number that will likely grow in the coming years in order to meet the high demand for online learning opportunities. China has a long history of distance education, beginning in the 1960s with courses that were delivered via radio and television, but the nation is fast becoming a leader in online education as well. While problems with internet access in rural areas and a proliferation of diploma mills have slowed progress being made in China, several major online education companies are seeing rapid growth, due largely to the increased demand for highly trained members of the global workforce coming from China. The online learning industry is expected to grow by leaps and bounds over the next few years, and with steady growth since 2006, it’s looking to meet all expectations.
South Korea: When it comes to advancements in e-learning in Asian nations, South Korea is leading the pack, spurred on by the nation’s strong and growing high-tech industry and widespread high-speed internet access. In recent years, a number of universities in South Korea have begun offering online courses, and the country currently has 17 online colleges, all of which boast state-of-the-art facilities and software. Yet there have been some roadblocks to the success of online education in South Korea, largely stemming from the stigma online education still holds in South Korean society, where face-to-face education is highly valued. That may not stand in the way of development in this nation’s online education programs, however, as it plans to use its resources to not only teach Korean students, but those in other countries around the world, offering more courses in English and promoting their ability to deliver what they’re calling "smart learning." They’re also working to encourage more Korean students to enroll, pairing online courses with non-virtual activities on campus or in social settings. Time will tell whether or not the investment pays off for this tech-focused nation.
Malaysia: Malaysia may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of online education, but the small Asian nation is forging ahead at full speed when it comes to opening up new opportunities for learning online. One of the nation’s biggest e-learning schools is Asia e University, based out of Kuala Lumpur. It has been a boon for people in underserved areas, many of which have abundant access to the internet but not universities or higher level degree programs. Asia e University doesn’t just reach Malaysians, however, offering education to 31 different Asian nations and partnering with an impressive number of schools to deliver blended and fully online programs, even developing an MBA program through the International Business School of Scandinavia in Denmark. While online education in Malaysia and Asia as a whole still has a long way to go, it’s clear that the country is going to be making waves in distance education for some time to come.
United Kingdom: Online education in the U.K. has been around for quite some time, but it was only in 2011 that it started to see a real boost in interest. The government’s Online Learning Task Force recommended an investment of nearly $159 million dollars in online education in order to help the nation build its brand, develop better online educational resources, and become a major international player in the distance learning market. The funding recommendation is partly in response to increasing tuition costs in the U.K., much of which used to be covered by the government but now is turning many students away from higher education. The government hopes that more convenient and cheaper educational options will stem that trend. Currently, a few private, for-profit providers and the Open University are leading the charge in online education, but new funding could make public programs more successful and accessible to students.
Australia:Distance education has become an increasingly popular option for Australians who want to head back to school without putting careers on hold, growth that was driven up even more by the economic downturn in 2008 and 2009. Over the past five years, the online education market in Australia has grown by almost 20% and is expected to be worth an estimated $4.68 billion this year. Currently, the major players in the Australian market are Kaplan, Seek Learning, and Open Universities Australia, though many smaller schools are also bringing in a fair amount of students as well. Even more growth is projected in online programs based in Australia that teach students from Asia, with the international market expected to grow to millions of students during the next 10 years, which if it comes to fruition will make Australia one of the world’s leading providers of online education.
South Africa:South Africa is one nation that has begun to capitalize on all the benefits that digital education can offer. They’ve developed nationwide online resources like EduNet and Thutong and offer online courses at both the high school and college levels through institutions all over the country. In the past few years, the online higher education sector in South Africa has seen steady growth, but the demand for highly qualified teachers, which the country sorely needs, may drive online programs in teacher training much faster than other sectors. Currently, online education is still in its infancy in South Africa, but the government has demonstrated a dedication to improving and expending distance learning opportunities and programs like GetSmarter and UNISA Online are showing that these goals are viable in the current marketplace.
But it is not just on line education that is heating up competitive markets for students. The Chronicle of Higher Education has recently reported on the national investments in "education hubs" meant to draw students to national centers. Jason Lane and Kevin Kinser, Me Too, Me, Too!, Worldwise, Chronicle of Higher Education, June 26, 2012.
(Jason Lane and Kevin Kinser, Me Too, Me, Too!, Worldwise, supra., "The administration building at Songdo Global University Campus in South Korea.")
It is fashionable to be an educational hub these days. Countries are developing educational cities, villages, and zones designed to house prestigious foreign institutions, often seeming to rely on a Field of Dreams mentality: If you build it they will come. But if everyone builds such a city, will there be enough institutions and students to make a game of it?These educational hubs, like online universities generally, compete on two levels. "Most of these developments are looking for partnerships with the same “prestigious” institutions. Their strategy is to focus on the top 200 or top 500 universities in the global rankings, mostly from English-speaking nations with well-established higher-education sectors. " (Ibid.). But there is another level of competition--at the local and regional levels. "Education hubs are in a regional competition as well. Whether it’s the Middle East or Southeast Asia, if one country announces a new initiative, then other countries soon follow with their own plans." (Ibid.).
The international educational market is already pretty competitive. Universities want to attract foreign students, who often pay full fees, add to their institutional prestige, and boost their rankings. But the pursuit of becoming an educational hub represents a different educational market—one where governments and private investors are actively recruiting foreign colleges and universities to set up shop in a new educational city.
Many readers will have already heard of the market leaders, like Dubai International Academic City and its predecessor the Knowledge Village. Qatar has also made a splash with its Education City. But we’ve heard interest in educational hubs from nations as varied as Bahrain and Bhutan, and from Sri Lanka to Singapore. (Ibid.).
Whether on line or through hub partnerships, one thing is becoming clear--the markets for education are becoming global. And that may have a number of consequences--harmonization of educational requirements, a stronger move toward standardization, already evident in its baby stages through efforts like the Bologna process, and, inevitably, resistance and moves toward the creation of sub-cultures of education truer to regional, ethnic and religious communities. .