Online education is now on the agenda of most organizations concerned with education and training. But is there any evidence that online education is adding value to existing, more traditional education models? Can new technologies deliver accessible, flexible and revenue-generating programmes and courses in developing countries?
A report from the Commonwealth of Learning (COL)* surveys the evolution of virtual education systems. Highlighting the current widespread exclusion of nations which lack established ICTs infrastructure, it argues the need to provide the development capital to enable developing countries to use virtual education models to bring mass education opportunities to their citizens.
The report argues that causes of the ‘digital divide’ between those with and without access to technology must be addressed if virtual education is to be a meaningful part of educational reform in developing countries. An integrated vision of ways of learning is necessary in a world that requires educational systems to respond to education needs throughout life. The authors challenge the collective wisdom often associated with virtual education – that contact teaching, face-to-face interactions among learners, and the physical structures within which they occur will become obsolete.
While virtual education may not be the main answer to the pressing education problems of the developing world, it does offer potential to give learners increased choice in the the way they learn. Even in the poorest nations at least a segment of the population must be exposed to virtual education.
The report urges policy-makers and donors to:
address issues around equality of access to ICTs
encourage the creation – and assist with required infrastructure – of regional partnerships among institutions in developing countries to undertake joint development of learning objects databases, an independent agency to validate courses delivered by distance education and provide an authoritative database of accredited providers
work with local government, non-governmental organisations and communities to promote the use of multi-purpose telecentres where the public can use a range of ICTs for business and education
not underestimate the initial and ongoing funding requirements: sustainable adoption of virtual education will only reduce costs if there is a clear plan.
The changing faces of virtual learning
Missing the connection? Using ICTs in education
The Development of Virtual Education: A global perspective
On-Line Education in Developing Countries
Distance Education in Developing Countries
Distance Education Journals and Readings
Free Online Training Course on Poverty and Social Impact Analysis(PSIA)
The UNESCO International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa