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eLearning’s Promise: Will New Models Scale to Educate Youth?

Wayan Vota

Young people make up 18 percent of the world’s population today, or 1.2 billion in absolute terms. Of these 15-24 year-olds, 87% live in developing countries. At the same time, their basic educational needs are not being met. More than one-third of all youth around the world are not in the classroom – 73% of youth in sub-Saharan Africa and 51% in South and West Asia.

Yet developing world governments cannot expand traditional educational facilitates to these youth or the even larger cohort behind them. Demand for higher education in Asia and Africa will grow from 48 million enrollments in 1990 to 159 million enrollments in 2025, but India spent only 3.2% of GDP in 2005 on education, ranking it 140th of 180 countries tracked by the CIA World Factbook.

Look at that eLearning idea

The inability of developing countries to meet the demand for quality secondary and higher education has a direct impact on economic growth. Researchers at Harvard University estimate that a one-year increase in tertiary education stock would raise the long-run steady-state level of African GDP per capita by 12.2%.

So improving access to education is one of the best investments that donor agencies and governments can make. Now what if it were possible to nearly double the number of secondary and university seats in a developing country overnight and with relatively little investment from the public sector?

eLearning – the provision of educational opportunities via information and communication technologies – could have that kind of scale with recent advances in electronic content creation and the proliferation of technology devices.

In this month’s Educational Technology Debate, we’ll focus on three main questions eLearning models bring forth:

  1. What do these new eLearning pedagogical models look like?
  2. How can new business models make eLearning services affordable?
  3. Who will validate or accredit eLearning programs?

Join us for this conversation by submitting a Guest Post with your ideas around eLearning’s promise. We seek articles of at least 300+ words stating your learned opinion, backed with links and photographs (if possible).

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12 Responses to “eLearning’s Promise: Will New Models Scale to Educate Youth?”

  1. I'm wondering if mobile phones can play a role in expanding eLearning? I can envision a commuter downloading video lessons on their phone to watch while their on the bus or matatu between work and home. I've seen a thriving DVD movie to phone burning business in Nigeria, so the demand for engaging video content on mobile phones is there.

    The real question is content – what content will people pay enough for to support the content creator. English lessons would be the most obvious. Maybe give away the lessons but charge to take the tests/get "certified" by the organization?

    What do you think?

  2. Nicola Ferralis

    I guess a related question is: who will create such content? WIll the telecom be involved in the process? As software in cellphones is becoming more and more controlled and sometimes policed by the manufacturer (see the iPhone) one has to wonder how much freedom will be granted to an application that delivers "questionable content". In sum, while internet experienced from a desktop/laptop is essentially free (as in speech), I doubt the same could be said for a cellphone.

  3. Robyn Fisher

    What about providing developing countries with access to relevant iTunesU-type classroom lectures from reputable schools/universities? They could be packaged courses, provided on mobile devices, or projected for an entire room. Problem is downloading/streaming video content. But I love the possibility of providing access to Harvard-quality lectures to those who can't afford it. These lectures could eventually be connected to ebooks, student community, and online testing/certification.

  4. Nicola Ferralis

    Robyn, those already exists, at least at college level:


    But that's only one side of the story. What about course assessment, homework, in other words creative and dynamic content? I think the opportunity is more for a new approach in using the technology dynamically, rather than simply using a new medium for a very traditional lecture-style teaching…

  5. Many countries in developing countries are plagued with slow and intermittent internet. The positive aspect is that several countries have started laying national backbones running on fiber cables. E Learning, and other e initiatives should target the deployment of online materials on national backbones, rather than relying on Internet connectivity, where its hard or impossible to transmit large files with limited bandwidth.

    • You're absolutely right, Cavin: there is a lot that can be done w/a decent national fiber backbone. In fact, we (Jhpiego) are involved in an eLearning project in Ethiopia where we're doing just that. The plan is to deliver standardized static content (i.e. modules & courses) to all 13 medical schools and also leverage the high-speed connectivity for real-time videoconferencing & lectures (which will allow schools to benefit from limited subject matter expertise that is distributed across the country).

  6. Just in case you didn't know, last year the US Department of Education published a meta-analysis of research done on the effect of online learning on educational outcomes. One interesting finding: a blended approach – combining online with face-to-face – was more effective than either completely online or face-to-face learning (in order of decreasing efficacy).

    A review of the study from Inside Higher Ed can be found at http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/06/29/onl… And you can download the full report at http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-ba

    This evidence will certainly be informing our approach to learning technology @ Jhpiego…

  7. Great share but I wonder how effective elearning would be in the real world. Personally, I still believe that learning in a room with a real professor is still the best way to learn. But with situations like this is a great way to educate and learn as well.

  8. Often the new discussion about most matters "e" reminds me of how the developing world like India responds to most things new. A rather general response of those who have access to new knowledge is that they could have it done it themselves. Often I find claims by body-shopping Indian tech companies that are still operating at 4 to 5 generations behind the global technology use benchmark, save for the global companies operating in India, that India can "teach technology to the world". My knee-jerk response to them has constantly been that they have just about beginning to cross tech 101.

    Similar is the case about e-learning. E-learning requires a foundation for the learner, an infrastructure and an environment that requires that learning to become contextual or meaningful.

    While leapfrogging is just as natural as inertia, just to get to e-learning, India needs to work on all the above three aspects.. foundation, infrastructure and context.

    Precisely why OLPC seems like a great idea for India. But its policy planners live on another planet. They have not evolved beyond trying to respond to call of the political bosses, who often seem to have a much longer vision and an ability to manage complexity despite an apparently questionable educational journey.

    • Your mention of "foundation, infrastructure and context" reminded me of the "opportunity, capacity and motivation" framework I shared in an earlier EduTechDebate around ICT4E sustainability: see "Sustaining rather than sustainable ICT4E," http://edutechdebate.org/ict4e-sustainability/sus… All that to say that I agree with you. In order for eLearning – or any other ICT-supported intervention – to be successful one needs to consider much more than simply the technology. In fact, the technology is often the easiest component.

  9. Thanks, just got the free ps3 in the mail today.

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