This article discusses ongoing cultural challenges faced by distance education providers seeking to deliver programs of study transnationally. Focusing on a key period of distance education during the late twentieth century, this discussion begins by tracing the impact of global economic and technological developments, such as the growth of megauniversity enrolments, privately owned education providers and the Internet. The 1990s saw intense interest in the use of Internet-based applications for distance learning and the subsequent arrival of important new actors in this marketplace, such as Blackboard and WebCT. The author then examines some of the key cultural challenges arising from this convergence of economic, educational and technological dimensions of globalisation, such as the problematic use of models of independent learning in distance delivery. Turning to future trends, three recent developments in the Internet pose significant challenges to these markets and approaches: open courseware and other initiatives seeking to provide open access to educational resources; the diffusion of user-generated applications, tools and environments; and the fragmentation of online information sources. These trends invite education providers to reflect on the cultural dimensions of distance education. It is argued that while new approaches to e-learning present new opportunities to enhance distance learning, certain key lessons from the 1990s should continue to inform the contemporary development of distance education.
The 1990s was a period of tremendous growth internationally in distance education, evident in the expansion of mega-universities, virtual campuses and Open University courses throughout the world. Distance education involves “the provision of programs of study which provide both content and support services to students who rarely, if ever, attend for face-to-face teaching or for on-campus access to educational facilities” (Cunningham et al., 1998, p. 23). Designed to appeal to students seeking greater choice in relation to the time and place of study, and to the mode and pace of learning, these programs tend to be taken by students who find on-campus attendance impractical due to factors such as geography, work and family commitments (Ryan, 1998). Open learning frameworks further allow students to enrol in off campus programs of study irrespective of their previous credentials (Cunningham et al., 1998).
Mega-universities were established throughout Asia in response to the new commercial realities of globalisation. At the time, a mega-university such as Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University of Thailand attracted around 250,000 students, while Indonesia’s Universitas Terbuka had more than 350,000 enrolments. Other mega-universities in India, Korea and China had equally massive enrolments (International Centre for Distance Learning, 1995).
By the mid 90s, more than 2 million students from the Asia-Pacific region were enrolled in informal and formal distance education programs (Commonwealth of Learning, 1994; Latchem, 1997). Public universities across South East Asia were encouraged to develop distance education programs as a low-cost basis for mass education. Universiti Sains Malaysia and Hanoi Open University expanded their distance education programs, targeting potential students among working adults and those residing in more remote regions (Ziguras, 2000). Privately owned education providers within Asia also responded to the market potential of distance learning. Malaysia’s first virtual university, Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (UNITAR), opened in 1999 and used technologies such as the Internet to teach students exclusively by distance mode (Ziguras, 2001).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Moodle: An open-source online course management system (the name is derived from the acronym Modular Object-oriented Dynamic Learning Environment ).
Distance Education: Provides programs of study and support services to students who do not wish to regularly attend face-to-face teaching or who find on-campus study impractical due to factors such as geographical constraints, family or work commitments.
Wiki: Enables content to be written collaboratively using a simple Web browser that can be continually revised, corrected and expanded by its users.
Learning Management System (LMS): Educational software that enables the delivery and management of learning content and resources to students.
E-Learning 2.0: Promotes online learning as a platform for personal learning through interoperable tools that enable reusable content to be authored, repurposed, mixed and shared according to students’ particular needs and interests.
Globalisation: Globalisation is a process by which the impact of geographical constraints on cultural and social formations is diminished. Economic globalisation, which has arisen due to factors such as changing patterns of world trade and international mobility, is linked to the emergence of a seemingly universal ideology emphasising the need for flexible responsiveness to global markets.
Web Log (Blog): A form of personal journal shared over the Web.