Around the world, e-learning is becoming popular, especially among higher education institutes (universities). Many highly ranked universities have either already deployed an e-learning system and are fully operational, or they are in a process of deployment where e-learning-based and non e-learning-based educational environments co-exist. It is also possible to find a few virtual universities. The amount of money and effort that has to be spent on e-learning is high. In addition to the initial e-learning system installation costs, there are ongoing maintenance, management and content development costs. Due to the rapid growth in the field of e-learning and the role it plays in today’s education systems, those working in the field have begun to introduce standards for different aspects of e-learning. The Open Knowledge Initiative (OKI) which is described as “a collaboration among leading universities and specification and standards organizations to support innovative learning technology in higher education” is an example (OKI, 2003). Many highly ranked universities use commercial elearning systems such as BlackBoard, WebCT, e-college, Netschool, etc. Several open source products are available though their usage is not wide spread, although it is expected that collaborative projects such as Sakai will enable largescale open source products to be introduced to the market. This effort is described on the Sakai website as, “The University of Michigan, Indiana University, MIT, Stanford, the uPortal Consortium, and the Open Knowledge Initiative (OKI) are joining forces to integrate and synchronize their considerable educational software into a modular, pre-integrated collection of open source tools” (OKI, 2003).
Many third world countries have become “Transitional Countries”. The term “transitional country” has been used in different ways in different times and different contexts. However, today’s meaning of a “transitional country” is a country that lies between a developed and a developing country, and has an evolving market economy. Dung (2003) states:
Generally speaking, the expression ‘transition’ is used, mainly by political scientists, in the context of changes that have followed the fall of regimes, usually when dictatorial regimes have given way to more democratic ones, but this usage has been extended to contexts where previously rigid structures, such as those governing the economy, are giving way to more liberal, market-friendly structures and associated features of liberal democracy.
Third world or transitional countries require sustainable development. Sustainable development of a country is very much dependent on industry, higher education and research, hence university education is vital. The importance of the higher education is stressed in the United Nations Resolution on the Decade of Education For Sustainable Development January 2005 – December 2014 (UN Report, 2002). For a third world country, as De Rebello (2003) puts it, “The university system was seen as being uniquely equipped to lead the way by their special mission in teaching and training the leaders of tomorrow, their experience in transdisciplinary research and by their fundamental nature as engines of knowledge.”
Key Terms in this Chapter
Learning Environment: Overall university setting in which many educational and administrative processes interact.
Transitional Countries: A third world country that is in a transition process based on more liberal, market-friendly structures and associated features of liberal democracy.
E-Learning: Electronically facilitated, enhanced and managed learning.
Open Source E-learning Systems: E-learning systems developed by the Open Source Community and freely distributed with their own license or a GPL (General Purpose License) to use, modify and distribute together with the source code.
Virtual Universities: All the learning and administration activities are done through e-learning and very minimum physical interactions, or no physical interactions at all.
IT Infrastructure: Technological infrastructure that enables the transfer of information.
Third World Countries: Countries that are not yet developed.