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Transnational Distance Learning: An Evolutionary Leap

By IGI Global on Feb 16, 2012
Robert Hogan was previously an Associate Professor in the School of Education at the University of the South Pacific. His areas of research include science education and e-learning. His most recent research was a $100,000 grant supported by the World Health Organization to develop a blended and mobile learning chemistry course for the Pacific. In this guest column, Robert Hogan argues for the merits of transnational distance learning as outlined in his recent IGI Global release Transnational Distance Learning and Building New Markets for Universities.

Online learning began slowly in the United States in the 1990s, hampered by inadequate technology, faculty resistance, and limited acceptance of online credits by universities and businesses. Growth was also slowed by a failure of public universities to recognize and adapt to the changing nature of the student body, which included non-traditional students with family and work commitments in ever-increasing numbers. These students needed delivery approaches that made education more convenient and accessible than classroom instruction. Online learning offered that flexibility, and students were willing to pay a premium for the convenience.

As the student market shifted to these older students, many public universities found themselves unable to adapt. Steeped in legacy and tradition, many were frozen, unable to change. Rigid management styles and organizational structures added to the problem. As a result, these universities failed to meet the needs of the changing student market.

Newly created corporate universities acted quickly to establish their place in the new marketplace. These for-profit institutions operated as businesses whose objective was to make money. They analyzed market needs, created products to meet these needs, and promoted their products with Madison Avenue flair. Corporate universities did something else. They treated students as customers, eliminating out-of-state tuition, shortening semesters, awarding credit for life experiences, and offering all courses every semester. These measures enabled students to graduate sooner.

By the time traditional universities understood the threat from these new corporate universities, it was already very late. The online market belonged to the for-profit institutions. Eventually, public universities entered the fray and gained a significant portion of the online market, but it took more than a decade.

Transnational Learning: Why Now?

Knowledge is the currency of the Information Age. It is the money that nations, businesses, and workers use to purchase social and economic security. Transnational distance learning (TDL) can help supply this currency, making now the time for transnational distance learning. Emerging countries recognize they must educate more of their populace to attract and retain business. Increasingly these countries realize that online learning is the only sustainable way to make education accessible and affordable, especially in sparsely populated regions.

The global recession also makes now the time for TDL. To offset funding reductions, universities must reach out to a wider student audience to generate more tuition income and reduce the cost of delivering courses. Simultaneously, global political unrest has limited the availability of student visas for overseas study. Students in the global economy see the value of foreign degrees, which may help them obtain jobs with international companies.

Another reason why now is the time for TDL is the emergence of foreign online competition. Foreign online universities, among them from China and India, are preparing to compete aggressively for market share. Accreditation standards recognized internationally are an unsolved problem.

Transnational Distance Learning: Crisis or Opportunity?

The evolutionary leap to TDL has already begun. The question is whether universities will learn from their previous mistakes. Success will depend upon careful market analysis, strategic vision, commitment, and adequate budgeting. One way to enter new markets is through partnerships with overseas universities, providing them with courses otherwise unavailable to their local students. Warning—it is easy for universities to become stuck on the smaller parts of TDL, such as open educational resources, mobile learning, Web 2.0, and social networking. Useful as they are, the focus must remain on the big picture, on the overall strategic plan.

In this second round of online learning, the competition will be fiercer and faster because the competition will come from all directions—public, private, for-profit, national, and foreign universities. The development of online learning took nearly two decades to flourish. Transnational distance learning will take less than half that time. The reason is that TDL meets the needs of students, universities, businesses, and nations. Prior to globalism, country economies operated more or less independently. In today's global economy, competition is international and workers need competitive skills. Business and industry are no longer limited by locality and will set up in countries with the best workforce and business climate.

Transnational distance learning is set to sweep across the world, offering both opportunities and risks.

Plan and consider, but don't take too much time lest you miss the TDL boat.

Our thanks to Robert Hogan, editor of Transnational Distance Learning and Building New Markets for Universities for this guest blog.

*Opinions posted on the IGI Global blog are the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.

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