In 2003, The Economist prepared an extensive “e-readiness” survey of leading industrialized countries. The survey included a separate examination of e-learning readiness. While this survey is somewhat dated, the process and criteria used, and the issues that were identified are still relevant today. According to the survey, the network, as well as the people to support it, is a critical precondition for the development and viability of e-learning:
“Whatever strategies governments choose to adopt themselves or leave to the private sector, it needs to be recognized that the effective use of e-learning for education and training purposes is absolutely dependent on a widely accessible and low-cost national telecommunications infrastructure.” (p. 44).
The Economist report also stresses how important governments are in nurturing the foundation of network connectivity:
“Much of the advancement in Internet usage – and even e-business adoption – can be credited to government initiative. The reverse is also true: government inaction and poorly conceived intervention can be blamed for impeding e-readiness in many countries” (p. 21).
The related e-learning readiness survey speaks even more clearly about the impact of government policy on the development of e-learning. The two e-learning leaders in this survey from the southeast Asian region are South Korea and Singapore which rank number 5 and 6 and The Economist makes it very clear that this is due, in large part, to their governments: “The governments of South Korea and Singapore are… aggressive in promoting online learning. ‘From as young as kindergarten, e-learning is being used,’ says An Gie Foo, a manager in education at International Enterprise Singapore, the restructured Singapore Trade Development Board.” (p. 7)
This e-learning readiness survey sets out a means of assessing the extent to which a country is prepared to develop and sustain e-learning activities. As well, by comparing 60 different countries and providing an analysis of the different strategies that are having a direct impact on the relative level of readiness of the sample group, the “e-learning Readiness Survey” highlights some important factors that should be considered in the planning and management of education at all levels. So, while the results and national rankings might be different today, the process used and issues raised are still relevant. The Economist survey suggests that “e-learning readiness means more than connectivity. The best-connected countries in the world, led by Singapore and South Korea, are not necessarily the top e-learners. Other building blocks – including a strong education system and a wealth of online content – are also necessary, as is a willingness to adapt to new ways of learning” (p. 3). The e-learning Readiness Survey arranged the criteria into four main areas, four Cs: connectivity, capability, content, and culture.
Let’s take a closer look at the 4 Cs.
We’ve already spent some time considering the question of connectivity and access to the Internet as a precondition of e-learning. If students are unable to access the Internet, there is little chance that e-learning initiatives will dramatically change educational practices within a country. Further, connectivity within the survey considers access beyond the campus. Increasingly, citizens in the most connected countries in the world have almost unlimited and ubiquitous access to the Internet, in their homes, their schools and any other place they choose. One of the most significant changes related to connectivity to emerge since this survey was conducted is mobile access. Increasingly, Internet access in the industrialized world is mobile.
Capability refers to the extent to which a country values education and training. It is not enough to merely provide connectivity: there has to also be a general acceptance of the value and importance of life-long learning, education and on-going development of skills and training. In essence, this criteria speaks to the issue of a knowledge economy and the concrete steps that society is taking to ensure that its citizens are ready to live and work within such an economy.
Content refers to the wide availability of information via the Internet in all areas of a person’s life. An important characteristic here is that such content should also be freely available in the native language of the country. This is a considerable challenge when one considers the extent to which English, as a language, currently dominates the Internet. It is also a challenge in terms of the applicability of reusable media, e-learning platforms and the various interfaces we use that may or may not be available in one’s native language. The availability of open educational resources is an increasingly important issue in this regard.
Culture is probably one of the most complex criteria of the e-learning survey, in part because it is such a broad category and because it cuts across so many different contexts: national, institutional, professional and personal. The extent to which e-learning is seen as an important way in which such goals are achieved is a good indicator of how much support there is for e-learning. At the institutional level, we have suggested the e-learning requires a dramatic shift in the organizational culture within most educational institutions; such shifts are also called for in other sectors of society.
So as you consider the role of government in planning e-learning, it is important to consider how “e-learning ready” your country, state or province is. Effective government policies will recognize and address these issues. Implementing conservative, radical and/or funding strategies will have limited impact if the underlying issues of connectivity, capability, content and culture have not been addressed and taken into account in those strategies.
Bates, A.W. (2001). National strategies for e-learning in post-secondary education and training. Chapter 7. Paris: UNESCO/International Institute for Educational Planning.