Never before has learning been as accessible as it is now. Today, the Internet enables education to cross boundaries and reach the far-flung corners of the planet. If the Internet and education are two of the greatest equalizers, the opportunity to level the playing field for thousands of individuals domestically and worldwide with e-learning is imminent.
As learning and development assume a greater role in developing countries, what sort of reception might e-learning find in those nations? Will educational institutions abroad be responsive to e-learning? In the face of limited resources, will developing countries recognize e-learning as a viable means for meeting ever-increasing educational demands? Fortunately, experience shows that the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “yes.”
Regardless of race, gender, culture or socioeconomic status, individuals worldwide are currently engaged in building a better future through the use of e-learning. It helps communities transcend the digital divide of information “haves” and “have-nots.” As part of their learning, students have a chance to give back to their communities through their skills. At the same time, the content shared across educational institutions allows receiving institutions to offer a more robust curriculum.
With increased localization of content for non-English-speaking locales, improved availability of broadband access and growing economic interdependence due to trade and offshoring, e-leaning adoption will only continue to expand.
Richard Murnane, professor of education and society at Harvard, submitted a study addressing equal education opportunities, “Can the Internet Help Solve America’s Education Problems: Lessons From the Cisco Networking Academies” (with N. Sharkey and F. Levy), to the National Research Council (NRC), an arm of the National Academy of Sciences. The study looked at how the Cisco Networking Academy program appeals to high schools and community colleges. The study’s authors believe that the program and its development offer valuable insights into how to address the challenges of the American education system and the role of the Internet in providing solutions to those challenges. The authors believe that Internet learning can:
- Address skill needs in the education sector.
- Find quality teachers and provide ongoing professional development.
- Create equal-education opportunities for all.
In an article in the December 2002 Harvard Business Review, titled “The Competitive Advantage of Corporate Philanthropy,” Michael Porter and Mark Kramer wrote that the program “exemplifies the powerful links that exist between a company’s philanthropic strategy, its competitive context and social benefits.” According to the authors, investment in such philanthropic educational efforts yields indirect benefits to the sponsoring corporation, as well. Discussing the benefits of the program, the article mentions that the program has helped Cisco increase “the sophistication of its customers.”
The Cisco Networking Academy serves as an example of a project that blends classroom learning with e-learning to offer a hybrid approach for global distribution of education. High schools, community colleges and universities serve as academies in the program, delivering technical content to approximately 400,000 students in more than 140 countries. A single global e-learning infrastructure delivers all the learning components to more than 10,000 academies worldwide. The learning components include Web-based content, online assessments, student performance tracking, hands-on labs and instructor training and support. To graduate from the program, students need to pass the assessments offered via an online tool.
If appropriately aligned with the organizational strategy, an investment in educating the “have-nots” has the potential to return tremendous indirect benefits. Global delivery of content to meet corporate and national needs can be achieved through deployment of e-learning in combination with existing classroom instruction. Solid strategy and process-driven results can be achieved by making e-learning a complementary component of the existing learning structures, as a tool that supports, rather than threatens, the instructor role.
Tom Kelly and Nader Nanjiani are the co-authors of “A Business Case for E-Learning” from Cisco Press. They can be reached at email@example.com.