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Man has always thirsted for education and improvement of self. The ability to cognate and reason distinguishes man as superior to other species. From the Greeks to the Romans in Europe, to the Chinese and the Indians in the Asian subcontinent, to the American Indian tribes of North America and the Mayans from South America, ecivilization has displayed formal or informal educational structures. These edifices were the building blocks of their respective societies. Many of these societies evolved from an informal style of education to a more formal and generalized format over the period of the existence of any civilization.
Many universities in the U.S., Western Europe and Australia have been offering online courses and distance learning program for students in the developing countries around the world. There is however little being done to adapt these courses to the needs of the local population in the region. Developing countries, especially India, China, Pakistan and Iran, with their large population offer tremendous opportunities for many universities in the developed countries to increase their student population and consequently their profits.
The United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) defines distance learning as "the acquisition of knowledge and skills through mediated information and instruction, encompassing all technologies and other forms of learning at a distance." (Santicchia, 2003)
Distance education in countries like the U.S., developed as a means for adult learners ("an individual whose major role in life is something other than being full-time student" (LInC_online, 1998)) to further their knowledge and skills, while leading otherwise busy and hectic lives. In many cases, the individuals already had jobs and/or careers in the domain in which they were seeking the higher education. Many online or distance courses are generally in subject areas that can generate large volumes of students and can be offered in smaller class sizes to ensure that the timing and frequency can be easily customized to suit the needs of the student. For this reason, courses in the areas of Business Management, Education (early and formal) and Organizational Development and Change are better suited to distance education when compared to the basic sciences and engineering. Classroom interaction and laboratory work cannot be avoided in the latter two.
This study hopes to identify why online education has not hitherto been successful. There are many conditions that need to exist simultaneously in a region. The co-existence of these conditions helps facilitate this new educational. Often, the most common problems are poor channels of communication between universities and the students, and the student and the teacher. Modes of communication have also determined the success of an online course. For example, female teachers teaching predominantly management courses might not be well accepted among the conservative populace of Iran. Failure of many universities to understand the social and cultural niceties that has to be incorporated into the planning of the online course can impact the success of the course in a new market.
Higher education and distance learning global trends
The economies of most developed countries have been shifting slowly from a predominantly manufacturing and production economy to a knowledge-based economy. This has resulted in the average individual getting a higher level of education. For example, high school diplomas were considered sufficient for the U.S. market forty years ago. Most industrial (blue-collar) workers did not see the need to pursue an undergraduate level education. Currently, most workers even in manufacturing and production organizations however, prefer to have an undergraduate education. Organizations have relatively recently begun to recognize that a higher qualified worker could produce better quality work.
Where the West and developed nations have moved to knowledge-based economies, countries such as India, Pakistan and China have moved from an agrarian to a manufacturing- based economy. This shift has creating a need for highly trained workers in these countries. Outsourcing, especially by countries from U.S. And Western Europe, supports many of the manufacturing endeavors of these nations. Parent companies hope to gain substantial profits and benefits by moving operations to these countries due to the lower labor costs, set up costs and operations costs. They however, want workers in those locations to understand their specific needs -- they expect continuity of thought process across geographical distances. As a result, they expect mid and high level managers in those countries to understand common terms and management principles as they are followed in the U.S. And Europe, and apply these principles as appropriate.
Distance learning trends have been continuously showing a positive growth. There are different reasons why distance learning is being encouraged. Some of the more salient points are as follows:
Diversity training: As operations in organizations are spanning continents, ensuring that workers at every location follow standardized operational processes is important. Distance learning, especially one offered through a university, can help companies keep workers aware of diversity and the sensitivities that might accompany many of these issues. For example, the Asian culture tends to avoid confrontations and conflicts, and collectivism is more often the preferred choice of management. In the U.S. however, employees work hard at differentiating themselves from the rest of the workforce, and would not shy away from a conflict. Training workers of the same company at different locations to handle these issues in a manner that would be acceptable to both parties is therefore important. Many online courses have programs that touch upon issues such as international conflict, culture and values, ethics and legal implications as a part of their coursework. This is to offer the student as much variation as possible.
Process training: With many processes and operations constantly getting updated, individuals feel the need to also update their skills accordingly to satisfy the need of the job market. While keeping pace with growing market demands is an important attraction for new students, it is also equally important for existing employees. The age of lifelong employment has been slowly disappearing. Workers, all over the world, have to constantly ensure that they maintain their skills at desirable levels in order for companies to consider them an asset. With unemployment rates high, in many of the countries such as Pakistan, India and China, the option of leaving a job to pursue full time education is generally not the optimal option. In these situations, online courses can offer this individual the latest and most current knowledge on the processes or the areas in which the skill is desired.
Online courses also offer an option for people to train in more than one line of expertise. For example, a mechanical or civil engineer in India or Pakistan might consider it in his or her best interest to earn an MBA in order to display his or her versatility.
In many cases, the worker might not directly use the knowledge gained through online course. But it might be used to "pad" an existing resume or to get the next promotion within the his or her organization.
The modes of delivery of distance education can also vary significantly between universities. Some universities might send the necessary coursework in print form and offer students books and class notes. The instructor-student interaction might be limited to a discussion of problems or issues that the student might face in preparing for the examination. The examinations could also be sent in through mail or emails depending on the frequency of the assignments and the duration of the course. Some universities also send out videos and audiotapes to show students actual working of some functions or processes about which they might be learning. This helps students to get an audio and visual perspective of the required course material without a classroom setting.
Distance learning and its impact on student number in the new markets
The target markets selected for studying the impact of online courses have the potential for becoming large revenue generators for the universities if these markets are properly harnessed. For example, China and India with a joint population of more than two billion people could become a lucrative market for the universities that are willing to change their strategies to serve this market. It is important to recognize this often-overlooked notion that educational institutions all over America are essentially competitive just like any other business. Often, educational institutions although not-for-profit are run in a manner similar to any profit-making organization in the U.S. If an institution can identify the best methods for teaching a program and the best teacher and teaching styles for the course in question, they will be more in demand for their services, boosting the reputation and the consequent ranking of the institution.
A successful and competitive advantage for any university with respect to its competitors would be it ability to attract a new student by virtue of having the course (more market share) or encourage an existing student to "try" the course (diversification of product lines), thereby generating additional profits for the university and returning profits on the investments made. (Bain, 1954) While the existing educational systems in India and China are considered to be comparable…[continue]
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