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E-learning challenges and trends in developing regions

This is a guest post by Rishabh Saxena on behalf of zipBoard.

E-learning has been widely adopted and used in developed regions. The ease of access and the ever-evolving delivery systems have ensured that e-learning has reached different age groups and organisations, whether it is academia or corporate enterprises. E-learning in corporate training globally is a $56.2 billion industry, as of 2015. US and Europe account for the majority of the e-learning industry. However, over the coming years this is set to change

The average annual growth rate of e-learning in African and Asian countries such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Senegal and Uganda is estimated to exceed 10% with ease from 2016 to 2021. The highest growth rate is for Vietnam and Malaysia, followed by Thailand, the Philippines, India and China. The most significant impact of e-learning in developing regions would be in domain of education. It is estimated that about 4.5 million students are taking at least one course online, and this number may soon exceed 18 million. Not only students, but e-learning is also helping create a larger pool of teachers and trainers in developing regions. These teachers are able to pass on and distribute their knowledge via classroom teaching and simpler courses to students who may not have access to e-learning. The democratisation of education and training by e-learning is a major benefit and driver for e-earning growth. With such trends in front of them, e-learning developers are increasingly looking to understand and focus on developing regions. 

The challenges and opportunities for e-learning in these areas is different than that in developed, pre-existing markets such as North America and Western Europe. For example, with the increase of mobile devices in developing regions, e-learning via mobile platforms is a growing phenomenon. The mobile learning market reached $5.3 billion in 2012 and this is set to grow at a rate of 18.2% over the coming years. The ability for learners to access and complete their courses on mobile devices rather than investing in laptops and desktops has  made e-learning much more accessible. 

Challenges for e-learning in developing countries

For e-learning developers, the potential for growth in developing regions provides both opportunities and challenges. With respect to mobile learning, for example, there is the opportunity to connect with millions of new learners. Along with it comes the challenge of designing courses that are more suited for smaller mobile devices and still delivering learning on par with the desktop experience. These courses also need to be modified with a curriculum that is relevant to the local context of each region. 

Some challenges are down to infrastructure. Take Africa for example. E-learning still has the potential to reach millions of learners all over the continent. As suggested by Danai Nhando, head of strategy at ampli5yd, the three main challenges for e-learning are internet connectivity, availability of locally developed content and curriculum online, and training and professional development. Internet penetration in some sub-Saharan countries is less than 2% of the population. South Africa and Kenya are the leaders in internet connectivity in Africa, where internet penetration stands at 51.6% and 77.8% respectively. Providing internet connectivity to people is a very expensive investment for most governments but as foreign investment grows in these areas, the potential of e-learning is reaching more people. 

The dominant language for e-learning is still English, and this presents a challenge for e-learning as English proficiency across Africa is still not very high, especially in rural areas. This also translates into a lack of a coherent curriculum in schools and colleges that can be used as a base for designing e-learning content. Similar challenges exist in Asian and Latin American countries; however, not on the same scale. Apart from these, other challenges in developing regions include support for students, flexibility of training, attitudes towards e-learning and learner motivation.

E-learning trends in developing countries

Despite such challenges, the growth of e-learning in Africa has been steady. The revenue in 2013 reached $332.9 million and the annual growth rate was estimated to be around 15.2%. The adoption of mobile technology by even rural African communities is seen as a promising development. Technology giants such as Google, IBM and Microsoft are now starting to set up labs and programs in these areas to ensure that better internet access is available to more people. As the effects of these ventures are felt, e-learning will penetrate deeper into African countries.

In Asian countries, government-backed initiatives for e-learning have been increasing. For example, the Indian government has adopted a public-private partnership model for promoting technical training the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) which aims to reach out to 12 million people. As part of this scheme, online e-learning courses have been made available in the domains of engineering, architecture, biotechnology, social sciences etc. Similarly, nearly 70 universities in China have launched their own e-learning programmes. 

In countries such as China and India, which boast the highest number of mobile users in the world combined, the adoption of technology has been an added incentive in the promotion of e-learning. The revenue for e-learning in Asian countries is estimated to have touched $11.5 billion in 2016. Apart from the two positive motivators in government backing and adoption of technology, there is a growing drive for literacy development which has propelled the rise of e-learning even further. Similarly, Middle Eastern countries have also seen the growth of e-learning due to initiatives not just by governments but also by private corporations and even schools. The leaders in this regard are countries such as Oman, Turkey, Kuwait and Qatar. Revenues in e-learning in the Middle East have reached about $443 million and are set to grow at about 8.2% annually.

Another developing region that is benefitting from e-learning is Latin America. Countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico are among the leading adopters of e-learning. The domains that are adopting e-earning in these countries are also diverse. In Brazil, schools are the major market, while in Argentina and Mexico, the major consumers are corporations and governments respectively. The trends in Latin America are for 'School-as-a-Service' and 'Content-as-a-Service'. E-learning has created a more level playing field for students and professionals in these countries, where a large part of the population does not have uniform access to amenities. In Latin America, revenues are set to reach $2.2 billion growing at an annual rate of about 14.6%. 

Key takeaways

Cloud-based solutions are driving growth and increasing penetration of e-learning in developing areas. This is only going to grow further with the continued effort by both internet companies and governments to get internet accessibility to a wider audience.

The trend in countries in Africa and Asia is one where students are the primary users of e-learning, more so in the former. Growth is also being driven by Massively Organised Open Courses (MOOCs) offered by Coursera, Udacity, Khan Academy etc. Colleges are contributing to these platforms as well. For example, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, UC Berkeley and University of Queensland Australia contribute to edX, a portal for e-learning courses offered free of cost for all users. These courses range from computer science to maths to history, and offer some of the best educational resources at no cost. 

The next most common trend is e-learning usage by governments and retraining of employees, which is more common in Asian and Latin American countries. As internet literacy increases, and primary as well as post-primary education is connected more with e-learning, the market may eventually start to become more corporate training orientated. Even in developed regions, corporate training has seen an upswing in recent times because of time and budget constraints. Coupled with the promising return on investment (ROI) and just-in-time training that e-learning provides, developing countries like India, China, Brazil etc. will also see more corporate training investment in the future.

This is a guest post by Rishabh Saxena on behalf of zipBoard, an online review and collaboration tool for e-learning courses. zipBoard is committed to the idea of making e-learning accessible to as many people as possible and has one project free forever and also, no limit on collaborators.

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