Guest Columnist on Online Higher Education ~ Mike Kolodziej

Guest Columnist on Online Higher Education in the U.S., India, and Singapore ~ Mike Kolodziej

Online and distance education have evolved over the years to occupy several forms.  From correspondence courses beginning in the 19th century, to the widely visible public-access television courses in the mid to late 20th century, distance education has been continually impacted by technological innovations.  The 21st century brought about the immergence of the internet, which has impacted society and economics in several significant ways.  A host of colleges, universities and other entities, both public and private, began to leverage the connected world of the internet, to offer formal and informal learning opportunities.  Early on, these offerings mainly targeted at learners in their own cultural-geographic region, have evolved to address larger and more geographically and culturally diverse groups.

As different countries take different approaches with addressing the educational needs of its’ citizens, each takes a slightly different approach to the issue exemplified in the brief snapshots below of three countries of particular interest.

United States:
Though certainly not unchallenged, the United States has been a world leader in online learning, and continues to do so today.  A report compiled by the Babson Survey Research Group in 2014, showed an increase in enrollment in online courses in the U.S. to represent over 33% of the total enrollment, tripling over the previous 10 year period, totaling over 7.1 million students.   The report also highlights perceptions in the relevance of online education to individual institutional strategies, with the percentage of academic leaders that view online educational outcomes as the same or better than face to face hovering around 74%.   (Allen & Seaman, 2014)

Most recently in the news and popular media, MOOCs or Massively Open Online Courses rose quickly to popularity, fueled by the promise of open access education for the world.   With access to some of the most widely-recognized and academically-respected expertise in a field providing the instruction, combined with a platform that could serve potentially millions of users around the globe, the potential of MOOCs though extremely high, unfortunately seems not to have been fully realized.  Facing significant retention and completion rates and arguably providing little to no improvement on pedagogy, for the time being, MOOCs seem to have faded away becoming part of the status quo of the disappointingly-undisrupted, traditional landscape.

“The solution is not Ivory Towers that choose the best students, locking them in a classroom for three to four years. The path to success for nations is to find ways to educate more of the population with the skills needed for tomorrow.”  (Hogan, 2010)

Recently, several countries have begun to leverage online learning as a way to advance the interests of their nations as a whole.  Vivian Stewart points out succinctly in the book World Class Education, “Getting education right gives a country a powerful platform on which to build a healthy economy and a healthy society.” (kindle location 78)  Several nations have already built Mega Universities with enrollments of over 100,000 students at each, leveraging multiple campuses along with online offerings to overcome barriers to access. (Hanover Research, 2011)  Particularly for developing nations, scalable high quality education is seen as a vehicle that will help move the country forward in a very competitive global environment.

Education has long been recognized as an equalizer in socio-economic progression between groups of all kinds, from individuals to nations, but the recent technology fueled changes driving first world innovation and economic growth seem even more out of reach for those who start from so far behind.  Linda Darling Hammond writes, “Thus, the new mission of schools is to prepare students to work at jobs that do not yet exist, creating ideas and solutions for products and problems that have not yet been identified, using technologies that have not yet been invented” (Kindle Location 357), a considerable task for all nations.

India takes education to scale:
India is the home of over 1.2 billion people, as well as one of the largest distance and open education universities, Indira Gandhi National Open University ( established by Parliament in 1985.  Touting an enrollment of over 3 million students, IGNOU offers some 228 different diploma, degree and certificate programs, largely through open and distance education programs that leverage audio, video, radio, TV, teleconferencing and more. (Hanover Research, 2011)
With a mission to “provide access to higher education to all segments of the society”, India has been a world leader in the establishment of the largest-scaled open and distance university systems in the world, a solution proportional to the large and growing size of their overall population.

Singapore starts with fundamentals:

On the opposite side of the size spectrum is the city-state od Singapore, with a population of roughly 5.5 million inhabitants, who have made great strides in increasing access and quality of their education system over the last decade as measured in international benchmark exams like the PISA.  Though many of their reform efforts have focused on teachers through an increased focus on  preparation and an elevated status, important curricular changes focused on 21st century skills have also supported their efforts.

According to the Ministry of Education website for Singapore, several initiatives in progress are targeting the use of technology and connectivity have been identified including creation of a resource rich, virtual teaching and learning space targeting primary and secondary schools.  Another stated objective is to leverage technology and networking to create more student centric learning models to help foster 21st century knowledge and skills.

Universities in Singapore, similar to their international counterparts, offer courses and distance education in much the same way, some of which have partnered with other institutions internationally, or offered MOOCs through Coursera along with their mostly American counterparts.

~ Mike Kolodziej

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2014). Grade change: Tracking online education in the United States, 2013. Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, LLC. Retrieved on, 2(5), 2015.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). The flat world and education: How America’s commitment to equity will determine our future. New York: Teachers College Press.

Hanover Research (2011, February). Trends in Global Distance Learning. Accessed August 15, 2013, from

Hogan, R. & Kedrayate, A. (2010). E-learning: A survival strategy for developing countries. Proceedings of the 11th Conference of Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, 24-26th March. Isaacs, S., Hollow,

Stewart, V. (2012). A World-Class Education: Learning from International Models of Excellence and Innovation. Alexandria: ASCD.


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