The top 10 countries with the highest annual GDP growth rate and best scores in reading, math and science are also the top 10 countries with the best internet connectivity and most widespread acceptance of online learning programs

It’s no coincidence that the Top 10 countries with the highest annual GDP growth rate and best scores in Reading, Math and Science are also the Top 10 countries with the best internet connectivity and most widespread acceptance of online learning programs.

A Mystery is Solved

It was a mystery to me why we were falling behind as a nation in so many areas such as annual GDP and comparative test scores in Reading, Math and Science.  A mystery until I started looking at a few seemingly unrelated statistics: the levels of adoption of online learning and the availability of broadband internet access. It suddenly became clear why we were slipping behind countries that had their flags firmly planted in the Digital Earth of the 21st century.

Rapidly Growing – Everywhere Else

A new study suggests how quickly online learning is rapidly growing. The global market for online learning products is expected to reach $49.9 Billion by 2015, according to a study by the international research group, Ambient Insight Research.

This reflects almost a 10% growth since 2010, when the market for online learning products was estimated to be $32.1 Billion.

The study includes a wide variety of products, including virtual classroom learning; online self-paced training; blended learning that incorporates both; social learning that includes social collaboration and communication tools;  interactive online texts, guides, course notes with multimedia elements, and instructional videos.

This rapid growth is taking place everywhere except the U.S.1

 

The Connectivity Connection

My work takes me around the world, talking with corporations, schools and NGOs about maximizing the effectiveness of their online education and training programs.  I am always delighted by the availability of, and ease of access to, high-speed internet connectivity. I often wondered why the internet connections were faster and more available in countries outside the U.S. After all, it WAS invented here. I was curious to learn if there was any relationship between broadband connectivity, the adoption and use of online learning for education, the country’s annual GDP growth, and the reading, math and science test score rankings.

I’m still amazed by what I discovered.

When you cross reference the top ten countries having the best broadband internet connectivity, and the top ten countries in terms of scores for Reading, Math and Science, you see the following:

Top 10 Connectivity2

Top 10 Reading, Math and Science3

South Korea South Korea
Japan Finland
Romania Canada
Netherlands New Zealand
Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland) Japan
Czec Republic Australia
Belgium Netherlands
Denmark Belgium
Switzerland Norway
Canada Switzerland

 

It is not a coincidence that 9 of the Top 10 countries with the best comparative exam scores in Reading, Math and Science are also among the Top 10 countries with the best internet connectivity (number of people connected and highest bandwidth for their connection). Here is the list:

  • South Korea
  • Japan
  • Netherlands
  • Canada
  • Belgium
  • Switzerland
  • Canada
  • Scandinavia [Finland and Norway]

So there is a direct correlation between the test scores and the degree of widespread broadband internet connectivity. These same countries are also included in the Top 10 countries with the most rapidly growing annual GDP4.

 

Smarter Countries

There are many reasons at work that help explain why these countries have achieved Top 10 status with regard to comparative scores in Reading, Math and Science, internet connectivity and annual growth rates. In my opinion, one of the key reasons is the ability of the people from Grades K through Continuous Learner to have high-speed internet connections so they can learn online.

Online learning and better academic test scores make sense. What is less obvious is the availability and acceptance of online learning for know-how as well as knowledge and higher annual GDP growth.

The basic reason is simple. In today’s flat world, in which hypercompetiton rules, information changes so fast it’s impossible to be an Expert. Compared to 5 years ago, new product releases happen every three months instead of every three years. The speed at which all workers must constantly cycle through learning-forgetting-relearning is greater than anything we ever imagined.

Learning is Job Number One.

Traditional education programs, where teachers stand at the front of a classroom of students at any grade, will not be able to supply the already large and constantly growing amount of knowledge and know-how people need to do their jobs. The only answer, short of rapidly cloning great teachers, is increasing the availability of online learning.

Let’s take a closer look at Number One in all the categories – South Korea – as a case study.

South Korea’s e-learning market has realized sustained growth every year, according to the country’s government. Yonhap News reports that over half of the populace over the age of three use elearning in one form or another.

In 2010, 49 per cent of these people had used virtual learning environments in their education, but today this figure is almost 60%, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy revealed. The fact that they have a Ministry of Knowledge Economy says a great deal.

Providing elearning programs is a growth industry in South Korea with a 6.9% year-on-year jump in 2011. Combined sales from these enterprises increased by 9.2 per cent over the year, with transactions reaching $2.21 Billion dollars.

The government attributed this spike in part to a greater use of e-learning courses in educational institutions. Last year, 82.3% of all schools in the country used online learning in their official curriculum.

“To help further foster a niche for the e-learning industry, the government will establish a support centre that will support the development of new smart learning systems,” the ministry was quoted by the Yonhap News.

By 2015, South Korea intends to make online education available to all its citizens through private elearning and public access to government sponsored open-content programs. High-speed wireless networks will enable the population to learn “wherever and whenever” they want, through internet-connected television sets, PCs, tablet computers and laptops.

Compare that to the lack of policies and vision in the U.S.

The Teacher-in-a-Class Conundrum  

I live in California where the career colleges are turning away an estimated 300,000 students a year because the demand for an education dramatically outstrips the supply of teachers. In 2007, I was working with a South African NGO trying to provide knowledge  about HIV/AIDS and the know-how to prevent the disease. The NGO estimated that there were so many people they needed to educate that it would take 50 years of teaching teachers to get the job done. And it wasn’t just education about HIV/AIDS.

In the Fall of 2011, at the University of Johannesburg, more than 20 people were injured and one woman was killed trying register for a limited number of openings. Thousands had camped out overnight hoping to snag one of the few available places and when the gates opened, there was a stampede.

We need to learn from the Top 10 about placing the teacher-in-a-box and holding a class with 2,000 people instead of just 20. Here’s a really interesting and related story from NPR about Stanford University going to 160,000 students instead of having those students come to Stanford. It’s definitely a ‘mountain coming to Mohammed’ tale.

Increasing the Nation’s IQ

With constant changes in the knowledge and know-how people need to do their jobs the traditional formal ways of learning no longer work for us. As a few visionary countries are proving, the answer is better connectivity coupled with more online learning programs. Their goal is to take the lead in the education of the citizens, the level of skills of their workforce and the economic growth of their countries.

The question is, how much longer can we afford to lag behind?

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