The Global Span of Distance Education Thesis

Distance Edu

International distance education predated the technological advances that make distance education more widely available to more people than ever before. A potent symbol of globalization, distance education has minimized geography to a nearly negligible factor. However, distance education is not free. Although access to the Internet can provide avenues for self-directed learning for those who cannot afford to enroll in formal educational institutions, cost remains a prohibitive factor in acquiring advanced degrees of learning.

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As Moore & Kearsley (2005) point out, the transmission of knowledge that takes place in a distance learning scenario is usually from industrialized/developed regions to developing regions. One way to reduce barriers to education in poor regions would be to relocate the hubs of distance education to developing nations. Creating a core infrastructure for information dissemination in poor regions would stimulate local economies and provide access to technological tools. Distance learning is by definition not constrained by geography and therefore it would not matter where a course material is stored on a server or where a school’s administrative offices are located.

Distance education has been integral to promoting economic growth and development in China. Especially large, geographically and culturally diverse nations like China benefit tremendously from the potential of distance education. Learners no longer need to leave their homes, families and jobs to acquire advanced degrees or expand skills sets. The Chinese model of distance education reveals two core strengths. First, the Chinese system is highly centralized and therefore efficient and well-organized. Second, the Chinese system accounts for regional differences such as language and culture while remaining a part of the central system. A similarly efficient and accessible system is offered by nations like Brazil and Korea. Countries that fund distance learning and other types of higher education from a state budget are more likely to reach a large portion of citizens and ensure equal access to education. State-funded distance education helps minimize issues associated with income disparity. Brazil has excelled in providing state support for distance education by creating government positions like the Secretariat of Distance Education.

Distance education is already proving itself to be a valuable resource in developing nations like Brazil and China. Moore & Kearsley (2005) note the role of distance education in providing poor citizens in the hinterlands of large nations with access to modern educational tools and curriculum. The national systems of distance education like those in China, Brazil, and Korea remain focused on the immediate economic and labor market needs. Distance education could take its role one step further in developing nations to help citizens become more competitive on the global market.

The role of wealthy nations and international distance learning and global trade agencies is crucial in ensuring equal access to education. Collaborative efforts ensure that the most impoverished and politically disenfranchised can gain access to the educational tools and services provided by leading institutions. Countries like the United States are leading the way in providing global access to advanced educational material. NASA’s Digital Learning Network, in conjunction with the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA), Discovery Education and Polycom are allowing middle school students around the globe to remotely visit and survey NASA space and research centers. Participating schools include those in developing nations like Mexico and India (Polycom 2008).

One of the ways distance education can be harnessed to help poor nations prosper is through enterprise-level training and access. Multinational corporations with headquarters in developing nations can hire educational institutions to develop specialized training software, hardware, and distance learning applications. Participants can use the learning opportunities to help labor forces in developing nations move beyond the yoke of unskilled labor and toward more skilled positions ranging from language translation and communications to information technology and engineering. Distance learning can help companies prosper too, by helping to train local populations that are already adept at navigating the unique cultural parameters of the regional business environment.

International agencies can support the development of distance learning in poor countries. The World Bank has already acknowledged the importance of knowledge development in stimulating economic growth worldwide (Moore & Kearsley 2005 p. 282). Funding educational endeavors should become a top priority for global trade groups hoping to stimulate economic development. Distance education consortiums help promote learning by offering multiple institutions access to a central and robust database of academic resources and technological tools used for course development.

Distance education has not yet reached its full potential for helping poor countries catch up to their wealthier counterparts. Geography may be an irrelevant factor for acquiring distance learning, but the infrastructure needed to provide poor people in remote regions of the world does often depend on proximity to wealthy and technologically advanced countries. For example, Moore & Kearsley (2005) point out that Korea and Ghana once had the same per capita income but Korea speedily advanced ahead of Ghana due to educational advancements and acquisition of knowledge. Undoubtedly Korea’s geographic position, its investment in technology development, and its trade relationships with advanced nations like Japan and the United States helped propel distance education there more than in Ghana. As distance education infrastructure becomes more pervasive worldwide, the playing field will become more level for learners around the globe.


Moore, M. & Kearsley, G. (2005). “The Global Span of Distance Education.” Chapter 11, in Distance Education: A Systems View. Thomson/Wadsworth.

Polycom (2008). Students Study Climate Change in Antarctica and Visit NASA Space Centers During National Distance Learning Week. Press Release. Market Watch. Retrieved Nov 18, 2008 at{BCDE117F-3581-45DC-A60A-63E46B7A073B}

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