"Opinion Piece" was introduced in 2004. Each month an industry specialist was invited to share their view on that month's Community theme. In this Opinion Piece, Katharine Heather talks about: Exporting Australian ELearning
The eLearning industry is still in its early stage of development but is growing exponentially. One industry estimate on the value of software dedicated to teaching and knowledge as opposed to recreational software valued the industry worldwide at $US30 billion.
According to IDC, the United States-based research company, eLearning will grow at a 94 per cent compound annual growth rate in the Asia-Pacific region between 1999 and 2004 to reach $US235 million ($453 million). This growth will be largely driven by Australia, which will account for almost half of the eLearning market in Asia-Pacific at the end of the forecast period.
The Australian eLearning story
Australia has the second most significant eLearning revenues in Asia Pacific (second to Japan).
The eLearning market in Australia is mature because of:
- Lack of language barriers
- Quality infrastructure
- Governmental support
- Conducive corporate/societal culture that supports learning
- Comparatively widely dispersed population – tradition of distance learning1
These advantages have laid the platform for Australia’s eLearning expertise. Australia was recognised at the June 2000 Seventh OECD/Japan Seminar on ELearning in Post-Secondary Education as being in the forefront of eLearning developments, building on Australia’s strong base and tradition of learning as well as being a leading exporter of education.2
So, the growth of eLearning in Australia is essentially driven by the education sector (distance learning) and corporations (corporate training). In fact, nearly 23% of all Australian internet users in early 2002 said they were using the internet primarily for educational services3 reflecting the sophistication of the Australian education sector.
Take for example Charles Sturt University, a "bricks and mortar" institution dependent on its external student enrolments (70 per cent or 25,000 students are studying via distance education), that offers more than 2,000 subjects online. Or Monash University, the largest in Australia, with 8,000 external students in a total enrolment of about 43,000 with campuses in Malaysia, Britain and shortly, in South Africa.
The corporate sector is also a major provider and user of online training or eLearning. A recent survey of 51 companies across Australia ranging in size from 100 to greater than 10,000 employees found:
- Companies currently not using technology-assisted learning predict that 32 per cent of their training will be delivered online in the next one to two years.
- Those that have started delivering training online are even more enthusiastic, predicting that about half of all training will be delivered online over the same period (a 100 per cent increase).4
The challenges of an emerging industry
As a general caveat, eLearning is still very much a developing field both from a technological and a teaching perspective, and as such it offers both great opportunities and inherent difficulties. Some things that Australian providers should be mindful of include:
- International standards – The development and adoption of international standards is an issue for the industry. A trial standard is the Sharable Content Object Reference Model. The development and application of standards needs to be monitored by companies active in this sector.
- Intellectual property rights – The protection of both the delivery mechanisms and content IP (known as digital rights management).
- Finding a niche to exploit – The challenge for Australian content and technology parties will be to choose an area of focus. The market sectors are too broad and diverse for any single organisation - let alone small to medium enterprises (SMEs) - to be all things to all people.
The way forward - Competitive advantages of Australian industry
As well as our natural advantage as a source of quality education at reasonable costs compared to our main competitors, Australia has some key competitive advantages when it comes to exploiting the global market in online training and eLearning:
- Technologically advanced – Largely assisted by Federal Government initiatives, the industry has been pioneering research and development in the sector since 1993.
- Content - Australia has a relatively long history in multi-media learning that is now gaining attention in export markets.
- Time zone - Australia has an advantage on the US because it has a far larger overlap of business hours with potential markets in East and South Asia. This is important when it comes to servicing online learners and running virtual class learning services in real time.
- Culturally attuned to new technology - Australia is one of the leading countries in the world in terms of Internet infrastructure, penetration and use, ranking consistently high in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s E-readiness Survey.5
- Distance learning – Australia is highly experienced at overcoming the problems of distance in learning. Australia is a leader in delivering learning to remote locations.6
International linkages and Austrade assistance
Austrade, the federal government’s export promotion agency, encourages exports and technology transfer between Australian information technology (IT) companies and overseas business partners. Austrade has an international network of 96 overseas offices, within which a dedicated team of technology specialists, the Austrade Global IT Team, works to assist Australian IT companies achieve export sales. This team is well connected into their local markets and can provide Australian companies with access to key international IT buyers and customers.
Austrade also helps Australian companies to attend international trade shows. The recent BETT Education Technology Show held in January in London is an example of such assistance. At this show, eight Australian online education providers, with technologies focused on the K-12 sector, gained access to decision-makers and IT purchasers from UK schools; potential business partners, including independent IT distributors and publishers of digital content for schools; independent e-learning consultants and advisers; and UK Government representatives including officials from local education authorities. With Austrade’s assistance, four out of the eight participants achieved export sales at this show.
Austrade provides a range of export advisory services to Australian IT companies seeking to get into export or expand their export markets, and provides financial support to exporting companies through the Export Market Development Grant.
For more information on Austrade services to IT companies and to investigate upcoming Austrade IT events, visit www.austrade.gov.au/IT or email Austrade at ExportIT@austrade.gov.au.
Sources And Useful Links
- Government Educational Services
- Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Technology
- Industry Analysis of Educational Services in Australia
- National Office of the Information Economy
- The Asia Pacific eLearning alliance released in June A Report on eLearning and Best Practices. This contains interesting case studies on the successful application of eLearning in different environments but it is aimed at generating APEC policy suggestions. http://www.ncapec.org/e-learningreport.pdf
1 From abstract to eLearning in ANZ:Barriers and Accelerators, IDC Bulletin, Asia/Pacific eLearning Adoption August 2001.
2 ELearning in post-secondary education, e-news on higher education, issue 13, 2001 http://www.detya.gov.au/highered/enews/13/enews13.htm
3 p2. Australia – Tele-education Paul Buddle Communication Pty Ltd 19.6.2002
4 Survey by Monster Learning Asia Pacific
6 According to the director of research for the American Society of Training and Development. Corporate ELearning to Rebound, Tessa Denton, australianIT.com.au
Senior Export Adviser – Information and Communications Technologies (ICT)