Online education


Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming relevant for online education, especially in terms of monitoring and personalising the educational experience. Derek Haoyang Li, founder and CEO of Squirrel AI, built an AI-driven online educational platform. This was done in partnership with ‘a global network of educators and participating institutions, including the National University of Ireland, Stanford University, UCLA, UC Irvine, Shanghai Jiaotong University, and Remin University of China.’ It aims to tailor learning to individual participants’ need and rate progress.

In an effort to modernise the education sector and work towards achieving the SDGs, Zimbabwe has launched 10 e-learning kits, including tablets and an overhead projector.The kits were donated by Devtech, a Rwandan organisation. In addition, Zimbabwean president Mnangagwa urged all learners to take advantage of e-learning platforms.

Facebook has launched Learn with Facebook, which offers free resources on digital marketing and career skills. This saw some commentators compare the efforts of Facebook with those of Linkedin when it comes to jobs and support to building skills.

22 Jan 2018 | Predictions for 2018

In the U.S. News article 4 Expectations for Online Education in 2018 Jordan Friedman shares the following predictions for the year ahead: continued overall enrollment growth, use of more modern technologies in courses, more health-related online degrees and courses, and a greater push to teach specific job skill.

The director of educational enterprise at the University of Birmingham in the UK argues that big data analytics holds substantial promise for improving higher education. The increased use of data analytics is hoped to enable students to learn more effectively.

The Open University in the UK, which was established in the 1960s as an distance learning university with the aim of widening access to higher education, is undergoing substantial transformation towards shifting its priorities towards online learning. An article published in the British Guardian looks at the recent changes introduced by the new vice chancellor. These changes are driven by worries over staying competitive and the concern that ‘in the digital age, what happened to newspapers will happen to universities.’ However, critics of these changes fear that the focus will shift from being an academic provider to being a media platform.

The Internet has opened new possibilities for education. Many different e-learning, online learning, and distance learning initiatives have been introduced; their main aim is to use the Internet as a medium for the delivery of courses. While it cannot replace traditional education, online learning provides new possibilities for learning, especially when constraints of time and space impede physical attendance in class. At the same time, e-learing can support face-to-face education and create new forms of blended learning.

Traditionally, education has been governed by national institutions. The accreditation of educational institutions, the recognition of qualifications, and quality assurance are all governed at national level. However, crossborder education requires the development of new governance regimes. Many international initiatives aim at filling the governance gap, especially in areas such as quality assurance and the recognition of academic degrees.



WTO and education

One controversial issue in the WTO negotiations is the interpretation of Articles I (3)b and (3)c of GATS, which specify exceptions from the free trade regime for government-provided services. According to one view, supported mainly by the USA and the UK, these exceptions should be treated narrowly, de facto enabling free trade in higher education. This view is predominantly governed by interests of the English-speaking educational sector to gain global market coverage in education, and has received considerable opposition from many countries.

Questions that may arise within the context of the WTO and other international organisations will focus on the dilemma of education as a commodity or a public good. If education is considered a commodity, the WTO’s free trade rules will be implemented in this field as well. A public goods approach, on the other hand, would preserve the current model of education in which public universities receive special status as institutions of importance for national culture. Trade liberalisation could have profound effects on online education.

Quality assurance

The availability of online learning delivery systems and easy entry into this market has opened the question of quality assurance. A focus on online delivery can overlook the importance of the quality of materials and didactics. A variety of possible difficulties can endanger the quality of education. One is the easy entry of new, mainly commercially driven, educational institutions, which might lack or pay less attention to the necessary academic and didactical capabilities. Another problem of quality assurance is that the simple transfer of existing paper-based materials to an online medium does not take advantage of the didactic potential of the new medium. This aspect prompted education organisations to start to develop standards and guidelines for evaluating the design and the content of lectures delivered online.

The recognition of academic degrees and the transfer of credits

Recognition of degrees has become particularly relevant within the online learning environment. When it comes to online learning, the main challenge is the recognition of degrees beyond the regional context, mainly at global level.

The EU has developed a regulatory framework with the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS). The Asia-Pacific region has introduced its own regional model for the exchange of students and a related credit system – the University Mobility in Asia and the Pacific (UMAP) programme.

In the evolving implementation of online learning, there is a tendency towards recognition and transfer of credits following traditional strategies for brick and mortar universities.

The innovation of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is also evolving, as the initial pervasive acceptance and hype cycle have run their course, and resources are being developed to provide the same or better personal interactions that are provided in traditional or blended learning educational systems.

The standardisation of online learning

The early phase of online learning development was characterised by rapid development and high diversity of materials, in the sense of platforms, content, and didactics. However, there is a need to develop common standards in order to facilitate the easier exchange of online courses and introduce a certain standard of quality.

Most standardisation is performed in the USA by private and professional institutions. Other, including international, initiatives are on a smaller scale.

ICT, education, and development

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include an ambitious education goal (Goal 4), which calls for inclusive and equitable quality education and ensuring life-long learning opportunities for all. Online education, e-learning, and blended learning play a crucial role in working towards goal 4 as well as many of the other SDGs. A useful overview of these linkages is provided in the form of a matrix linking the WSIS action lines with the SDGs. This further underscores the importance of ICT for education. 




UNESCO sees online learning as a cornerstone for building inclusive knowledge societies.


UNESCO sees online learning as a cornerstone for building inclusive knowledge societies. This ties with its mandate to promote the free exchange of ideas and knowledge, as demonstrated by their key role in the World Summit of Information Society. In June 2016 UNESCO launched a guide for policy-makers in developing countries on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Co-published by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), the guide also looks at the role of online learning and MOOCS in the Education 2030 Agenda and the achieving of Sustainable Development Goal 4.


The IMS Global Learning Consortium develops open interoperability standards, supports adoption with technical


The IMS Global Learning Consortium develops open interoperability standards, supports adoption with technical services, and encourages adoption through programmes that highlight effective practices. IMS supports online education with initiatives such as digital curriculum, learning apps and tools, digital credentialing and badges, educational data and analytics, and e-assessments, among others. Its open architecture and extensive ecosystem of EdTech products enable education institutions to be more innovative, provide a more seamless user experience, and reduce the cost of integrating products into the educational systems for online education provision.


DiploFoundation works to strengthen the meaningful participation of small and developing states and mar


DiploFoundation works to strengthen the meaningful participation of small and developing states and marginalised groups in global policy processes, by offering several online courses targeting members from these states. Topics covered by the courses include data diplomacy, Internet governance and digital policy, e-diplomacy, e-commerce, cybersecurity, Internet technology and policy, etc. Diplo also offers customised Internet governance capacity development programmes, targeted at specific regions or thematic needs; these include online learning, in addition to policy research and policy immersion. A Master/Postgraduate Diploma in Contemporary Diplomacy with an Internet governance specialisation is also part of Diplo’s online learning portfolio.


COMESA has developed an e-learning platform


COMESA has developed an e-learning platform for delivering training in various areas to both staff members and other stakeholders from COMESA member states. Courses offered through the platform range from leadership training to public procurement. The organisation also uses an online system known as COMESA 24/7 Online for building the capacity of COMESA and its members in monitoring the implementation of programmes and education on trade topics. Through a five phase programme, COMESA is putting all its knowledge center resources online through a web information management system.


As a standards organisation, CEN has contributed to online learning by developing educational qualification mo


As a standards organisation, CEN has contributed to online learning by developing educational qualification models and conceptual frameworks that categorise e-competences. It has guided the development of the European e-Competence Framework for ICT practitioners, listing 40 ICT competences and is aimed at improving recognition of IT qualifications. Two CEN technical committees work on e-education issues: CEN/TC 353 – ICT for learning, education, and training, and CEN/TC 428 – professions for ICT. Two CEN workshops were created to deal with e-learning as well: one on learning technologies (currently disbanded), which contributed to the development of specifications, guidelines, and recommendations in its focus area; and another one on ICT skills.


The CSTD reviews progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the WSIS outcomes at the regional and


The CSTD reviews progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the WSIS outcomes at the regional and international level, and it prepares draft resolutions for the UN Economic and Social Council. These draft resolutions tackle issues ranging from access to information and communication technologies (ICT) and Internet, to  the use of ICTs for early warning and mitigating climate change. At its annual sessions and inter-sessional panels, the Commission also addresses development-related themes such as: science, technology, and innovation for sustainable cities and communities; ICT for inclusive social and economic development; digital development; Internet broadband for inclusive societies; and smart cities and infrastructure.




Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)


Online Education: A Catalyst for Higher Education Reform (2016)
Internet for All: A Framework for Accelerating Internet Access and Adoption (2016)
Lifelong Learning and Technology (2016)
Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States (2016)
Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report 2015 (2015)
UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030 (2015)
The Global Information Technology Report 2015: ICTs for Inclusive Growth (2015)
Paths Forward to a Digital Future for Further Education (2013)


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The role of e-learning and online education in sustainable development was underlined in several discussions at IGF 2016. Digital tools can help overcome physical and geographic barriers when it comes to access to education. But there are several pre-conditions for e-learning to be truly effective: the affordability and availability of infrastructure, devices, and access to the Internet (ICT Implementation in Education: Road-Map to Achieving SDGs - WS121). Quality online education can empower people and can positively change their lives. In this regard, there is a need for content quality ranking and critical evaluation of online education and open/online educational resources. Policies for quality ranking and quality control should be a collective effort among different stakeholders (Empowerment Through Quality Online Education - WS108).


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