A new report by the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) reveals just how much technology is changing both the process, and the business, of learning.

“Software and the internet have obliterated the confines of the classroom, providing unprecedented access to quality educational resources regardless of the location of the student. The internet has also brought together widespread communities of learners,” the report declares.

Children are benefiting from individually tailored instruction, accessible at school or home, that provides instant feedback through linked diagnostic assessments, SIIA said. Adults—including teachers—are taking advantage of new professional development opportunities online, the report noted.

Furthermore, said the report, education is emerging as a significant contributor to the digital economy. According to market research firm International Data Corp., the market for technology-delivered training and instruction, or eLearning, is expected to grow to $11.4 billion by 2003—more than 10 times its 1998 level.

SIIA’s “Trends Report 2000,” released July 19, identifies “education anytime, anywhere” as one of six key trends that are shaping the digital economy. The other trends, according to SIIA: software as a service, the value of information, customer empowerment, the digitization of business, and the business of policy.

SIIA represents more than 1,000 companies in 33 countries, about 400 of which are involved in education. The report is available free of charge from the group’s web site.

The association called upon the personal experience of dozens of member and non-member companies to gather information. The result, according to SIIA, is “a 12-month preview to how the industry will evolve and how those affected by the digital economy will benefit.”

The “Education Anytime, Anywhere” section outlines the shifts in education that have resulted from the acceptance of new technologies and the prevalence of the internet.

The web enhances learning through four main avenues, SIIA said. First, it gives students unprecedented access to content, opening the door to a wealth of information for research and study. Second, it provides “distributed learning” to users by letting them take classes and contact fellow learners around the world, instantly.

The internet also allows for individualized learning, in which students can choose from a wealth of educational content the materials that best suit their learning styles.

Finally, the web has allowed for improved communication between teachers, parents, and students. It helps parents become more involved with their children’s education, enabling them to chat with teachers via eMail, for instance, check assignments on school web sites, and receive progress reports electronically.

The next ‘killer application’

“Trends Report 2000” also reveals the extent to which education technology is booming. According to John Chambers, chief executive officer of Cisco Systems Inc., education is “the next big killer application on the internet. It’s so big, it’s going to make eMail look like a rounding number.”

The education market accounts for 10 percent of the gross domestic product, the report said. “This large and diverse market, combined with rapidly evolving technology, presents a virtually limitless number of eLearning business models,” SIIA added.

The study shows how educational technology is proliferating with both the business-to-consumer (B2C) model and the business-to-business (B2B) model—where education portals such as bigchalk.com and online procurement sites such as Simplexis, eschoolmall.com, and Epylon are making names for themselves.

Many companies are “taking advantage of the unique opportunity to translate B2B relationships [in education] into B2C customers. Companies that establish relationships with students through their K-12 school environments can build lifelong eLearning and eCommerce customers,” SIIA said.

In some cases, this might involve public-private partnerships between schools and content providers; in others, it might involve direct competition between schools and internet companies.

“Trends Report 2000” further asserted that “the greatest barrier to eLearning may not be technology or resources, but our preconceived social norms and beliefs.”

The report challenged these beliefs by arguing that internet-based learning provides students with social learning opportunities instead of making them more anti-social. For example, “eMail chat rooms and online discussions can provide even the most timid students an opportunity to interface with other students and instructors,” the report said.

Another barrier to eLearning cited by SIIA is the current seat-time model for funding. The report challenges policy makers to come up with new models that fit with today’s educational climate.

“A shift from institution-based to learner-based education requires that many practices and regulations be updated: those based on a seat-time and single-school attendance system must be changed to appropriately determine academic credit, school accreditation, and student financial aid,” the report contended.

The report also mentioned long-term investment in teacher education, protection of children from online predators, and research and development of new eLearning strategies and approaches as major issues to address.

For school decision makers, “the opportunities … to leverage technology today are unprecedented. Schools are really experimenting and turning to cutting-edge technology to improve curriculum and engage parents and students,” said Lauren Hall, SIIA’s executive vice president.

For the first time, Hall said, schools are adopting new technologies at the same time businesses adopt them, or even before.

“We are seeing a lot of crossover between business and education,” she said. As an example, she cited the use of the new Extensible Markup Language (XML) computer protocol in the recently adopted Schools Interoperability Framework, a system—scheduled to become a reality sometime later this year—that is expected to enable different networked applications within a school to share data.

“XML is growing up in the school arena at the same time it’s growing up in business,” Hall said. “That’s never happened until now.”

Even more ed-tech advancements will occur in the next year, SIIA said, because “the perception of education technology will change dramatically in the next 12 months in the eyes of supporters and skeptics alike.”

The digitization of school operational processes will provide more bang for the education buck, software and online content will continue to improve, and the public will begin to see a payoff for the investment being made by schools and governments alike, the report predicted.

Other key trends

According to SIIA, other trends that are shaping the digital economy include:

  • Software as a service. The internet is driving the change toward “software as a service,” removing software from local hard drives and enabling the use of thin clients, pay-per-use models, and real-time fixes and upgrades without user involvement. “The writing is on the wall,” SIIA said, but several variables will determine the rate of change toward software as a service: hosted information must be kept secure, the “need for speed” must be met, and service providers must be able to guarantee access, regardless of the number of users.

  • The value of information. Databases, periodicals, and reference materials are migrating to the internet. But if consumers (and schools) aren’t educated about the value of this information, they will refuse to pay for it, turn to sites that pirate information, or make decisions using less reliable information. Content providers would be forced to pull their information from the internet, harming both schools and consumers in the process, SIIA warned.

  • Customer empowerment. With competitors just a mouse click away, “online vendors have slashed their margins and customer service has become paramount.” Because customers now have an unparalleled number of choices, “online business models that fail to put the customer first are now doomed to failure,” Hall says. Furthermore, as consumers become more educated about privacy policies, “only companies that handle information in transparent and predictable ways will succeed.”

Links:

SIIA’s Trends Report 2000
http://www.trendsreport.net