‘There is a revolution in the air’, the words of a popular song in Easy Rider, circa 1961. If you listen to the lyrics, the words mean nothing. On this occasion the ongoing debate about education, much aired on social media networks, does mean something.

What is happening and how will it work out? This question I have addressed in this paper the other key issues will be dealt with in two supporting papers.

They are, ‘Are current e learning systems able to cope with the new style of learning?’ And ‘How will the new requirements for online learning be addressed’?

There are some interesting indicators.

What is education for?

I suppose we need to start by considering what is education for?

I like Victor Hugo’s definition, He who opens a school door, closes a prison.’ Victor Hugo

Although, Einstein is less complimentary about the process, Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. ‘ Albert Einstein

No one can be fully at home in the world unless, through some acquaintance with literature and art, the history of society and the revelations of science, he has seen enough of the triumphs and tragedies of mankind to realize the heights to which human nature can rise and the depths to which it can sink. R H Tawney, [1]

Thomas Jefferson and Horace Mann felt that education should prepare people to be good citizens and assimilate them to a common culture. Jefferson thought that the people needed education in order to make wise policy decisions. Mann was committed to common education as a path for developing social cohesion in an immigrant nation.

In essence, surely, education is about assimilating certain cultural norms. From this base, new generations must adapt these norms to deal with current economic and social challenges. In this way, novel solutions to these issues can be found and implemented.”

Schools and the education system were created to fuel the industrial revolution, and there were two eras and now perhaps, a third. The Church era, the School era and now, the Technological era.

The first education initiatives were organized by the Church to recruit new members and the first school in the UK was “The Kings College School, Canterbury” in 597 A.D.

The Church organized all education and the values taught were Christian. As the requirement for practical skills emerged with the industrial revolution, the uneducated workforce moved from the countryside to towns to find employment. There was an increase in social problems caused by leaving children alone while parents worked. Government took control to reduce these social problems and introduced apprenticeships to improve labour force skills for the industrial revolution. The education was minimal, and the focus was on skills for employment.

Children were ‘put out’ to the skilled families, where they lived and worked with the families while they learned their trade. Needless to say, the adopted values and opinions were taken not then from parents but from the families they were apprenticed to as they depended on them for their very existence on a daily basis. Latterly Guilds were formed to assess and control the quality of the output, and these are still in existence in London today.

Those children who were going to school prior to becoming apprentices received basic education but access to University education and better jobs depended on social position and social networks. At the higher levels of society, the family network was also a political and economic network with girls marrying strategically and boys being dispersed largely between the army, commerce and the Church.

Schools and Universities controlled content and subject matter, but curricula were limited and not standard.

The focus was on learning facts for life. These laws were guiding principles for life, whether you were in a trade or a profession, and assessment was based on recycling these facts because they were so important to performance in the workplace.

Rather surprisingly the current focus is essentially no different, if you remember the last exams that you took! Even in higher education we are still largely judged on our ability to recycle facts.

Now the curriculum is much wider and controlled by government, supposedly to match the skills output to the job market. However, as the post 16 unemployment figures are increasing, we have to conclude these efforts are not successful.

Technology is now present in the classroom, but the teaching methods only use it as a medium for holding and disseminating information, rather than by using it to create interest and motivation in students.

Here is the key point.

The third age of education (Technology), has already started, and technology and the Internet have created it. However, education is in direct conflict with the way people have now become used to learning.

Education is not generally accepting that it should change its methods. For this reason it is not in tune with the Technology era, rather than adapting and using the changes to produce better education, they are resisting the inevitable, and this is causing frustration for teachers and learners.

So what is happening and what evidence is there for it?

In summary people, learning styles and general behavior have changed as a result of the Internet and the, ever more, cheaply and readily available technology.

Information and facts are available on the web 24/7, and it’s constantly up to date. In response to the connectivity, government, commerce, medicine and the way we live our lives, have all changed radically, with so much being ‘in The Cloud’.

We work remotely, correspond with each other instantly across the globe for free, and can access finance, education, and any information online. As a result we are used to communicating with people we don’t know and we are now creating vast social networks, where we cooperate and share information informally.

As a result, we have no problem with finding common interests with people we have never talked to before and have broken down barriers. This disruptive technology offers no hiding place for poor business models, bad government, or valueless concepts.

Ever faster evolving technology and faster flowing information have changed financial markets, employment, education and our private lives. No longer do we have a job or set of skills for life. We need to be constantly updating and training ourselves just to stay abreast of our jobs and the pace of private lives.

Whether you are a doctor, or an electrician, you have to constantly update your workplace knowledge. Individuals, with access to free education and training, are taking control of their lifelong learning and receiving it on their phones, wherever, and whenever they like.

People are learning as and when they need, for as long as they wish, and in whatever medium suits or interests them.

There is no registration or teacher and no assessment is required, providing significant evidence of the move away from traditional education and towards a more informal social education where learners are in control. Alison, an online training provider, now boasts 4m learners [2].

Here are some extracts from research papers, NGOs, and other sources.

‘These new learning niches enable people of all ages to pursue learning on their own terms. People around the world are taking their education out of school and into homes, libraries, Internet cafes and workplaces where they can decide what they want to learn, when they want to learn and how they want to learn.’ [3]

‘Home schooling has been booming in the US over the last 30 years. Based on a survey in 2003, the US Department of Education (National Center for Education Statistics 2006) estimated there were 1.1 million children being home-schooled and that the number had increased by 29% in four years. The survey also found that 21% of the families engaged in home schooling hired a tutor and 41% used distance learning.’[4]

Market research firm Global Industry Analysts, Inc. (GIA) has released a study stating that the global private tutoring market is projected to surpass $152 billion by 2015. According to GIA, the burgeoning private tutoring market is being driven by the failure of standard education systems to cater to the unique needs of students, combined with growing parental desire to secure the best possible education for their children in a highly competitive global economy.[5]

Work place education is expanding rapidly and the value of the global training market is estimated at $164 billion and expanding [6] according to The Evolulllution website.

The University of Phoenix is the most successful online university in America. It has over 100,000 students altogether, including over 30,000 online students. As busy people realize they need more education, they increasingly opt to take distance education courses.[7]

The worldwide market for self-paced e learning reached $35.6 billion in 2011. The five-year compound annual growth rate is 7.6% and revenues will reach $51.5 billion by 2016. Five-year revenue forecasts are provided for 85 countries in this report.[8]

By 2016, expenditures on digital English language-learning products will account for 7.3% (or $2.5 billion) of the global English language-learning market.[9]

The numbers of people returning to education, forming self-interest communities and joining MOOCS is increasing fast.

In March 2013, one MOOC provider (a for-profit one) had 2.8 million registered learners – far more than the 1.8 million people that have taken a course at the Open University in its whole 39-year history.[10]

In recent years many companies are also choosing to certify micro-subjects within their own areas of expertise, such as Cisco and Microsoft.

‘In recent years, a host of companies, such as Microsoft and Cisco, as well as technical societies, have developed exams that certify that a person has a particular level of skill in some occupational niche, such as creating web pages or maintaining computer networks. Because the certifications are more specific than diplomas, they are more meaningful to potential employers.[11]

All of this adds up to a lot of learning and a significant trend towards lifelong, self-controlled learning.

As education’s role is being challenged by technology, it is not reacting very well, and there are many dangers in this lack of acceptance. But why is this and will it change?

Education has had plenty of time to see the Internet, and it’s effects on other industry sectors but it has intransigently refused to embrace the social changes that demand a change in pedagogy.

Why is there a conflict?

I speak as a former teacher with 10 years experience in schools and higher education.

I believe that the education establishment and many teachers have a firm belief that they own learning and are the only ones who can dispense it properly.

I would add there are a significant number of the more enlightened teachers but these people are swimming against the establishment tide and many are now leaving to join the fast growing band of private tutors see (footnote 4 above.)

In other words, the teacher dispensing learning is not challenged and there is, indeed, no room for challenge in the social set-up of education where debate is often confused with losing authority.

The emphasis is only on solo learning and testing but, in the workplace, one is applauded for using external resources and working well with colleagues.

The subject matter of courses is based on facts and theories and not on skills.

In today’s fast moving society, it can be argued that these facts and theories have a very short shelf -life and that teaching skills, not facts, would be a better pedagogical system.

This culture and system is at odds with learners now and no longer suits them; the modern learner is now used to something different.

They’re used to choosing what they learn, where, when and how they learn it.

They like to learn cooperatively and make up their own curriculum and, where assessment is used, it is either instant or offered to suite their progress.

The style is bite-sized pieces of learning that can be digested and explored easily.

So what about e learning, is it not the solution?

MOOCS, (Massive Open Online Courses), have been the disruptive technology that have caused people to think and have fuelled the debate about access and the cost of learning in Higher Education.

In fact, the completion rate for MOOCS is relatively low, and many see them as a marketing tool positioning the brands of US higher education in the online market.

75% so far are in English, but other languages are growing in popularity, particularly Spanish and French.

  • Spanish: Miriada X, a consortium of nearly 30 universities in Spain and Latin America, offers a large number of courses in diverse subjects in business management, education/teaching, science, and humanities.
  • French: Coursera offers a dozen or so French-based MOOCs, and France Universite Numerique (FUN), a major initiative from the French National Ministry using the open-source edX platform, recently started to put courses online from a number of French universities.
  • Mandarin Chinese: Coursera offers some Mandarin-based courses through partner universities, including Peking University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and National Taiwan University. A new provider, XuetangX, using the open-source edX platform, has just started a handful of courses, with more to come.
  • German: Iversity, a European MOOC provider based in Germany, has about 10 German-language MOOCs, and will likely plan more.
  • Arabic: رواق (rwaq.org) recently started offering a limited number of MOOCs in Arabic. Additionally, a new initiative sponsored by the Queen Rania Foundation, Edraak, was just announced that would provide an Arabic MOOC portal using the open-source edX platform.

The trends are

  • Universities are starting to grant credit for MOOCs
  • Companies are beginning to use MOOCs for internal training and marketing
  • MOOC.org (a partnership between open EdX and Google to create a MOOC authorship platform), and the current offering from OpenLearning.

E learning is the solution, but there are many problems to resolve before it can be widely accepted within the school system.

Internet access in many countries is still not reliable or fast enough to stream video effectively, which is one of the richest media for e learning.

It also means that the interesting solution, streaming expert lessons into schools from remote locations is not totally reliable, either.

The technology in classrooms and schools is set up as a series of closed networks to keep information inside a controlled environment, which is at odds with the sharing and cooperation concepts of the Internet.

Enlightened teachers are struggling to put content online but the systems to do this easily are not in place and so they either waste time, or the quality of materials is substandard, giving e learning a bad name.

There is still a digital divide between have and have-nots. Those who have better technology progress better and have more opportunities. ‘There is substantial data that suggest that differences in use of computing technology occur along socioeconomic status, gender, and cultural lines [12]

But the essential point is one not of technology, but of pedagogy and culture.

Schools will have to alter the curriculum, the way they teach, train their teachers, change the way they assess as well as changing their technology.

Allowing students to use online materials, conduct their own research, produce their own materials, work in teams and work out of school will be necessary. The bizarre thing is that this is the way students are learning out of school anyway!

Despite these problems and challenges, online education is already happening, and where it does happen, the numbers are big.

  1. The worldwide market for self-paced eLearning reached $35.6 billion in 2011. The five-year compound annual growth rate is 7.6% and revenues will reach $51.5 billion by 2016. Five-year revenue forecasts are provided for 85 countries in this report. [13]
  2. Virtual universities are attracting large numbers of online students.
  3. ChinaEdu in China has over 311,000 students, the second-largest online student population on the planet after the University of Phoenix Online in the US.
  4. The Thailand Cyber University Project is a government-funded consortium of 43 education institutions, NGOs, government agencies, and companies. As of June 2012, it provides over 300 free online courses and reaches over 170,000 students.
  5. UNISA, based in South Africa, has over 160,000 online students across Sub-Sahara Africa, more than half of their total student population. Over 3,500 come from outside South Africa.
  6. China Cast Education is a publicly traded company in China and has over 145,000 online higher education students. (Additionally, they have 6,500 PreK-12 online students.)
  7. The State University of New York Learning Network and the Ohio Learning Network both have over 100,000 online students.
  8. The Open University of Japan is the largest online education provider in Japan with over 85,000 enrolled students.
  9. Open Universities Australia (OUA) has over 60,000 online students, more than double the enrollments from four years ago
  10. While 16.1 million higher education students took one or more classes online in US institutions in 2011, there were 1.5 million students taking all their classes online in US institutions. By 2016, this international student body of fulltime higher education students will rise to 4.1 million. It is likely that this number will be dwarfed by fulltime online enrollments in Chinese higher education institutions.[14]

So what will happen?

So the trend towards the adoption of online learning is proven, but when you look at it country by country you can see clear differences.

Generally the adoption rate is slower in Europe than any other area.

white paper - figure 1

white paper figure 2

There is a marked difference between countries and areas and the danger is that if Europe doesn’t accept the changes they are likely to fall behind in the global education race.

Furthermore the revenue generated by higher education which is, according to Government reports, to be £7.37 billion (latest figures), would fall dramatically as other countries drew students away from the old fashioned UK system. [15]

I can foresee a number of consequences.

  1. Online provision will only become much bigger but Europe will lag behind
  2. Online schools will be created, by independent groups of ex-teachers, under a Government education system but independent of curriculum guidance.
  3. Specialist niche markets for online provision in areas such as those excluded from schools, long term ill, those being taught at home, or those with special educational needs. (Already happening in the USA).
  4. There will be a move to new types of e learning model, including Knowledge Eco Systems, Personal Learning, Virtual and Enhanced Reality
  5. Teachers will contest IP rights and publish their own materials online
  6. Teachers will become subject matter experts and maybe, even individual contractors, many moving online and teaching in public as well as privately.
  7. The curriculum will gradually change to a skill-based pedagogy with a much wider range of subjects and assessments.
  8. Private provision online in software, teaching, content and consultancy will have more presence in everyday education provision, as in the health sector

UNESCO in their Muscat Agreement, point to the skill based pedagogy as one of their major objectives. Points four and five are shown below indicating that the my view of the importance of moving towards a skill based pedagogical system is supported by them

Target 4: By 2030, at least x% of youth and y% of adults have the knowledge and skills for decent work and life through technical and vocational, upper secondary and tertiary education and training, with particular attention to gender equality and the most marginalized.

 Target 5: By 2030, all learners acquire knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to establish sustainable and peaceful societies, including through global citizenship education and education for sustainable development.[16]


  1. Collins* & R. Halverson†© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2010), 26, 18–27
  2. The Penn News, http://finance.thepennews.com/news/forbes/global-private-tutoring-market-will-surpass-152-billion-by-2015/global-private-tutoring-market-will-surpass-152-billion-by-2015.htm
  3. http://www.evolllution.com/opinions/corporate-training-market-collision-circumstance-capability/
  4. (Maeroff 2003)
  5. Ambient InSight http://www.ambientinsight.com/Resources/Documents/AmbientInsight-2011-2016-Worldwide-Self-paced-eLearning-Market-Premium-Overview.pdf
  6. http://www.theguardian.com/education/datablog/2014/jan/30/distance-learning-higher-education-moocs
  7. The Second Educational Revolution: rethinking education in the age of technology, jcal_339 18..27A. Collins* & R. Halverson†© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2010), 26, 18–27
  8. [Attewell, 2001; Camp, 1997; Warschauer, 2003].
  9. http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/highereducation/Documents/2014/TheImpactOfUniversitiesOnTheUkEconomy.pdfhttp://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Pages/post-2015-indicators.aspx



[2] Alison website – www.alison.com

[3] The second educational revolution: rethinking education in the age of technology, jcal_339 18.27

  1. Collins* & R. Halverson†© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2010), 26, 18–27

[4] The second educational revolution: rethinking education in the age of technology, jcal_339 18.27A. Collins* & R. Halverson†© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2010), 26, 18–27

[5] The Penn News, http://finance.thepennews.com/news/forbes/global-private-tutoring-market-will-surpass-152-billion-by-2015/global-private-tutoring-market-will-surpass-152-billion-by-2015.htm

[6] http://www.evolllution.com/opinions/corporate-training-market-collision-circumstance-capability/

[7] (Maeroff 2003)

[8] Ambient InSight http://www.ambientinsight.com/Resources/Documents/AmbientInsight-2011-2016-Worldwide-Self-paced-eLearning-Market-Premium-Overview.pdf

[9] Ambient InSight http://www.ambientinsight.com/Resources/Documents/AmbientInsight-2011-2016-Worldwide-Self-paced-eLearning-Market-Premium-Overview.pdf

[10] http://www.theguardian.com/education/datablog/2014/jan/30/distance-learning-higher-education-moocs

[11] The second educational revolution: rethinking education in the age of technology, jcal_339 18..27A. Collins* & R. Halverson†© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2010), 26, 18–27


[12] [Attewell, 2001; Camp, 1997; Warschauer, 2003].


[13] Ambient InSight http://www.ambientinsight.com/Resources/Documents/AmbientInsight-2011-2016-Worldwide-Self-paced-eLearning-Market-Premium-Overview.pdf

[14] Ambient InSight http://www.ambientinsight.com/Resources/Documents/AmbientInsight-2011-2016-Worldwide-Self-paced-eLearning-Market-Premium-Overview.pdf

[15] http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/highereducation/Documents/2014/TheImpactOfUniversitiesOnTheUkEconomy.pdf

[16] http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Pages/post-2015-indicators.aspx