Competing in a Global Economy Through Open Education

On a global scale, the U.S., European Union, Japan, China and India will face critical shortfalls of 32 million technically specialised professionals. Throughout the world, the demand for educated professionals is growing faster than the populations of those people with the required skills.

By Michael King, Vice President, IBM Education Industry

By Michael King, Vice President, IBM Education Industry


Unfortunately, today’s educational systems – typically underfunded and under pressure to do more with less – are ill-equipped to close the skills gap. Despite billions of dollars in spending, technology has produced inconsistent results.  Siloed enterprise applications, lack of data interoperability, high software licensing fees, escalating total cost of ownership, absence of industry standards – they all contribute to inefficient processes, creating barriers to collaboration and innovation.


To address these challenges, the education industry must commit itself to becoming more open. That means more open access to educational opportunities for more students, more open data and processes within and across institutions, and a more open culture of collaboration and sharing. Open access is not only a challenge for developing countries, but even in major markets. Access to learning needs to be improved to support working and house-bound students, to achieve compliance with accessibility standards, and to promote diverse device usage driven by the consumer IT marketplace. Institutions need to create more open data to improve processes and insight to decision making, by both administrators and instructors, such as through data warehouses of students or institutional performance metrics. A more open culture of collaboration will also foster reuse and sharing to ultimately lower costs of operation and delivery within the industry. Of course, with all this openness, security and privacy concerns will be critical to address. All of these changes can be enabled by more open technologies, which together we call Open Education.


Open Education offers the opportunity to realise the promise of technology to create a productive and efficient environment that enables every student to achieve his or her full potential. Open standards, open-source applications and an open architecture can deliver a common framework that spurs innovation, increases interoperability and flexibility, improves service delivery and drives down total cost of ownership. The open-technology-based model enables access for all to educational tools, applications and processes, and facilitates open communities of collaboration to create a lifelong learning continuum and help build the skill-sets to survive in the 21st century.


Globally, the education industry is facing challenges that make improvements in education more critical than ever:


  • Demographic shifts: Over half of India’s population is under 25 and within a decade, the working population could peak at 800 million people.  Education and skill-set development are crucial to the continued growth of economies like these.
  • Declining labour-force populations in developed countries. By 2030 the European Union can expect to have 14 percent fewer workers than it does today. Innovation in education is crucial to continued productivity as workforce populations decline in industrialised countries.


Facing a ticking time clock, education institutions must act now. An open education model will bring learning capabilities to any student who has access to the Internet – anywhere in the world. This open access will facilitate learning inside and outside the classroom by creating learning environments that are not dependent on a physical campus or classroom.


Open communities of collaboration support the improvements in education quality through open data and business processes that enable greater reuse, shared services and efficiencies. Communities like rSmart/IBM Sakai 2.0 can now harness the innovation and creativity of the education system to create tools, content and courseware that the broader education community can leverage. The Sakai community is an international alliance of over 150 universities, colleges and commercial affiliates working with standards organisations and other open-source software initiatives to develop and distribute freely enterprise software applications using Sakai’s community-source approach. The rSmart/IBM Sakai 2.0 platform was built specifically for easy adoption and integration into the education enterprise. It can be used as a pure course management system (document distribution, a grade book, discussion, live chat, assignment uploads, online testing) or can serve as a collaborative tool for research and group projects.


The positive implications of collaborative learning environments like Sakai are endless. They offer platforms for innovation and enhancements developed by educators for educators, while also providing for better alignment in the pipeline of learning from K-12 to higher education. The open source and open standards improve integration and reuse, which ultimately lower costs and improve service quality.


In China, for example, approximately 70 percent of the population lives in rural, less-developed areas of the country. To address the educational disparity that ultimately exists between developed cities and these western rural areas, the Chinese Minister of Education partnered with IBM to develop an easy, reliable, low-cost e-learning solution based on open-source distance collaboration technology. On June 30, 2006, BlueSky Open Platform for Basic Education was launched to begin bringing online education resources to China’s approximately 210 million students. BlueSky offers functionality, collaboration and support to classrooms across the country, no matter how remote or funding-strapped.  Piloted in 15 cities across China, BlueSky registered 56,204 total users in less than one year, including 1,829 teachers, 54,360 students and 15 administrators.


Open education is not just about technology; it is about new ways of communicating, collaborating and exchanging information such that every student is able to achieve his or her full potential. The fundamental shift that is taking place towards “cloud computing” is indicative of an underlying need for education to become more seamless, to break down the silos within and across education institutions. Open education will not only enable seamless delivery, but it will do so at a reduced cost.


The technology industry has an obligation to the global education system to fulfil its promise to make life easier for teachers and more effective for students. As technology has advanced, complexities seem to have gotten in the way of this vision, and now is the time to step back and ensure the provision of more content, more access, more collaboration and more support. The question is not if open education should become a global reality, it is when. Children and learning should not be proprietary. Education systems around the world should all have access to the best content and resources possible.


Michael King will speak in the plenary on Friday, December 5, 2008 at 09:15 – 11:00.


Michael D. King, Vice President, IBM Global Education Industry, has been with IBM for over 20 years in various executive and management positions. He is currently the worldwide leader for the IBM Education Industry with responsibility for strategy, marketing and sales for schools and higher education. He has held a variety of roles in the Education Industry, including Director of Market Development, and in corporate learning, as a marketing manager and as Director of Alliances for IBM Learning Solutions. Mr King has held several sales and management positions in various industry segments across IBM.


Mr King holds Bachelor of Science degrees in physics and engineering from Kansas State University and an MBA from the University of California, Los Angeles. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the IMS Global Learning Consortium standards organisation and the California P16 Education Advisory Council.

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