Competitive Advantage and Technology Strategy in Distance Education

Article excerpt

Byline: THERESITA V. ATIENZA, Ph.D.

EDUCATION is the key that opens doors to a range of possibilities for advancement, for the benefit of both the individual and the country. Relevant education is a fundamental element to maneuver the country towards the path of sustainable progress. Educated and skilled people are a necessary ingredient of democratic societies and market economics. A highly competent and knowledgeable labor force is essential to the progress of a nation. Studies conducted on the strategies of high-performing Asian economies - such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore - conclude that human resource development, particularly education, leads to economic growth.

Since knowledge has become the true "capital'' where "access to good jobs and career opportunities increasingly requires a university diploma,'' Peter Drucker stressed the need for continuous education at every stage of a person's life. This concept of life-long education, one in which education is considered to be an essential factor throughout human existence, emphasizes the need for universities to provide easy and open access to education. With an estimated fifty percent of the world's population less than twenty years old and the percentage even higher in developing countries, providing education and training for an increasing populace is a key challenge for both developed and developing countries. The world's capacity to provide access to higher education necessitates the establishment of a substantial number of new universities each week simply to respond to the demand. Yet, new universities are not being created at this frequency.

Higher education is in crisis. This crisis however combines both opportunities and threats. It provides the opportunity to explore distance education as an innovative and cost-effective delivery system while, at the same time, challenging educational practices and habits of teaching and learning. Moreover, changing politics, globalization and new information and communication technologies are lodging diverse issues for distance education to remain stable and viable.

Distance education is defined as the educational process where a significant proportion of the teaching is conducted by someone remote in time and place from the learner, and where a combination of educational media from print to radio/TV broadcasts, video recordings and new information and communication technologies (ICT) may be employed. Likewise, opportunities for face-to-face interactions are provided. This rich and frequently varying blend of media and meeting has been the foremost strength of the distance education mode. This system of delivering education, loaded though it seems, is usually predisposed to evaluation vis-a-vis conventional education in universities. Doubts are often cast about the quality of print and media instructional materials of the courses, and concern is expressed at the levels of achievement acquired through distance education. It is imperative, therefore, for this educational delivery system to confront critical issues and build competitive advantage.

Concept of Competitive Advantage

The nations of competitive advantage and superior performance are as valid for the education industry, private or public, as for corporate organizations. While private universities mainly depend on student fees to operate, public universities are now beginning to depend also on student fees and other incomes than simply on funds from the state. Hence, concern should be on the competitive advantage of universities as total organizations. However, focus is particularly set on distance education since interest in this mode of learning now unites most of higher education. New technologies have also caused the concerns of conventional institutions to converge with those of distance education institutions. Furthermore, defining the role of technology in competitive advantage is particularly attractive for distance education to continue to exist in the future. …