Magazine article Distance Learning

Distance Education under Neoliberal Globalization: The Political Economy of an Emerging Trend in Education

Magazine article Distance Learning

Distance Education under Neoliberal Globalization: The Political Economy of an Emerging Trend in Education

Article excerpt


Distance education is a longstanding concept in adult education. Since the correspondence education practices as the first implementation, the forms of distance education have been changing due to prominent technological developments, such as radio, television, and Internet. However, one can argue that not only the technological developments but also the social and economic transformations that bring new educational needs and arrangements forward, make new forms of distance education emerge as a major topic.

The prevailing notion to explain the social and economic transformation for almost the last 3 decades is neoliberalism. Neoliberalism, as a concept suggesting its own definition, is the new form or the revival of liberalism (Thorsen & Lie, 2009), which is rooted in the laissez-faire economy that refers to the idea that unregulated free markets would enhance the wealth of the nations.

Considering the triangular interrelations between the market, the society and the state, liberalism asserts that if the state does not intervene in the relationship between the market and the society, the invisible hand of the market would lead the society to a better welfare level. In brief, the difference provided by the prefix "neo" implies that the role of the state intervention in the society on behalf of the market is needed, since the attempts to form unregulated free markets resulted in worldwide economic and social crises (Harvey, 2005).

To be elaborated later in the article, one can argue at this very starting point that the neoliberal state intervention aims to disable the objections against the inequalities and unfairness caused by the free market dynamics by taking economic, social, legal, and political measures. Here in this article, neoliberalism is assumed to be necessarily accompanied by globalization, namely the concept that is commonly used as a shorthand way of describing the spread and connectedness of production, communication and technologies across the world (Smith & Doyle, 2002). These two overlapping concepts, neoliberalism and globalization, are analyzed here under the term "neoliberal globalization," since they associatively form the basis of the increasing significance of distance education since the last 3 decades.

Under neoliberal globalization in this period, there has been a dramatic shift in the conception of all forms of learning and distance education. The shift is so dramatic that nearly all the previous educational concepts, institutions, and arrangements have been discredited compared to the emerging ones, mainly the ones derived from "learning society" and "lifelong learning."

In brief again, there have been two main determinants to make distance education more significant recently: The first one is the technological boom in information and communication technologies (ICT) that enables learning through several kinds of devices irrespective of time and space. The second one is the economic and social transformation, so-called neoliberalism accompanied by globalization that places learning at the very heart of rapidly changing societies.

Neoliberalism and Globalization

Neoliberalism is the answer of capitalism to the economic crises that was brought to light with the oil shock in 1970s. The welfare state was an active social and economic agent between the Second World War and that oil shock, providing with circumstances that enable mass consumption related with mass production and high rates profit by the state's market intervention on behalf of society (Bulut, 2003; Ersöz, 2003; Sönmez, 2007).

Capitalism used to work on full employment policies to increase market demand: economic and social policies used to provide large masses of people with guaranteed employment opportunities. Social security, education, and health services were financed by public resources and thus, people were expected to consume more since they do not have to pay for these kinds of services. …

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