Man has always thirsted for education and improvement of self. The ability to cognate and reason distinguishes man as superior to other species. From the Greeks to the Romans in Europe, to the Chinese and the Indians in the Asian subcontinent, to the American Indian tribes of North America and the Mayans from South America, ecivilization has displayed formal or informal educational structures. These edifices were the building blocks of their respective societies. Many of these societies evolved from an informal style of education to a more formal and generalized format over the period of the existence of any civilization.
Many universities in the U.S., Western Europe and Australia have been offering online courses and distance learning program for students in the developing countries around the world. There is however little being done to adapt these courses to the needs of the local population in the region. Developing countries, especially India, China, Pakistan and Iran, with their large population offer tremendous opportunities for many universities in the developed countries to increase their student population and consequently their profits.
The United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) defines distance learning as “the acquisition of knowledge and skills through mediated information and instruction, encompassing all technologies and other forms of learning at a distance.” (Santicchia, 2003)
Distance education in countries like the U.S., developed as a means for adult learners (“an individual whose major role in life is something other than being full-time student” (LInC_online, 1998)) to further their knowledge and skills, while leading otherwise busy and hectic lives. In many cases, the individuals already had jobs and/or careers in the domain in which they were seeking the higher education. Many online or distance courses are generally in subject areas that can generate large volumes of students and can be offered in smaller class sizes to ensure that the timing and frequency can be easily customized to suit the needs of the student. For this reason, courses in the areas of Business Management, Education (early and formal) and Organizational Development and Change are better suited to distance education when compared to the basic sciences and engineering. Classroom interaction and laboratory work cannot be avoided in the latter two.
This study hopes to identify why online education has not hitherto been successful. There are many conditions that need to exist simultaneously in a region. The co-existence of these conditions helps facilitate this new educational. Often, the most common problems are poor channels of communication between universities and the students, and the student and the teacher. Modes of communication have also determined the success of an online course. For example, female teachers teaching predominantly management courses might not be well accepted among the conservative populace of Iran. Failure of many universities to understand the social and cultural niceties that has to be incorporated into the planning of the online course can impact the success of the course in a new market.
Higher education and distance learning global trends
The economies of most developed countries have been shifting slowly from a predominantly manufacturing and production economy to a knowledge-based economy. This has resulted in the average individual getting a higher level of education. For example, high school diplomas were considered sufficient for the U.S. market forty years ago. Most industrial (blue-collar) workers did not see the need to pursue an undergraduate level education. Currently, most workers even in manufacturing and production organizations however, prefer to have an undergraduate education. Organizations have relatively recently begun to recognize that a higher qualified worker could produce better quality work.
Where the West and developed nations have moved to knowledge-based economies, countries such as India, Pakistan and China have moved from an agrarian to a manufacturing- based economy. This shift has creating a need for highly trained workers in these countries. Outsourcing, especially by countries from U.S. And Western Europe, supports many of the manufacturing endeavors of these nations. Parent companies hope to gain substantial profits and benefits by moving operations to these countries due to the lower labor costs, set up costs and operations costs. They however, want workers in those locations to understand their specific needs — they expect continuity of thought process across geographical distances. As a result, they expect mid and high level managers in those countries to understand common terms and management principles as they are followed in the U.S. And Europe, and apply these principles as appropriate.
Distance learning trends have been continuously showing a positive growth. There are different reasons why distance learning is being encouraged. Some of the more salient points are as follows:
Diversity training: As operations in organizations are spanning continents, ensuring that workers at every location follow standardized operational processes is important. Distance learning, especially one offered through a university, can help companies keep workers aware of diversity and the sensitivities that might accompany many of these issues. For example, the Asian culture tends to avoid confrontations and conflicts, and collectivism is more often the preferred choice of management. In the U.S. however, employees work hard at differentiating themselves from the rest of the workforce, and would not shy away from a conflict. Training workers of the same company at different locations to handle these issues in a manner that would be acceptable to both parties is therefore important. Many online courses have programs that touch upon issues such as international conflict, culture and values, ethics and legal implications as a part of their coursework. This is to offer the student as much variation as possible.
Process training: With many processes and operations constantly getting updated, individuals feel the need to also update their skills accordingly to satisfy the need of the job market. While keeping pace with growing market demands is an important attraction for new students, it is also equally important for existing employees. The age of lifelong employment has been slowly disappearing. Workers, all over the world, have to constantly ensure that they maintain their skills at desirable levels in order for companies to consider them an asset. With unemployment rates high, in many of the countries such as Pakistan, India and China, the option of leaving a job to pursue full time education is generally not the optimal option. In these situations, online courses can offer this individual the latest and most current knowledge on the processes or the areas in which the skill is desired.
Online courses also offer an option for people to train in more than one line of expertise. For example, a mechanical or civil engineer in India or Pakistan might consider it in his or her best interest to earn an MBA in order to display his or her versatility.
In many cases, the worker might not directly use the knowledge gained through online course. But it might be used to “pad” an existing resume or to get the next promotion within the his or her organization.
The modes of delivery of distance education can also vary significantly between universities. Some universities might send the necessary coursework in print form and offer students books and class notes. The instructor-student interaction might be limited to a discussion of problems or issues that the student might face in preparing for the examination. The examinations could also be sent in through mail or emails depending on the frequency of the assignments and the duration of the course. Some universities also send out videos and audiotapes to show students actual working of some functions or processes about which they might be learning. This helps students to get an audio and visual perspective of the required course material without a classroom setting.
Distance learning and its impact on student number in the new markets
The target markets selected for studying the impact of online courses have the potential for becoming large revenue generators for the universities if these markets are properly harnessed. For example, China and India with a joint population of more than two billion people could become a lucrative market for the universities that are willing to change their strategies to serve this market. It is important to recognize this often-overlooked notion that educational institutions all over America are essentially competitive just like any other business. Often, educational institutions although not-for-profit are run in a manner similar to any profit-making organization in the U.S. If an institution can identify the best methods for teaching a program and the best teacher and teaching styles for the course in question, they will be more in demand for their services, boosting the reputation and the consequent ranking of the institution.
A successful and competitive advantage for any university with respect to its competitors would be it ability to attract a new student by virtue of having the course (more market share) or encourage an existing student to “try” the course (diversification of product lines), thereby generating additional profits for the university and returning profits on the investments made. (Bain, 1954) While the existing educational systems in India and China are considered to be comparable to any of the best in the world, they are unable to cope with high populations. In addition, they are also less flexible and responsive to the needs of the new market. Many of the government universities in India are teaching curricula that are outdated and not applicable to the present workplace demands.
Research Issues and aims of the project
The object of this study is to find ways to make online education more accessible for the general public in the countries of India, Pakistan, China and Iran. The relative wealth of these countries when compared top the rest of the more developed nations of the world is substantially low. In addition, low literacy rates and the often outdated educational systems of these countries cannot keep pace with the new demands for education in courses that have traditionally not been given importance. Many of the more industrialized countries in the world are also increasingly outsourcing their needs to these countries. Developing a strong educational and continuous learning culture in these regions could help the western countries gain better productivity numbers and performance measures. The local population can also benefit from this education by gaining higher-level jobs within the region.
Consumers are also the driving force behind any organization. People (consumers) have a positive outlooks and self-image. They like to be treated with respect. (Festinger, 1957) In order to get the maximum benefit from any market, effective strategic marketing management principles have to be employed. (Ayers, 2001)
Students (and those that pay the students’ fees) are customers of the university. They have to be happy with the quality of the education provided by the university — online or otherwise. The general codes of marketing identified in the section above make it clear that if any university has to succeed in these new markets it has to prepare itself for the changes in the market as well. Many of these markets are also changing from socialistic/dictatorial to more of a capitalistic model. When an economy undergoes a drastic change (socialist to capitalist), the human element often has to acquire new skill-sets. Knowledge has to be updated to keep pace with the changes. Education and training are the basic tools that can help a country through a major change like this. In such an environment (in flux), offering the population and the business in the region access to education can help companies define and create smart strategies. In turn, these can help the citizens prosper and enjoy improved lifestyles.
The actual outcome of this study will result in an online course more appropriate to the region and the needs of the industry in the region. The distribution systems used — the mode of delivering the education should also be dependent on the infrastructure. To combat the issues of poor IT infrastructure and slower connection, instructors and students can create web chats at periods more suited to low Internet usages in the country having the Internet-connection problem. Selection of instructors is also paramount for the online courses in the region. Instructors should have some basic information of the needs of the region beyond the focus of the course being taught. Examples and case studies that the instructor might provide have to be more appropriate to the region. Discussing issues of WorldCom in China or India might not be as effective as discussing companies that are local and have sufficient press coverage. This strategy requires that the instructor go one step beyond the traditional preparation and ensure that they are well versed with the topics, industrial strategies and culture of these foreign regions.
Research methods and methodology
Data for this study will be of a secondary nature. The information that will be reviewed for this study will pertain to a wide variety of situations that exist within the countries identified. Secondary research is defined as research that will be collected from reviewing journal article, books, magazine, periodicals, newspapers and the Internet. It is normally assumed that personal opinions and viewpoints are an integral part of any printed and published opinions from any of the secondary research sources. Sufficient collaborative information will be verified for any given point-of-view prior to introducing the concept or idea in the study. The variables discussed in this study are not exhaustive, neither are they comprehensive.
Within the limits of time and the scope of the topic however, these features will be discussed and evaluated. There are various other factors such as the economic and stability of the region that also plays an important role in the data analyzed. There are factors such as the political influences in the country and the level of openness of the governments of the countries that might affect the entry of foreign universities. For example Iran and the U.S. do not enjoy friendly political relationships and entry of online courses from U.S. universities might more difficult than entry of universities from other European countries in the region.
There is an advantage to conducting secondary research as compared to primary research. Secondary research methods are cheaper and the time element is not as critical as primary research methods. There are however, some limitations in using secondary data. Correlation factors established in the material reviewed, biases and faulty assumptions made by authors and researchers of articles reviewed can impact the new study. It is critical that all information be cross-referenced and validated from more than one source prior to concluding any opinion. Primary data collection (surveys) on the other hand can reveal facts and features of any one market more clearly and comprehensively. (Hutt and Speh, 1985) Primary research is expensive and also dependent on the quality of the information gathered. The integrity and the quality of the data can become questionably if the population from which the data has been collected is not adequately diversified and independent.
Secondary data that is evaluated here is ideal. Data collection from universities that are currently offering online courses in the region and individuals open to the idea of getting trained online is difficult. The major constraints would also be time and money to collect surveys over long distances. Any long-term collection of data would be daunting. As such, the secondary methods would be the best suited as the metric by which the different markets could be evaluated based on published (and validated) material that is obtained from reputable sources. It would also be practically impossible to suggest a universal solution for all four markets and regional variances will have to be understood prior to providing any recommendation.
The task to be undertaken
As this study was a secondary in nature, it identified the needs of the regions and the various variables that had the potential to impact the setup of online courses in the countries of India, Pakistan, Iran and China.
Changing the communication medium from face-to-face to distance learning creates challenges for faculty and students, as well as compatibility issues with the course content.” (Granitz and Greene, 2003) This is one of the major problems when the course transcends geographical boundaries and cultures. For example, the format of communication in American and British universities is much different from that of India and Pakistan. “Buzz words” that might be common in the U.S. And U.K. might not be well know in the developing countries.
English might not be the lingua franca of the students in all the locations; and, while their skill at the language may be adequate for the course work there may be “catch-phrases” and slang that may not be as well understood. It was observed however that, “televised distance instruction can create subtle shifts in the behavior of the instructor, the teaching decisions that the instructor makes, or both.” (Rovai and Lucking, 2003) There is also a lower level of interaction between the groups undertaking this form of training. The role of the online teacher/instructor can help define either a good online training program or a poor online training program. But there are limitations: use body language, facial expressions, gestures, and words to communicate often are not as plentiful as compared to classroom settings. (Halio, 2004) Understanding that the needs differ significantly from a class or physical group-based training program is also important. (Carter, 2001)
The level of IT support and computer infrastructure needed for online education is high. Many of the connection requirements are standardized in the more developed countries of the world. Access to state of the art computers at affordable rates and Internet connections such as broadband and cable are easy for an individual in these countries. This is however, not the same for the students in countries like India, China, Pakistan and Iran. For example the average GDP is these four countries listed above and the U.S., Canada, U.K. And Australia are provided below (this information was obtained from the CIA country fact site:
GDP-per capita (2003)
Currency when compared to the U.S. dollar
British pounds per U.S. dollar – 0.61 (2003)
Canadian dollars per U.S. dollar – 1.4 (2003)
Australian dollars per U.S. dollar – 1.54 (2003)
Indian rupees per U.S. dollar – 46.58 (2003)
Chinese Yuan per U.S. dollar – 8.28 (2003)
Pakistani rupees per U.S. dollar – 57.75 (2003)
Iranian rials per U.S. dollar – 8,193.89 (2003)
American Council on Education determined that in 2001-2002 the average annual tuition cost for a public four-year college is $3,754 and for a private four-year college is $17,123. (ACE, 2004) Based on the GDP amounts shown above, it is clear that students in countries like Pakistan, India, China and Iran will have a difficult time coming up with the money to pay the tuitions of even the undergraduate programs. The cost of some of the online programs range extensively for graduate programs. For example, Capella University, a seven-year-old e-learning company runs by Capella Education Co. In Minneapolis, has an online, accredited MBA program that costs $16,000 for the program; Kaplan’s part-time MBA program cost between $13,000 and $20,000; and Jones International University offers online MBA programs for $10,000. (Schneider, 2000)
While the cost of the online courses are comparatively lower when compared to a regular enrollment in colleges (which could range from$30,000 to $50,000 for professional courses and MBA schools) they are still much higher than the cost that can be borne by the average citizen in developing countries. In many situations, private universities from the more affluent countries also provide education to foreign students to increase their enrollment numbers. At the same time, in order to maintain the exclusiveness of the university in these new market, the plan is also to limit the number of students that can be enrolled for any given program. The university can thus also ensure that it selects students that have the necessary infrastructure needed for the course and the university does not have to face any negative backlash at the initial stages due to poor quality equipment and infrastructure support.
Online courses provided by the universities in these countries cannot control many of the external conditions that exist in the country such as the telecommunication infrastructure in the region or the access to dependable power supply. For example, countries like India and Pakistan have poor grid management for the power supply; frequent power outages are common. In countries like China, strict government control on Internet connections and information transfer could seriously impact the effectiveness of the class. Another important aspect that is worthy of mention is the time difference between these countries and the universities that could be located in the U.S. Or the U.K. The U.S., for example, is approximately 10-12 hrs behind the time in India or Pakistan. It is unclear at this point if this could be an advantage or a disadvantage for the students.
A working student might benefit from this arrangement while it might be an inconvenience for a full time student in the region. As stated earlier, many online courses offered are in the management and the social sciences field. The management styles in many of the countries on which this study is focusing do not have the same management styles as the U.S. And the U.K. As such, the true import of the education will be lost on the students. In addition, the knowledge transfer that is normally expected in the classroom situation can be influenced by a difference in perception, differences between the teacher and the actual working conditions in the region. For example, the open management styles preferred by many U.S. companies might not be the preferred choice for many Chinese or Pakistani companies. The management of companies in these countries does not believe in giving workers autonomous power over their work. Any education imparted should be relevant to the situation and conditions under which the individual will be working.
Some of the recommendations to solve the issues stated above are as follows.
Any university wanting to enter the developing nations’ market has to understand the economic conditions of the region. For countries such as India and Pakistan that have a GDP of less than three thousand dollars, offering a $16,000 education might price the university out of the market.
Many of these countries also do not have clearly defined student loans and financial aid packages that prospective students could utilize to obtain additional money. In this environment, it might serve the university to market to major corporations and businesses that might have the financial potential to sponsor their students towards these programs.
Targeting the corporation and not the individual in these countries might help universities to get the money with fewer financial infrastructure built in the region.
The concern of many universities that set up shop in developing countries is the quality and exclusiveness of the program offered. In many cases, finding a method for consistently evaluating students from these regions might pose a problem as the level of education differs drastically between any of the countries being discussed in the study.
The culture of the region also plays an important part in selecting the mode of delivery and the instructor who will be actively involved in online teaching. Interactions are often costly if they have to depend on telephonic conversations to sort out issues that students might face during the course of study. Setting up effective communications channels might help students interact more effectively whenever needed without fear of miscommunication.
Instructors should ensure that the language used is understandable to the population. Even within the English language, different words can signify different meanings in a population. To prevent negative backlash, instructors should be offered orientations of acceptable and unacceptable words for the culture. This can be a problem when the online course has students from different locations.
To resolve the issue stated in the above point, universities can design dedicated courses for one particular region or country. For example, an MBA can be offered for India; another could be marketed for China. In this manner, the individual market features can be built into the course program.
There are other issues, such as power supply, quality of equipment (computers, printers, Internet connections) that could affect the flow of information during the course. While there is nothing the university can directly do to handle these issues, it can stipulate that students are responsible for finding the most reliable infrastructure needed to support the course work. This criterion might limit the education to major cities only, as rural areas might not support the required infrastructure.
The quality of knowledge imparted to any of these courses should also be equivalent to that offered at the brick and mortar locations of the parent college. Providing sub-par education will only discredit the university in the local market.
Online courses have the ability to merge the print requirements with the audio and video components of the coursework. Many courses use chat rooms, web cams, and streaming audio and video to facilitate the interaction between instructor and student. The use of these methods requires that both the student and the instructor have good quality IT infrastructure.
As discussed earlier, many developing countries might suffer from the problems of poor infrastructure. The problem of computer literacy and competency however, also is a significant issue in the online communication problems faced by students in developing countries.
It is important to note that the available computers and workstations are not as many as the more developed countries as in the U.S. Or UK. Individuals therefore, might not have all the necessary expertise and computer savvy response needs that an online course might expect from its students. The learning curve experienced by students might impact the quality of grade that they could gain in the course not due to the fact that they did not understand the material or the content, but rather, that they were unable to communicate it within the chat room time limits or download the streaming video in the designated time.
It is assumed that these problems would generally decrease as the individual advanced through the program or as the computer technology usage in the region improved. It is difficult for any university to determine the level of computer expertise from an initial form filled by the individual. As a result, the bearing levels of computer expertise could also result in one individual with better computer skills dominating the discussions in the chat room or some other online forum. Others will not participate as much for the above-mentioned reasons. Instructors also have to undergo different trainings when compared to classrooms to handle the issue of student participation and involvement.
It is difficult for an instructor sitting miles (or countries) away to ensure that the student has grasped the concepts of the matter being taught without any direct real time contact. The quality of web cams and Internet connections has improved significantly in recent times. There are however, no substitutes for actual classroom interactions. In both the educational environments formal and informal the role of the educator or the teacher is salient. Teaching styles of the educator and the modes of delivery of the education is often cited as the single most important factor that can attract a student to the subject being taught or disillusion the student from the learning process.
Modes of information transfer from educator to student have also changed. For a long time, in the past, books and printed material for transferring information was rare. Students often learned by practice. The educator supervised them.
This mode generally depended extensively on personal interaction. With books and printed material becoming available after the invention of the printing press, teaching and student interaction underwent changes. Students were given texts and published material for home study and discussion and debate styles were often used to impart knowledge. Modern communication mediums have drastically changed many of the teaching styles and methods.
Another important factor to be also considered is the culture of the educational system in countries such as Pakistan, India, China and Iran. In these countries, education consists of a fixed structure. Rote-memorization is encouraged instead of thinking creatively and independently. This could adversely impact and online course where the class interaction is dependent on student interaction and discussion as is the normal practice for education in the western countries. In addition, individuals selecting the online medium might also be used to years of classroom style of learning and making the shift over to the new form of studying can also be problematic and difficult for the student.
It is also important to note that many online courses came into effect as a result of working individuals in the West wanting to update their skills in the 90s and did not want to go back to school fulltime. Most of this was because of age, and family and career commitments. In addition, during this period of time organizations were looking for competitive ways and means of getting the workforce to be the most creative and they were looking for cheap and affordable ways to train their workers and obtain the rewards of having a skilled and talented workforce. As such they looked to local universities to provide this competitive edge and consequently universities designed programs that were in demand for the workforce during this period of time — which happened to be in areas such as strategy planning, management functions and business administration.
Globalization in the past two decades has changed the way organizations interact and operate. While there is benefits to globalization, cross boundary corporations are often faced with creating polices and regulations that are in compliance with the laws and requirements of the state in which they operate. The companies that have operations all over the world with head offices in the U.S. also hesitate to offer their knowledge and expertise to their counterparts in the other countries. Following this trend, many of the universities in these countries are also less likely to offer their latest and most competitive courses as online options in countries that could be their competitors in the future. In short, they delay the transfer of the information from the U.S. Or European markets to the new markets.
The teaching styles displayed by the educator also impact the education imparted. Styles of teaching, personality, methods of delivery of educational information and the level of interaction between teacher and student impact the quality of education. The student has also changed. In the past, student populations were generally young and inexperienced. Education was generally used as a medium for them to find employment for the future. In recent time large number of adults are also coming back to schools and colleges to obtain higher degrees and gain more knowledge. It has been documented that the learning styles of adults and young individuals differ significantly.
There is no doubt that the environment within which the university operates has a great influence on the market share of the product lines of the company. Similarly, there is no doubt that the environment within which the university operates has a great influence on the “sales” that the university can hope to make using online courses. For example, a market that has a large number of Internet users will have larger volume of online students. At the same time however, the Internet can also offer individuals located at destinations that are geographically apart an option to obtain an education if they had the financial resources to do so. For example, China and India in the next few year are expected to surpass the U.S. And Japan in total Internet usage. It is estimated that China has approximately 70 million Internet users. This number is only expected to grow. (InternetWorldStatus, 2004) Iran has no data available.
Population (2004) estimated
Source and date of latest data
31,100,000 June 2004
No Data available
No Data available
Many foreign universities that appear in the markets offering online courses fail to establish themselves for sustained periods of time in local markets. The high prices of the courses are also forbidding. They intimidate prospective students in the region. The level of the broadband connectivity that is offered in many of the regions is neither consistent nor guaranteed. In many of these countries, English might also not be the main communication language. For example, in China, only the elite and the well educated have the English language skill. The same can be said of countries like Pakistan and Iran. India is the only country among the four that has all its undergraduate studies in English.
It is clear that both the universities from the more developed countries and the developing regions will have to arrive at a happy medium so that every involved party can derive ideal benefits from the program. Initially, high marketing and research and development costs are some of the major reasons for poor performance on profits for organizations that are still growing. For a new entrant into the market, identifying the critical niches of the other competitors in the field is the singular factor that will ensure success or failure of the organization. University of Phoenix, for example, identified that there was no university that offered online education, especially at the Undergraduate and Graduate level (Masters), to people who were interested in gaining addition knowledge but also had full time jobs and other personal commitments. As late entrants into the field, they determined that the customer would take an option of the convenience of the (online) setting rather than take a break from their jobs to go back to school to gain the degree.
The economy of the region, specific need of education in the region, local industries and training requirements for these industries, cost of education and perceived need for this “product” will affect the launch of the course. (Peter, 2003) By using a positioning map with respect to other universities and educational institutions in the region, the university can identify the best strategy for launching the product.
Some solutions recommended for the countries
Offer financial support by collaborating with local banks in the region to offer needy students a way to obtain financing for the education
Offer program that are relatively simple to communicate.
Offer the courses in the local language if possible by collaborating with a local university in the region. This can also eliminate the problems of IT connectivity and the issue of poor data transfer
Evaluate the regional industries and tailor courses that are well suited for the region. For example software management might be more appropriate for India where as manufacturing and production management might be more appropriate for countries like China and Pakistan
Studies have to be also conducted to determine a realistic market for the product. It does not make financial sense to start an operation in these countries only to abandon it in a few years
University should position itself as a quality education provider, whose programs and degrees are valued and accredited in the region and all over the world
An entrance exam might be required to ensure that the level of student entering the program will have the necessary capability to undertake the course work required. For example, the necessary language skill and the functional knowledge needed for this course of work
Only if people know that a course is offered in the region will they be likely to select it as a choice. Therefore the university should make effort at advertising this program in the region.
All the contemporary management theories place high emphasis on employee training and skill development. Education has always been a coveted need. Thirst for education and self-improvement is observed every progressive society over generations. Online education can offer the latest education to the people of the countries of India, Pakistan, China and Iran and can help them become more knowledgeable of the tasks they perform and therefore improve their personal living conditions.
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