How Prepared was the U.S. for Online Learning?

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A recent study compared 30 different countries’ digital education systems in the midst of a global pandemic.

Closed schools. Empty lecture halls. Abandoned libraries. COVID-19 has left educational facilities desolate. 

The pandemic created unprecedented challenges for education systems worldwide. For many countries, providing fair and equal access to online learning on a national level has proved difficult. But how has the U.S. fared among them all?

A recent study conducted by online learning platform Preply revealed that the U.S. ranked #12 out of 30 countries when it comes to its preparedness for the national shift to digital education.

A range of factors —  including access to a computer, expenditure on education, and broadband download speed — were taken into consideration in order to compare countries’ e-learning offerings and capabilities. All 30 countries included in the study are members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Some of the results may surprise you.

Research Highlights

  • The U.S. offers a record-breaking 9,303 online degree programs and courses that can be taken entirely online, with almost 78 million total number of enrolled students. In comparison, Canada and Australia have only one tenth of that figure.
  • The U.S. sank to the #12 position due to its lack of government spending on tertiary education per student. While the U.S. rate is 19% GDP per capita, high-ranking countries such as Denmark and Sweden make a more significant investment at 43%.
  • Of the group, the U.S. also has the second-highest average monthly cost of broadband Internet access, with New Zealand earning the top spot for most expensive.
  • Only 72% of students in the U.S. have access to a computer, compared to Mexico (44%) and Turkey (50%) on the lower end of the spectrum, versus or Norway (95%) and the Netherlands (98%) on the higher end.
  • The U.S. also has moderate mobile internet speed, coming in at 44.3Mbit/s compared to the best (Netherlands – 73.7Mbit/s) and the worst (Chile 18.5Mbit/s).

As the numbers demonstrate, digital education can only be as robust and accessible as the technological infrastructure in its country of use.

“We are convinced that e-learning has a great potential to improve educational opportunities worldwide,” says Kirill Bigai, CEO of Preply. “The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that access to digital education is unequally distributed, but that there are ample opportunities to begin investing in the digital infrastructure necessary for a national shift to online learning. This study uncovered the extent to which all learners have access to adequate digital tools and resources.”

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