Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Internet is Increasing Access to Education Around the World

Internet is Increasing Access to Education Around the World
How is the internet increasing learning opportunities for people, and revolutionizing education around the world? We speak to the author of the new book "The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education."

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. How do you use YouTube? I'm talking of course, about the online free video sharing service called YouTube. Many people have seen video of big news stories on YouTube, or embarrassing moments of famous people caught on camera, or bizarre videos of strange people or cute animals. But did you know that YouTube is one of the online tools that's quickly become a major educational resource around the world? YouTube, iTunes, Google Video to name just a few, are being used by universities and lecturers to provide free access to information. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide are taking advantage of these resources. But that's not all, there are free online libraries, document sharing services, open course software, and free language courses. Online universities are expanding in this country, and they are exploding overseas. One online university alone in India has nearly two million students. It seems that now the predictions about the internet being able to open up the world of education are coming true. And with me to talk about the almost unbelievable amount of activity and innovation going on in the world of online education is my guest, Curtis Bonk. He's author of the new book, "The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education." Dr. Bonk is also a professor of Instructional Systems Technology at the School of Education at Indiana University. Curtis, welcome to These Days.

DR. BONK: Hey, thanks for having me here, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Now, in general – I know this is a big question but maybe you can just give us an overview. How is the internet and other forms of web technology changing people's access to education?


DR. BONK: Well, I think you just already hit a bunch of them there. Unbelievably, you hit on it with YouTube. You know, I think YouTube alone can replace media centers in schools and universities. In fact, recently there's been announcement of YouTube EDU specifically for education, so if just a half of one percent of videos on YouTube are educational in nature, we’d have millions of things to embed in our classes. You know, I've – In fact, I'm incorporating them in my own classes. It's much more than YouTube. We have TeacherTube and Link television with National Geographic specials that are free online. So access to e-books, access to videos, access to lang – as you mentioned, language learning with ChinesePod online, free podcasts, and Livemocha where you can sign up to take a language or teach a language to someone else. There are so many avenues or paths both for formal learning as well as for more informal learning, which actually is more pervasive, as you know.

CAVANAUGH: You have a compilation of just a mind boggling amount of stuff that's going on educationally on the internet. You modeled your book, at least some of the concepts on Thomas Friedman's book "The World Is Flat." You wanted to expand on what he saw the internet doing internationally. Tell us about that.

DR. BONK: Well, in fact, in nine – Let's see, it was 2005 in May, I'm looking at the newspaper and I opened it up and I am reading the review of his book and almost the same day I was asked to do a keynote at a conference on e-learning. And I said, you know – As I got the book and read through it, the first third really addressed education with Wikipedia and blogging and collaborative technologies. But then the latter two-thirds really is about economic changes that were happening to flatten the world. And I thought we could go with his arguments that he was starting to make and continue them, and I talked to Friedman, in fact, about this and he encouraged me to write the book. And similar to his ten flatteners, I have ten openers.


DR. BONK: And those ten openers, I tried helping people. You know, we're all overwhelmed by technology. So I tried making this a little bit more palatable by having a framework called 'We All Learn.' So there are ten trends and that's what they spell: We All Learn. And if it doesn't fit one of those ten trends, maybe you don't have to pay attention to it, maybe you will need to expand the framework at some point. So I've tried doing that and, in addition, I've created a second book I'm working on, actually, that will be a free e-book on a website called so I've tried abiding by this notion of an open world, which will have the same chapters and the same lengths, just different contents.


CAVANAUGH: So you're taking your own advice. That's wonderful. Now, in the book, you write that education trumps economy as the key card to participation in the world. What do you mean by that? Why is education so important in today's world?

DR. BONK: You look at countries like Korea, where I was recently, and Singapore and even now Malaysia and other – the Tigers in Taiwan and so forth, you see education being the backbone. You see actually e-learning being an industry. They all want to be the e-learning hub and here in the U.S., we don't really see – or at least we haven't seen the leadership in this area that we see in other countries. And they look at education as something that everyone needs to seek as much as possible, the family supports it, and people, in effect, live and breathe new learning. And this wave of web technologies will enable that to become pervasive across the world and you don't even need access to the internet to make it happen. There are kids in western China who are benefited by the internet who don't have access to computers but people go online to donate time, money and talents and they come to visit them, and I talk about that in the book.

CAVANAUGH: You know, in reading your book, it seemed to me that perhaps the biggest impact the internet is having on education is internationally. Tell us about the internet schools that are just these giant places like the one I mentioned in India.

DR. BONK: You know, in Malaysia, they went from a university – In 2001, they had 800 students, the open university of Malaysia. It now has 80,000 so they've grown by about 10,000 students a year. You know, the Indira Gandhi Open University in India has co-horts in their MBA. Just their co-hort alone is 100,000 students every year. You know, they have two million students going through. You know, seven of the top eleven universities in the world in terms of enrollment sizes are in Asia and they're all over 100,000. I gave a talk in Bangkok at Ramkhamhaeng University. It had 600,000 students. Here, we have University of Phoenix with 400,000, about half of which are online, about half of which are face to face. You know, it's providing access to people who normally wouldn't get it, and a lot of this is cross-border relationships, especially something in Singapore called University (sic) 21, which stands for 21st Century Universities. And they have players from this – not only in Singapore but in India and Malaysia and Australia and other countries forming degrees. There's actually high school degrees being pushed in Korea now that will be international in nature. I have a colleague creating a new high school diploma with – which will have classes from around the world.

CAVANAUGH: Wow. I'm speaking with Curtis Bonk, author of the new book "The World is Open," and Dr. Bonk is also a professor of Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University. And, Curtis, as – Bringing it home for a moment, at least, as part of the stimulus package, the Obama administration has a plan to commit $500 million over the next ten years to create online high school and community college classes that will be free to the public. Now what kind of impact could that have in our country?

DR. BONK: Enormous. He's spot on with this one, in fact, you know, and he's hired some people who have been doing open courseware with MIT or with Foothill College up in the San Francisco area to get – provide the leadership. Community college and high school courses, by the way, both will be offered for free. Not all, but just some select few that gets people going and gets them to think about gaining a degree. So it opens up people's minds to the possibilities of being a learner. It also provides them with options on how to learn. If they don't particularly like a classroom based experience, an online one might fit some people and their lifestyles. And with the number of dropouts we have today at high school levels and in first year college, this is critical and could provide kind of a stimulus, and this is probably the ultimate stimulus package, is stimulating education because, again, education trumps economy. It comes first. We need to have people educated before we're going to ever compete economically with the rest of the world.

CAVANAUGH: Another way the internet is changing education is in terms of textbooks. Our – because in California here, we're adopting policies for the use of digital textbooks as a way to reduce the state deficit. So do you envision a time when we'll see most students perhaps carrying around a laptop or a Kindle instead of those heavy textbooks?

DR. BONK: Oh, yeah. It's just a question of how soon that comes. In fact, I'm just writing about that in the free e-book. I'm working on that extends this book. I'm talking about Governor Schwarzenegger's initiative there in California. And California will be a leader. They'll – They may not save hundreds of thousands of dollars, they'll save some money, but what they will be is a place that everybody looks to for the leadership in the e-book area. And this has been coming for about ten years now. Every year we hear about the wave of e-books that's going to happen then we hear it's not going to happen. Well, it's finally happening. It's a matter of how low the costs come for the Kindle and the crispness of the displays and how light they are, but in Korea, again, where I was in May, they have 100 schools adopting digital books in the K-12 arena. By 2012, they want every school to have free digital textbooks so I think, again, Asia plus California will be world leaders in this movement for e-books. And I'm looking forward to the day where I do carry around – I'm one who listens to books in my car, by the way, so I'm looking for the day where I carry around all my books on me in some place, on my pocket, in my – you know, wherever it happens to be.

CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, a lot of colleges and universities are already, as you say, putting their textbooks and other course materials online for free. So as MIT – MIT has placed all of its courses online, so how is that changing access to educational materials around the world?

DR. BONK: You know, when I was in Abu Dhabi a few years ago, the Minister of Information of Pakistan gave a talk and he said, you know, there's no instructor behind these courses at MIT and we understand that but our kids are learning nonetheless. They're going online and they're seeing that they have, you know, college potential, in effect. They can learn from these courses and they don't have to read dog-eared pages out of books that are 20 or 30 years old that their parents may have acquired but they can, in fact, go online and read the latest information and MIT has put up all 1800 courses in like six and a half years. They thought it would take 10 years. And so I talk about that in the book, the fact that there are actually – I'll give you a little story here if you have a second.


DR. BONK: There's a – an individual who translated "Lord of the Rings" to Chinese in Taiwan and he has a self-named – His self-name is Lucifer Chu.


DR. BONK: A beacon of light, he calls it. And he's a – he's an interesting guy. And he's 26 years old, became a millionaire. He took half of his money and he's translating MIT courses to simplified and traditional Chinese free to the world out of his own pocket. And he's got the largest group of voluntary translators in the world helping him out to do this. So it's not just MIT courses going up in English, but they're translated to Spanish and Portuguese. There are mirror sites in Africa for people in Africa who want to learn from them because broadband's too expensive to port overseas so they put up servers in Africa and then in China. So just – MIT has provided the leadership and now hundreds of universities around the world are also putting their courses up: Notre Dame, Tufts University, Yale, Stanford and others.

CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with author Curtis Bonk. His new book is called "The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education." Well, you know, Curtis, we always get back to one question, though. Who's getting paid for this? I mean, if you are putting up a course or a textbook online for free, how are people who are the generators of this information going to make any money at it?

DR. BONK: It's a really good question and, in fact, there's a new book called "Free," by Chris Anderson of Wired magazine and he has a little YouTube video of sorts that explains, in fact, how some people wrap around free contents. Like in his case, they have the audio book that's free, the unabridged, and people pay for the abridged version, of all things. And – Because people are on the go, they're busy, and they're more willing to pay for the shorter version than the longer version.

CAVANAUGH: I can see that.

DR. BONK: And so, you know, in his case, I think he put up in Scribd, which is a little website for text. It's like YouTube for text. Up there, he put the book up as a read only for like three months before the book was released and then people buy the paper version. They get the free – they get the e-version free so, in terms of books, there's a lot of different models. In terms of courses, part of it's reputation issue. I mean, people build reputation and they market classes. Universities want to get their – the word out about their classes so MIT's benefited in untold numbers of ways each year by having free courses up. It costs them money to do that but now they get a lot of attention. So there's a lot of reasons to do it. In some cases professors do it because they get invited to be consultants. They might get invited to give speeches as a result of people seeing their stuff. And also, we're in the business of influencing people in education so the more people around the world you can actually teach and actually learn from as well, that's part of our goal and mission.

CAVANAUGH: And let me ask you a deeper question about that. And I want to know what your thoughts are about the, I guess, morality of access to information. Do you think that access to information should be free? Or should we have to pay for it?

DR. BONK: Access alone should be free. It's the mentoring, tutoring, facilitating that goes over the top of that that people will pay for. So in the case of Carnegie Mellon, they actually have two paths, one with free classes and one where you're getting credits for them. And that's just the old model. We're just basically extending models that have existed. Now there is a couple – there are a couple of new initiatives. The University of the People, which has headquarters nearby in Pasadena there and Peer 2 Peer University are offering free courses with mentors and facilitators wrapped around them to guide you through the classes. So with all this stuff that's up there, all this free content, what do we do with all that? And so part of the question is how do we pay for that and should we? And part of the question is how are you guided through it all? And we're finding blended works best, a combination of some kind of human touch with the self-directed materials.

CAVANAUGH: I was also interested to read about the use of virtual worlds like Second Life as a learning tool. How are universities using these internet virtual worlds as an aid in their virtual classrooms?

DR. BONK: You know, there's a woman who's written a book called "Second Life for Dummies," and her and her husband – Actually, her husband's a doctoral student here at Indiana and she's a professor at Ball State. Her nickname is Intellagirl in Second Life and his avatar is Typewriter Tackleberry. And the two of them have come to my class a few times to showcase what's possible: and archeology online, simulations of, you know, historical ruins, art, art appreciation courses. There are law professors at Harvard teaching in Second Life. Accounting classes at University of Central Florida where they show assets and liabilities, and I used to be an accountant so I found that fascinating that I don't think I would have been as bored if I had had a class in Second Life. So, you know, we've got actually sex education in the U.K. in Second Life so – And at Pepperdine University, up the road from you, they have hot tub chats with guest authors in Second Life. So there's – And at San Jose State, also up the road from you, they have campus tours in Second Life. So a wide gamut of things are happening. It's a little bit higher on the risk continuum for some people.


DR. BONK: There are many things that are much easier to do than Second Life but these virtual worlds are not going to go away. But you can start with simple things like cases and simulations and scenarios and then work your way up into using things like full motion virtual worlds. But medical schools are using them to teach, you know, nurses and future doctors about patients and all that stuff.

CAVANAUGH: It sounds as if the Bay Area is really a hub for this activity in the United States.

DR. BONK: It certainly is. You know, as I looked through the book and I said I'd really like to do a talk where I could cover all ten openers…


DR. BONK: …and the one city which probably has representation for all ten is San Francisco. There's just so much happening. As I mentioned earlier, Scribd, I just stumbled into their offices in Chinatown and they – and Wikipedia's there. The Wikimedia Foundation is up there, which most people listening will have used Wikipedia but they may not have used Wikibooks or Wikiquote, which also comes from there. So, in fact, Jimmy Wales, I think, dropped out of My University to create Wikimedia Foundation. Scribd was created by a graduate of Harvard and his two colleagues. He's 23 years old and his name is Trip Adler. And now millions of people go to Scribd to put documents up. The…


DR. BONK: …Securities and Exchange Commission, the IRS, so it's a document portal, if you will, technical documents, books, all sorts of things.

CAVANAUGH: There was also, I thought, a very interesting application of internet technology called the Pocket School Project that's being used by migrant workers in Latin America. Tell us a little bit about that.

DR. BONK: I'm really glad you asked about that. I was going to mention it earlier, in fact, so thanks, Maureen. There actually is a Stanford professor who created this project of all things. His name is Paul Kim and who's now off in Sri Lanka and Nepal in India doing this work, in fact, this very week. But he created a way for kids of migrant workers in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico to have a teacher resident, in effect, with an MP3 player or MP4 player, which could cost from $20.00 to $50.00 and these parents might rent to own them for a dollar a month. The kids can have literacy training at their, you know, disposal. They can call up, you know, lessons in Spanish or in English and share them with other kids who are sitting next to them. And now this project has expanded to Rwanda in Africa and, as I mentioned, Paul's out in India and Sri Lanka and Nepal and other places, so having access to education – In this case, this is a little MP3 player in your pocket. Soon, we're going to have flash memory sticks that have terabytes of data in our pockets. And then we have to ask the question: What is knowledge and can we, in fact, impact people around the world like Paul has done.

CAVANAUGH: You know, Curtis, I'm wondering, when you explain these things, when you talk to people about what's happening in the field of education in terms of internet technology, are people astounded and overwhelmed? I don't feel that a lot of this has been getting the kind of perhaps media exposure that it deserves.

DR. BONK: Yes, another really good question. You know, ten years ago we would've – we all would have kind of gotten surprised by the numbers we see today in terms of the number of people learning online, three and a half million college students in the U.S., over a million K-12 students. Today, a lot of people open the USA Today or New York Times and they yawn at this. In 1950, anybody learning online would've been Time magazine's Person of the Year, you know, so – but we look today and you're right. While people are yawning at the same pages, I don't think they're recognizing the simultaneous trends that have converged to open up education to masses of people. When Iranians protest their current – you know, recent presidential election using learning technologies, if you will, mobile technologies and collaborative tools, which I talk about in the book, you know, this is not just an educational phenomenon but it affects us culturally and politically and many other ways. Learning becomes the base for political change, social change, cultural change. And, you know, it's just – there's so many wonderful things happening every day. The Dali Lama has podcasts. The Queen of England uploads to YouTube, and we all know Obama Twitters and uses his Blackberry so, you know, politicians can use this. Certainly, educators can, too.

CAVANAUGH: We are just about out of time but I wonder if you might share with us any predictions you have for what we're going to see in the near future as this revolutionizing and this revolution in education continues?

DR. BONK: At the end of the book in the last chapter, I talk both about some of the problems that we face. I talk about the audiences that this book addresses, including parents and kids and so forth, but I also have 15 predictions. One of the more interesting ones, at least from my perspective, is this emergence of super e-mentors and coaches and these will be people who understand the power of the internet. They also will have a domain expertise, whether it's sociology or social work, psychology, whatever it is, and these same people will be able to have human counseling and development skills so they'll be able to help these people navigate the paths of learning online. Another prediction is that, you know, once we move past a billion or a billion and a half people learning online to two or three billion people, you know, the worry that we won't need educators, the worry we won't need universities – We're going to need more and more educators, you know, untold numbers. I mean, this is going to be – Being someone who knows, again, how to utilize the internet to teach will be an occupation of the 21st century. This will be the learning century, in effect, if you will. Also, I think we're going to select our peers and our teachers more so. We'll have global peers, global teachers, be able to walk into a classroom and say, hey, I'd like to have this teacher today from the Philippines or from Singapore and, in effect, have more self-determined degrees. We'll be picking and choosing our classes and learning with those we want to learn with.

CAVANAUGH: Curtis, this is all fascinating. Thank you so much for talking to us today.

DR. BONK: Thanks for having me, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Curtis Bonk is author of the new book, "The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education." And I want you to know there's an online version of his book on And we encourage you to post your comments about the things you hear on These Days. You can do that online at

You can check out KPBS' Culture Lust blog to see one of San Diego's most entertaining rock bands, The Burning of Rome. You'll find videos of the band performing as well as an interview. That's on the Culture Lust blog on And thank you for listening. You have been listening to These Days on KPBS.