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E-Commerce and Higher Education - History, Types Of Virtual Higher-ed Institutions, The Debate Over E-learning, E-learning Worldwide

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Since its inception, university and college faculty have used the Internet as a powerful research tool and a vehicle for the dissemination of information. By the mid-1990s, many instructors communicated with students and colleagues via e-mail and incorporated Web-based materials into their courses. As the 21st century began, educators and administrators positioned the Internet as a central component of learning. Both private corporations and educational institutions expected the expanding commercial Internet to revolutionize higher education and open a lucrative source of revenue. International Data Corp. (IDC) projected a 33-percent growth in the U.S. e-learning market—to about $12 billion—from 1999 to 2004. However, the economic downturn of the early 2000s led to a shake-out in the online education industry and many e-learning endeavors shut down completely.

The U.S. spends $600 billion on education annually, making it the second largest industry after healthcare. Web-affiliated and online learning (also called e-education or e-learning) constituted one of higher education's fastest-growing trends. In 2000, about 75 percent of America's 4,000 colleges and universities offered online courses, up from 48 percent in 1998, according to Market Retrieval Service.

With a growing emphasis on an information-driven global economy, higher education was viewed as increasingly essential for the world's population. E-education's proponents insist that its geographically unlimited nature provides an efficient and cost-effective medium for supplying education to anyone with online access. Proponents perceive e-learning as an alternative to traditional, face-to-face classroom education and hail it as the great democratizer of higher education.

In contrast, critics cautioned that a wholesale drive to digitize course content and teaching raises serious questions about intellectual property rights, academic freedom, and the very goals of higher education. They cautioned that cyber-education threatened to abolish the need for human educators and to reduce higher education to "Webucation" purveyed by "McUniversities."

The Internet's impact has been felt in many arenas of higher education. It facilitates communication and research. It has spawned courseware and college portal companies that provide streamlined university services to faculty, administrators, and students. It increasingly has become the school itself, as more cyber-colleges and fully online universities emerge, offering everything from technical certificates to full-blown advanced graduate and professional degrees.

About 2.2 million students are expected to enroll in online courses by 2002, up from 710,000 in 1998, according to IDC. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education Statistics indicated that about half of all post-secondary students consisted of adults 25 years or older. This group in particular stands to benefit from the flexibility and availability of Web-affiliated higher education courses.

History of the Internet and World Wide Web (WWW) - The Prehistory Of The Internet, Opening The Internet, The World Wide Web, Commercialization [next] [back] Hewlett-Packard Co - Early History, Transition To Computer Manufacturing, Move To The Internet

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