Technology, Education, and the Developing World

As more students in emerging economies use their cell phones as learning devices, mobile technology is poised to revolutionize education.
Technology, Education, and the Developing World

A revolution is coming to business education, and it’s being ushered in by technology. In developed countries, students might pay US$50,000 annually to attend on-campus lectures for 15 hours a week, but in developing nations, students are increasingly consuming education that’s delivered via mobile devices at very little cost. As developed worlds adopt online models, technology could transform educational institutions everywhere, from kindergartens to universities.

Three interrelated trends are having the most impact: the improvement of online education, the adoption of new technology by major universities, and the mobile delivery of education. The first two are creating massive changes that will affect all of higher education. But from trends that we’re seeing in developing countries—including our member schools in the Global Business School Network (GBSN)—mobile delivery has the most potential for truly disruptive innovation.

Mastering Online Education

The first trend—improved online education—means that the supply of digital educational offerings is growing at an exponential rate. In Africa, for example, sales of cloud-based e-learning products are increasing at nearly 40 percent a year, albeit from a low base. Worldwide, the growth rate is 7.6 percent, with revenues exceeding US$35 billion.

While some online providers in the industrialized world offer top-notch educational opportunities, many of these providers in developing nations have yet to prove their quality, relevance, integrity, and value to employers. But it’s only a matter of time before we see higher quality among players in this part of the market. And demand for these online offerings will continue to grow as computer access becomes almost universal in advanced economies and increases quickly in the developing world.

This acceleration accounts for the second trend: More established business schools are adopting some form of online education, whether these courses are entirely virtual or delivered in a blended format. New technology allows schools to provide courses through video monitors that closely simulate face-to-face delivery. Technology also powers the “flipped classroom,” in which students view videos and online materials for their homework; when they come to class, they discuss material they’ve already learned off-site.

In fact, a recent survey by the GBSN found that more than 80 percent of its member schools say technology is changing the way they deliver education. They know that technology can help them reach more students at a lower cost—but they’re still figuring out how.

Education Is at Hand

In the developing world, the use of mobile phones for education is the next frontier. As more individuals in developing nations acquire cell phones and other devices, more online content will be designed for mobile delivery, which will again accelerate both supply and demand. GBSN recently commissioned education writer Emily Heron to research initiatives that are using mobile technology to deliver education in developing nations.

One of the most exciting initiatives can be found at Regenesys Business School in Johannesburg, South Africa ( Operating over an online platform accessible from smart-phones, tablets, or PCs, the school offers MBA and BBA degrees, post-graduate diplomas in management, and higher certificates in business management. The program is built on a “freemium” model: Learners have no-cost access to Regenesys Free Business Education, which includes study guides, tutor videos, e-books, webinars, academic articles, Google hangouts, business tools, and examples of exams and assignments. However, students must pay fees if they want to take exams, receive assignments, and earn degrees. Students who are in the degree and certificate programs also must meet entry requirements and complete graduation requirements.

In Africa, sales of cloud-based e-learning products are increasing at nearly 40 percent a year. Worldwide, the growth rate is 7.6 percent, with revenues exceeding US$35 billion.


Regenesys is accredited with the Council on Higher Education, the Department of Education, and the South African Qualifications Authority. It has partnered on the freemium initiative with Pear-son, South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper, Internet Solutions, the Human Resources Development Council, and the Trade and Indus-try Ministry. The director aims to educate one million people in the next three years.

Various other initiatives are devoted to using mobile technology to provide education to learners in developing nations. While the following programs aren’t built around business, they do show how cell phone learning is taking off.

For instance, Nokia Education Delivery ( offers free, open-source software that carries educational material to mobile phones via mobile networks; a group can share media f les by connecting the phone to a TV or a projector. Nokia is also involved in Momaths (, which gives users access to math content via mobile phones.

Bridge It Programs ( allow teachers to download video content using cellular phones, which are connected to TVs in the classrooms. This gives remote schools and communities access to a vast range of educational content. Safari Blackboard ( board/) allows teachers to record their lessons and store digital content on the Safaricom Cloud, where students and other teachers can access it for a fee. The cloud-based Learning with Vodafone Solution ( combines content, a learning platform, mobile devices, and access technologies to integrate classroom curriculum with content from the web. It also allows children to take SMS multiple-choice tests outside the classroom. 

A number of other exciting initiatives are being unrolled in developing countries. (See “Learn as You Go” on the facing page for a sampling.) While some of these target disciplines other than business, they all show how innovatively mobile technology can be used to connect people and expand what they know.

The Future Is Mobile

It’s clear that an impressive number of organizations, mostly nonprofits, are already developing educational programs via mobile phones. While most online courses are created for students in industrialized countries, many are starting to be adapted for use in the developing world. Others are being created specifically for this audience. (For some examples, visit Indeed, The African Management Initiative ( already is planning to produce MOOCs in partnership with African business schools. Once such programs are widely available, the reach of education, including management education, will increase as never before.

And management education will see changes like never before. An increased reliance on online educational delivery is likely to transform the traditional integrated structure, in which universities supply the entire value chain, from knowledge generation to course delivery. Only schools with big endowments or access to public funding will be able to afford knowledge generation; most business schools will become “pedagogic engineers,” whose role will be to adapt to local needs the knowledge that is created elsewhere. 

Indeed, online programming is enabling education in all fields, at all levels, in all geographic locations. Traditional business schools must figure out how to incorporate online and mobile delivery into their conventional formats so they, too, can prof t from the disruptive technology that is shaping the future.


Guy Pfeffermann is the founder and CEO of the Global Business School Network, headquartered in Washington, D.C. He previously spent 40 years as an economist at the World Bank, including 15 years as chief economist at the International Finance Corporation.