A surprisingly large number of learners don’t have internet access, and an even larger number do not have internet access at speeds that make online teaching and learning possible.

Understanding how limited internet access impacts education isn’t new to the team at Open LMS.   We support more than 700 institutions across the globe with many in regions where internet access is limited or where many learners are connecting via their cell phone provider.  

What was new to me was that limited internet access isn’t solely a developing country issue; rather, it’s an issue that creates equitable access issues globally — including the USA.  This reality hit home recently when I read that my hometown of South Bend, Indiana is deploying WiFi enabled school buses on a rotating schedule to provide students and teachers with basic internet access.  Indiana isn’t alone.

Microsoft has posted an interactive tool that highlights actual internet usage beyond simple availability.   This tool lets you view the actual usage statistics for the entire country -- you’ll need to scroll down the page and click the “Click here to load media” link to load the tool.  The national view shows basic FCC data indicating that 21.3M people do not have access to broadband internet.  Clicking the “FCC and Microsoft” button in the upper right corner paints a different picture -- one where approximately 157M people do not use the internet at broadband speeds.  These lower speeds make online learning difficult if not impossible.

 

Microsoft data indicates approximately 157M people do not access the internet at broadband speeds.
Microsoft data indicates approximately 157M people do not access the internet at broadband speeds.

 

Taking another look at my home state creates an even more dramatic picture of the disparity in internet access across the state.  Educators in most of Indiana will struggle to deliver a compelling online educational experience:

 

Approximately 4.2M Hoosiers don't use the internet at broadband speeds.
Approximately 4.2M Hoosiers don't use the internet at broadband speeds.

The lack of access to broadband internet speeds creates a challenge for instructional designers (for those institutions lucky enough to have them on staff) in terms of building courses that can be effective at lower bandwidth settings.  It also means that video conferencing solutions will face challenges in many regions.  Even in areas where broadband is available, many families can’t afford the fees.  

We’re fortunate that Open LMS mobile and desktop apps feature the ability for learners to download course content (including Quizzes and Assignments), work fully offline when they don’t have internet access, and then automatically synchronize that coursework back to the system the next time they do have access.  However, offline access is only a small part of the overall task of delivering a meaningful education online.

This is where we need your help.  What are your thoughts on how best to construct a course for those with limited or intermittent internet access?  If you have any great ideas and tips, please start sharing them here!  

Additionally, we’re looking for educators who want to present a webinar to the Open LMS community on this topic.  Let us know!