How to overcome three obstacles to anytime, anyplace learning

Congratulations! On behalf of the Online Institute for Synchronous Education, it is my privilege to extend to you an offer of admission to the Master of Something program. Your studies will commence after confirms your download speed. You will require at least 10 Mbps to allow information to download to your computer during the course.

The ability to send and receive data has increased exponentially in the last 20 years. This access to the internet is revolutionizing approaches to government, industry, and medicine among other areas. In education, network connectivity holds out the promise of anytime and anywhere learning. However, that promise is often contingent upon available and reliable broadband internet access.

Available connections

Connection to the internet is increasingly common around the world. In 1995, less than 1% of the world’s population had connected. At the end of 2015, researchers estimated that over 40%, almost 3.2 billion people, could access the internet at home. Thirty-eight countries have internet availability rates of over 80%. Iceland is estimated to have reached 100% internet penetration. Growth is steady at 7% throughout the world, except in India where it is accelerating.

Broadband connections

Those numbers don’t take into account the speed that those users are connecting at, though. Akamai calculated the global average for connection speed in Q3 2015 at only 5 Mbps. Their data indicates that only 27% of unique IP addresses that connected to Akamai servers did so at speeds greater than 10 Mbps. It seems encouraging that the average peak connection speed is increasing and calculated at  32.2 Mbps for Q3 2015. However, that also highlights a challenge for an education revolution driven by network connectivity.

Reliable connections

The significant difference between average connection speed and average peak connection speed point to a reliability problem. Many internet users are aware of the discrepancy between the actual speeds they encounter and the theoretical speeds marketed by ISPs. Internet users also experience significant variability caused by network traffic that fluctuates by time of the day and by day of the week. These fluctuations in throughput and latency create a quality uncertainty that has an adverse effect on users. Users may overestimate the reliability of their connection and become frustrated when it does not perform as expected.

Rethinking pedagogy?

The reality of available, high-quality broadband internet connections is hard to achieve in the developed world, let alone in developing countries. While internet penetration continues to grow globally, average connection speed and reliability of connections are not keeping pace. Perhaps while waiting for network providers to provide ubiquitous high-quality broadband internet connections, there is an opportunity to rethink the kind of pedagogy that requires those connections. Is there a pedagogical approach that enables low-speed unreliable connections to deliver meaningful online education?

Further reading

Canadi, I., Barford, P., & Sommers, J. (2012). Revisiting broadband performance (pp. 273–286). ACM.

Cruz-Jesus, F., Vicente, M., Bacao, F., & Oliveira, T. (2016). The education-related digital divide: An analysis for the EU-28. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 72–82.

Rajabiun, R., & Middleton, C. (2015). Lemons on the edge of the internet: The importance of transparency for broadband network quality. Communications & Strategies, (98), 119.

Skocir, P., Katusic, D., Novotni, I., Bojic, I., & Jezic, G. (2014). Data rate fluctuations from user perspective in 4G mobile networks (pp. 180–185). FESB, University of Split.

Vicente, M. R., & Gil-de-Bernabé, F. (2010). Assessing the broadband gap: From the penetration divide to the quality divide. Technological Forecasting & Social Change, 77(5), 816–822.


Akamai Technologies. (2015). State of the internet

Internet Live Stats. (2016). Number of internet users.

K. P. C. B. (2016). Internet trends report.

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