The Internet may have grown up first in the United States, but it's a global phenomenon now. The same can be said for the fast-growing body of educational content on the web. YouTube announced a new batch of partners that were added to its Education Channel today and noted that nearly 80% of the viewership of educational content on the site came from outside the United States. Less than 70% of the site's total traffic is International, so the educational content is disproportionately viewed by global audiences.

Both YouTube and iTunes U are serving up huge quantities of educational content to a world already in the throes of a 50 year revolution in global education. In some ways they represent exactly the kind of education that a new world needs, too: learning that augments existing education and fosters life-long development of non-routine analytical and interactive skills. That's a recipe for good times.

YouTube now hosts more than 500,000 educational videos, on a wide variety of topics. The new mobile-friendly iTunes U also offers 500,000 educational resources and says that 60% of its viewership comes from outside the United States. This global consuption of US-created online educational content may be the newest chapter in a radical transformation of global education over the past 50 years. Life in this world is not like it used to be just a few decades ago, and the availability of world-class education on-demand, at almost no cost, is likely to help things change all the more as this century unfolds.

Global Transformation

"During the past 50 years, the expansion of education has contributed to a fundamental transformation of societies in OECD countries," wrote the authors of this year's lengthy report Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators. (500 page PDF, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)

"In 1961, higher education was the privilege of the few, and even upper secondary education was denied to the majority of young people in many countries. Today, the great majority of the population completes secondary education, one in three young adults has a tertiary degree [Colleges, universities and polytechnics] and, in some countries, half of the population could soon hold a tertiary degree."

In other words, it's not an uneducated world gaining its first access to the information available in these free online education repositories. What's happening is augmentation of already historic global education levels.

Below: The United States used to be the most educated society in the world. That's no longer true. Click to view full size. From the OECD.

"Half a century ago, employers in the United States and Canada recruited their workforce from a pool of young adults, most of whom had high school diplomas and one in four of whom had degrees - far more than in most European and Asian countries," reports the OECD. "Today, while North American graduation rates have increased, those of some other countries have done so much faster, to the extent that the United States now shows just over the average proportion of tertiary-level graduates at age 25-34."

"It has become increasingly evident that to realise human potential in today's societies and economies, lifelong learning is required, not just an initial period of formal schooling." - OECD
The OECD recognizes that formal education has a meaningful connection to economic development, but that the two are not equivelant. "The level of education that an adult has completed may be a proxy for the competencies that contribute to economic success, but it is a highly imperfect measure," the report says.
"First, each country has its own different processes and standards for accrediting completion of secondary or tertiary education. Second, the knowledge and skills acquired in education are by no means identical to those that enhance economic potential. And third, it has become increasingly evident that to realise human potential in today's societies and economies, lifelong learning is required, not just an initial period of formal schooling." (emphasis added)

That lifelong learning no doubt contributes to the global audience that amasses around this educational content online. For a high school teacher to be able to give their lectures not to 30 students at a time, but to 100,000 viewers around the world on YouTube has got to be a powerful opportunity. If many of those viewers are adults, so be it.

What's hot? Non-routine analytic and non-routine interactive skills. Those are things that a good YouTube or iTunes U video about world history or global ecology can help improve.
Learning new information that helps inform our understanding of the world is, in fact, growing more important for economic well-being than the development of routine skills.

According to a presentation (10 page PDF) by Francesc Pedró, Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Research and Information, OECD, the last 50 years have seen a dramatic change in the types of skills in demand in the workforce. A trend began, at least in the United states, as far back as 1985: demand for "routine manual skills" has held relatively steady, demand for non-routine manual skills has plummeted. Demand for routine cognitive skills climbed through 1970, then fell. What's hot? Non-routine analytic and non-routine interactive skills.

Those are things that a good YouTube or iTunes U video about world history or global ecology can help improve, your non-routine analytic and interactive skills. More than for just economic well-being, those are skills that positively impact quality of life in many ways.

Disruption

"A new phase of education change awaits the world, for those who embrace it," writes radical Canadian educator Joe Bower in a summary of last month's 2012 International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI) in Malmö, Sweden.

A central message of the 25th ICSEI conference was that change brings challenge but also opportunity, with the need to find new means of collaboration, participation and networking to reshape education for the shifting demands ahead. A whole range of papers and presentations from 450 delegates from over 50 countries set an optimistic tone, with strong commonality in themes of respect, trust, new power relations and moving to evaluation as joint enterprise. In presentations from Iceland to Malaysia there were common threads of renewing teacher professionalism, establishing change via collaborative networks, and emphasizing systems perspectives through linkage and understanding, rather than prescription and grading...

"The central message of ICSEI 2012 was of strong common issues facing schools and their communities in far separated contexts, with global similarities in connecting responses. A few countries stood out in stark contrast, chastising schools and denigrating teachers, seeing change not as opportunity for partners in prospect, refashioning and renewing learning, but as a threat to be sanctioned in audit prescription. But whilst those systems are shrill and close at hand, a more pervasive and positive way forward was signposted in Malmö to a new responsible professionalism, embracing complexity and change, more loosely configured in uncertainty yet promise."

Good luck, teachers of the world, keeping up with the Internet. It's great to hear that so many are embracing change, surely caused by technology, as an opportunity and not a threat.

That's the kind of life-long learning that professional development has always required but that will go on in a global context for perpetual learning with increasing access to high-quality educational content online.

That's a recipe for a very different world than the one we lived in last century.