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The Growth Potential of E-learning in Korea

성장 잠재력이 가득한 E-learning



This paper describes the current status and process of the development of E-learning colleges as an alternative higher education facility in Korea. Although, the Open University was established by the Korea government 35 years ago, it is still not able to fit into “the normal education system”. The reason that E-learning higher education institutes have not solidified a higher position is because of Korean cultural concepts and reputation of the school. The so called Digital Universities are accredited by the Republic of Korea Department of Education. Students consider the Digital Universities are a tool for acquiring credits for transfer to the traditional colleges rather than graduating and receiving a degree from the Digital Universities.  Nevertheless, with the rapid spread of internet use, E-learning is gaining more acceptances from Korean students and families. At the same time, there are a lot of questions remaining how to establish E-learning higher education facilities as the alternative colleges. This paper also suggests some solutions to conquer the obstacles to approach successful E-learning. 

 For Koreans, education is a life time goal and a measurement of success for the life of every individual. Education starts from when the baby is in a mother’s womb, which is called prenatal education. It is a cultural issue that the prenatal education influences the intelligence quotient (IQ) of a child; therefore, parents in Korea are significantly serious for the acquisition of special education from the moment of conception.            

Due to the belief of the importance of education, all family members focus on how to support the child so they are successfully accepted by one of prominent universities. It definitely provokes an industry of high cost extra curricular education and is time consuming. Until now, people still believe that traditional college is the only option for higher education, although, the first open university was  Korea National Open University (KNOU) established on March 9, 1972.

KNOU has been an alternative college for 35 years; however, it has not gained a firm foothold as a notable college. Originally, it started as a college using radio broadcast and mail as the medium for education students. There are some reasons that KNOU was not able to solidify its position. The merit of KNOU is that students were able to work and study simultaneously. The downfall is that significantly high number of students dropped out every year because of their lack of discipline. Additionally, problems were minimal weeks each year of mandatory class residence and needing to be present for exams. The final hindrance was from a cultural and social perspective that only traditional colleges were well recognized.

Due to the rapid information technology development in Korea, Seoul Digital University (SDU), the first digital (E-learning) college in Korea, was established under the law titled Life Long/Continuous Education in March 2001. SDU is proud of the largest enrollment of 10,000 students from Korea and 23 foreign countries.[1]   After SDU opened business, Samsung SDS Co. Ltd, Joongang Daily Newspaper Company, and Korea University established another E-learning higher education institute, Korea Digital University, with an objective of creating a new era of information-oriented human beings in late 2001. Since SDU was established, there are 21 E-learning colleges, most use the term “digital” or “cyber” university in their title. They are accredited by Department of Education in Korea and reached the student population numbers of 40,000 in 2004. Although, e-learning colleges are accredited with the Department of Education, students are extremely focused on having sufficient credits to transfer to traditional colleges. The digital colleges are advertising how they are able to successfully transfer their credits earned by those colleges, so they could attract students to enroll their school.[2]

When the accredited colleges were launched, along with world fastest growing internet business in Korea, there were numerous demands on private education institutes including certificate programs at traditional colleges and foreign language centers. It ranges from small businesses or sole proprietorships to dominant daily news companies to run E-leaning businesses. For the big business companies, they have their own information technology department.  The small business companies have found the need to outsource their information technology requirements. Therefore, special web hosting services specializing in E-learning information technology support and program developers are in the market to make it easier.  

According to the Korean web hosting company Gabia in Korea they are using a network system called Leaning Management System(LMS).  LMS is a system to manage and advise students individually according to their level. It also deals with assessment, development of curriculum and gives a guideline for the education process. Additionally,  it provides an easy way of producing educational resources and contents under the name of eStream Xpert, which is included in the hosting charge during the service subscription  period. It starts with a minimum of $44 per month depending on size and program used to utilize the hosting system.[3] There are also multiple companies to make e-books. Theses E-learning business development companies could generate related additional business opportunities. One report dated 15 January 2007 stated the E-learning business is growing 20% every year and generating over than $1.5 billion per year in Korea.[4]

Finally this alternative education system is striving to reach into main stream of Korea society.  Education and Human Resources Department and Industrial Resource Department hosted a 2006 E-learning International Exhibition at the Korea International Exhibition Center at the end of 2006.[5] KNOU has announced they have 200,000 students   with 330,000 graduates and 20% of their graduates go on to pursue a Master’s degree. They have found success using the Learning On Demand (LOD) program to resolve the issue of students who can not attend mandatory resident classes. It also provides an alternative exam for students who are not able to take exam for the class at the physical testing center.[6]

Results and Discussions

E-learning is rapidly growing in Korea since the first E-learning college, Seoul Digital University in 2001. Although there was an earlier distant learning college, Korea National Open University, which has existed since 1972, it was not the E-learning college until internet industries flourished. Along with the development of internet and the personal computer, KNOU also adopted the E-learning program same as other digital universities. KNOU was established by Korea government 35 years ago, it has still not been able to fit into the main stream as an education facility. The reason that E-learning or distant learning higher education institutes have not solidified the position is because of cultural concepts and the importance of the reputation of schools. Those so called Digital Universities are accredited by Department of Education.  In Korean there is only national accreditation, and not regional accreditation like in America.  Students have a tendency to consider that the digital colleges are a tool for transfer to the traditional colleges rather than graduating and acquiring degree from those colleges.  Nevertheless, with the rapid spread of internet network use it started attracting positive reaction from Koreans. At the same time, there are a lot of questions that remain on how to establish E-learning higher education facilities as alternative education or colleges.

The main reasons that KNOU failed to gain high levels of success are that first, the school did not have an individual academic advisor for each student. This resulted in less guidance and discipline for the students. Secondly, students are required to attend mandatory resident instruction for few weeks per year which could be obstacles for students who is employed by private industry.  Thirdly, there is a pervasive cultural concept that Koreans are fonder of traditional schools than distance learning facilities.

After the Internet developed, E-learning colleges reputation start improving over the reputation of distance learning. E-learning colleges were able to get beyond the above two discussed obstacles.  Because of internet network, the individual student was able to have an academic advisor and does not have to physically attend the classroom. But still the third and the most important matter remains is the question of how to change the concept that traditional schools are superior and E-learning is a drastically inferior concept.

To change the culture of the society is not simple, but the power of the internet may be the solution. In Korea, more than a half of population is able to use internet, especially the young generation who grew up with computer. They conduct shopping and are opinion makers via internet. This generation knows about the power of the internet and that it is not time consuming for resolving problems or acquiring information. They try to save time to do multiple projects by leveraging the internet. If E-learning education institutes are more aggressive in their approach to advertising and recruiting, they will gain further market share of the potential student population while teaching students to obtain good study skills, discipline, and marketable skills. This will allow the students to further their academic studies and career simultaneously. A solution is aggressive advertising showing the benefits of E-learning to the students while continuing a career. When this is accomplished, the successful E-learning companies will provide outstanding educational programs for Koreans while making E-learning businesses profitable and successful.


In this paper I have attempted to research the history of distant learning education facilities and how the distant learning evolved to the E-learning program in Korea. Unlike in America, there are cultural barriers to adjust to the concept of E-learning. Even thought, Korea National Open University has been existence for 35 years, it still does not have elevated reputation as an alternative education institute. It is frequently considered as a tool for transferring to traditional colleges. After the internet network capacity improved in 2001, the feelings toward E-learning changed gradually. Even though it has not built the firm foothold, recently the E-learning market has increased 20% every year and the amount of money involve is over currently more than $1.5 Billion US dollars. We see a solution of increasing E-learning quality, raising the cultural acceptance of E-learning, and aggressively advertise the benefits of E-learning as the road to success. The job market situation is getting more competitive, so people want to rebuild or improve careers. This will give E-learning businesses further growth opportunities while improving the skill set of internet savvy Korean youth.  



Kwon, H. K. (2000). Internel@education. Seoul: Poorunsol.

 Lee, C. H. & Shin, M. H. (2000). New method of education and education engineering. Seoul: Dongmunsa.

 Kang, S. H. (2001). Internet and class. Seoul: Kyoyuk Kwahaksa.

 Pack, Y. K. (2004). E-learning is dangerous without a tutor: The E-learning activating and the role of a tutor (Vol 31). Seoul: Korea Education Development Institute. 







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