By Paul W. Neville
The adaptation of online learning in East and Southeast Asia presents an immediate opportunity for U.S. teachers and organizations to connect with nearly 2 billion people through online English language training. The rapid advancement of the $325B e-learning industry since 2016 reflects the growing demand for educational services outside of public schooling. A significant opportunity exists for U.S. public and private partnerships to pursue increased online education in Asia. Additional benefits include cultural exchange, economic development, and U.S. jobs creation.
Several homegrown companies have recently launched to meet the growing demand of online English education in Asia. The largest company is Chinese-based VIPKID, which currently has 500,000 English students from the ages of 5-12 years old. Other Chinese companies include 51 Talk, Dada English, Acadsoc, Happytalk, and Globish. Public and private sector entities have supplied significant investments to these companies since 2016 signaling a rapidly emerging online education trend. No U.S. online English training company, however, is currently targeting the Asian market. Yet market analysis shows a strong demand for the perceived high quality and confidence derived from working with U.S.-based companies, American staff, and American teachers.
Followed by China, the fastest growing demand for online English training in Asia is Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. Like in China, families from these Southeast countries prioritize education and are willing to spend up to one third of their income on the supplemental education for their children. The governments of Vietnam and Thailand have both publicly stated policy to create bilingual populations, but have yet to yield tangible results. Savvy students and proactive parents increasingly desire outside English learning support. The Chinese-based online English companies, including VIPKID, focus mostly on the Chinese market and have limited market penetration in Southeast Asia.
Improved English acquisition promotes increased economic output through increased productivity, trade (including with the United States), and tourism to the United States and other English-speaking countries. Research indicates a strong demand for online English training with a specific preference for teachers with North American-accents. Asian students and their families believe U.S. accents offer improved access to high-paying jobs and entry into premium universities in the United States.
Research also shows that initial reluctance to using online learning instead of brick-and-mortar classrooms in Asia is quickly evolving as internet speeds increase and costs decrease. Urban students learning online from the comfort of their homes avoid notorious bad traffic and pollution in major Asian cities and rural students can connect to English learning without having to travel long distances to physical English teaching institutions. Additionally, online English learning reduces concerns about visa acquisition from having to travel and study overseas. Families are willing to pay a premium for the more personalized and effective learning environments that online training provides.
In addition to the economic opportunity that online English learning offers both Asian students and U.S. teachers (in the form of U.S. jobs), the interaction between Americans and Asians on a large-scale promotes cultural exchange. Many of the lessons taught by U.S. teachers help tell the American story and reduce misperception and misinformation. Subsidized online English instruction can also increase opportunities for poor, unemployed, and disenfranchised youth who may be vulnerable to extremism in countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Meanwhile, U.S. teachers have an opportunity to build new relationships and learn about the culture and people of Asian countries.