Mr Derrick L. Cogburn, Ph.D.

Director, Centre for Information Society Development in Africa
Africa Regional Director, Global Information Infrastructure Commission

South Africa

  1. Introduction
  2. The Information Revolution, and the Information Age that it engenders, is being defined by an on-going process of economic, social and political globalisation. While the term globalisation has become quite widespread, even in the popular media, there are confused and often conflicting definitions and conceptions of the phenomenon. In order for this concept to maintain any analytical usefulness, it must be unpacked, carefully defined and examined for its impact on society, the economy, and the world system.

    At its most organic and fundamental level, globalisation is about the monumental structural changes occurring in the processes of production and distribution in the global economy. These structural changes are responses by many global enterprises that confront tremendous pressures and fantastic opportunities presented by the increased application and integration of advanced information and communications technologies (ICTs) into their core business processes (e.g. R&D, manufacturing, testing, back-office operations, marketing, distribution). Through the application of information and communications technologies, enterprises have the ability to diminish the impact of space, time and distance. Global companies can break apart business functions that were previously thought to be best collocated (i.e. within the same geographic area), and spread them across the globe in a globally disarticulated labor and production process.

    This aspect of globalisation requires the existence and development of an advanced information and communications infrastructure, based on a network of networks of telecommunications, broadcasting, computers, and content providers. This network of networks—a Global Information Infrastructure—currently does not exist. Such a GII should be a robust, global, broadband, high-capacity network, most likely based on fibre optic cable networks. The Internet and World Wide Web currently come closest to meeting these requirements. However, as sociologists Manuel Castells argues, "the Integrated Broadband Networks (IBN) envisioned in the 1990s could surpass substantially the revolutionary 1970s proposals for an Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDS)".

    At a more conjunctural and secondary level, globalisation is affecting all of the social, political and economic structures and processes that emerge from this global restructuring. One critical issue that emerges from all of these restructuring processes is the central role of knowledge, education and learning for the success of the Global Information Society (GIS) and global information economy. Knowledge is becoming an increasingly important factor of production. More important, some analysts would argue, than land, labor and capital.

    This paper explores the contours of the on-going process of globalisation, including its alternative and contending perspectives. It also comments on its impact on society, the state, and the economy. Throughout this paper, there is an underlying focus on the impact of globalisation on knowledge, education and learning and the promises and challenges of the Global Information Infrastructure--Global Information Society (GII-GIS) to meet the increasing needs and demands of the world’s citizens.

  3. The Context of Globalisation and Economic Restructuring
  4. The global political economy is experiencing massive changes and fundamental internal and external restructuring. It has gone from a dynamic system which produced, for some, a "golden age" of capitalism in the 1950s to a system that is facing a global crisis. The current crisis is being foisted upon the world by a fundamental change in the underlying structures of production and distribution within the global economy.

    Alain Lipietz argues that as a result of this restructuring a new development model is emerging. Since the 1950s, the dominant model for techno-economic development has been the Fordist—Taylorist development model. Fordism—Taylorism rested upon three major pillars. The first pillar was the factory system and mass production. The second pillar was the application of scientific management. And finally, the third pillar was the moving assembly line. These practices enabled the Fordist—Taylorist development model to "more efficiently harness physical labor from huge masses of relatively unskilled shop-floor workers." This Fordist—Taylorist model was only fully implemented in the advanced industrialised countries which has tremendous implications for the developing countries within this current period of global economic restructuring.

    The global system of production and distribution is now progressing from this Fordist—Taylorist development model to one based upon what Richard Kenney and Martin Florida call Innovation-Mediated Production. Innovation-Mediated Production, challenges significantly the Fordist—Taylorist development model and is based upon the blurring of the distinctions between mental and physical labor and the increase in the application of knowledge to the production process itself. This change is so significant that it represents a fundamental shift, for much of the world, in the underlying technological and economic paradigm (techno-economic paradigm) of industrial organization.

    On the one hand, the highly industrialised countries of the world, as represented by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), are adapting to this techno-economic paradigm shift through various strategies, and high-levels of public and private sector cooperation. On the other hand, the developing countries are facing a tremendous tidal wave of changes, opportunities and challenges in this new era of globalisation and economic restructuring, which in many cases is overwhelming capacity.

    The knowledge intensive nature of this development model—Innovation-Mediated production—requires firms to invest heavily in research and development (R&D), not as a luxury or solely to gain competitive advantage, but to survive. In some countries, this research system has been developed into a National System of Innovation, which harnesses the resources of the public sector, private sector, academic sector and non-governmental organizations. One area that has garnered a huge share of R&D expenditure in the developed countries has been optoelectronics.

    Optoelectronics represents the fusion of photonics technologies (using photons as the delivery mechanism) with microelectronics (using electrons as the delivery mechanisms) "to attain greater efficiency in data processing and transmission than electronics can achieve by itself." The application of optoelectronics has produced radical new developments in information and communications technologies. This increased focus on optoelectronics is "drastically revolutionizing the communication system and [is] widely expected to form the next generation of information-based technologies." These new technologies have given us the Internet, World Wide Web, Integrated Systems Digital Networks (ISDN), Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), and a host of other technologies that have fueled the Information Revolution. In addition, the increased application of digitization techniques blurs the distinctions between telecommunications, computers, broadcasting and other high-technology sectors. Analysts have developed a concept to describe the blurring of lines between "once separate industries into an integrated digital marketplace." They call it convergence. Since photonics, or optoelectronics, is the foundation of most of these technologies, I sometimes call what we are experiencing the Optoelectronics Revolution, as synonymous with the Information Revolution.

    The Optoelectronics Revolution, amongst many other components, facilitates what Jeffrey Henderson calls the "Global Option." By applying these new information and communications technologies, firms are now able to promote a globally disarticulated production and distribution process. This means that the various components of the production and distribution process—R&D, manufacturing, testing, information management, advertising, and marketing—need not be in the same geographic location. In fact, these various components can be, and are often, spread out on continents around the world. For example, R&D can take place on one continent, manufacturing on several different ones, testing on another continent, and information management on still another. The advertising and marketing of these products can take place on a global scale with niche marketing tactics—even if the public relations firm is located in a small remote country. All of these activities are currently taking place, they are increasing, and they are proceeding at the speed of light. Henderson calls this the "World Factory" phenomenon.

    Global corporations, especially those competing in the converging high-technology industries, have increasingly expressed the tendency to utilize the new Innovation-Mediated development model and to explore the Global Option. The incessant technological development of the new techno-economic paradigm, the convergence of telecommunications, computers, and broadcasting, along with the increased pressures for global deregulation, liberalization and market-access have radically altered the global political economy and have undermined the existing the international telecommunications regime.

    International regime theory, as developed in the social sciences, attempts to address the so-called "anarchy problematique." This intellectual construction addresses the ways in which "sovereign and equal" nation-states, operating in an anarchic world system in which there is no juridical or de jure authority over them attempt to address issues which are by their very nature transnational. Regime theory suggests that there are various mechanisms within the world system that facilitate the development of specific norms, principles, and values relating to the issue area and the mechanisms to enforce those norms, principles and values. Telecommunications is one of the issue areas around which one of the oldest and most successful international regimes has emerged. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), has served as the centerpiece of this regime, with tremendous benefits flowing to national PTTs. Several social, economic, political and technological factors are converging to undermine this regime.

    Globalisation and the Information Revolution present increasing difficulties for national states as they attempt to make choices about how to respond and allocate their scarce resources to confront this challenge. This challenge is particularly acute for African countries that are being bombarded with multiple "options" as to what actions and strategies are appropriate for their particular countries. As we have discussed above, knowledge as a factor of production within this new information-intensive economy, is gaining in importance in the era of globalisation. The education and learning paradigm around the world is under increasing pressure to better meet the demands of this new knowledge and information-intensive global economy.

    These fundamental components of globalization set the context for this article. As these developments lurch forward, it is extremely important that social scientists, national-governments, non-governmental, international and regional organisations, and the private sector, attempt to understand the impact of globalisation on the global political economy and on local realities. The existing literature on globalization and the Information Revolution is to a large degree theoretical and overly speculative. There is a need for a clear theorization of globalization and the transformation occurring in the global economy which is grounded in an empirical analysis of local realities, including the knowledge, education and learning requirements for the information age.

  5. Implications of Globalisation for Knowledge, Education and Learning

Given the increasing economic globalisation and restructuring in the world political and economic systems, and the requirements for knowledge and information within that system, educational needs (in terms of structure, function, curriculum and approach) at all levels, especially at the tertiary level, have changed. These educational requirements for the workforce of the future are extremely important. However, the systems developed for informal learning, specifically for adult learners to engage in life-long learning, are important as well.

There are significant contrasts between knowledge, education and learning. "Education is generally seen as a formal process of instruction, based on a theory of teaching, to impart formal knowledge (to one or more students)." However, the process of learning can occur, with or without formal institutional education. "Knowledge accumulation and the accumulation of skills for using ICTs will occur increasingly outside the traditional institutions of formal education. Learning in the workplace, and through collaborations that sometimes span the global and at other times involve tightly nit local communities with similar interests, will become more commonplace."

However, knowledge should not be limited to a select few. As the store of knowledge expands throughout the world, all of the world’s people should have as much access as possible. However, the "formal institutions of education that exist today, and even many of these in the planning stages in developing countries, are becoming less relevant to the requirements of emergent ‘knowledge societies’." Mansell and Wehn argue that these countries must actively reshape their educational systems in ways that are "consistent with their national priorities." However, these national priorities must now take into consideration the fundamental changes occurring in the underlying structures of the global economy and new strategies for achieving competitive national advantage.

The role of knowledge within the economy is leading to a whole range of new industries and new developments in biotechnology, new materials science, informatics, computer science, etc. Within this new framework for knowledge, education and learning, there are at least ten components that should be included and or enhanced. Each of these components will be explored briefly below.

A focus on abstract concepts

Some of the challenges for knowledge, education and learning in this period will be ability for today’s learners to be more familiar and comfortable with abstract concepts and uncertain situations. Much of the academic environment today, presents students with ready-made problems and then asks them to solve them. The reality of the rapid-fire global economy, based on information and knowledge is that problems are rarely that clearly defined. It requires those seeking valuable employment to seek out problems, gather the necessary information, and make decisions and choices based on complex uncertain realities.

Uses a holistic, as opposed to discrete, approach

Much of the education and learning environment today is divided into very rigid academic disciplines, focused on discrete units of research. However, the emerging Information Society and global economy requires a holistic understanding of systems thinking, including the world system and business eco-systems. Thus inter-disciplinary research approaches are seen as critical to achieving a more comprehensive understanding the complex reality currently facing the world system.

Enhances the student’s ability to manipulate symbols

Symbols are highly abstracted manifestations of some concrete form of reality. Highly productive employment in today’s economy will require the learner to constantly manipulate symbols, such as political, legal and business terms and concepts (such as intellectual property rights), and digital money (in financial systems and accounting concepts). These "symbolic analysts," as Robert Reich calls them, are in high demand.

Enhances the student’s ability to acquire and utilise knowledge

In the past, academic practitioners often saw themselves as wise "sages on the stage" delivering data, information, knowledge and wisdom to the eagerly awaiting students, whose minds were empty vessels waiting to be filled. However, if that reality were ever true, the world’s store of knowledge is increasing at such a monumental rate, that no single person can hope to adequately convey as comprehensive an understanding of a subject as is possible, or as could be absorbed by most students. The Global Information Infrastructure Commission (GIIC), an international, independent, non-governmental private sector organisation argues that:

The globalization of the economy and its concomitant demands on the workforce requires a different education that enhances the ability of learners to access, assess, adopt, and apply knowledge, to think independently to exercise appropriate judgment and to collaborate with others to make sense of new situations. The objective of education is no longer simply to convey a body of knowledge, but to teach how to learn, problem-solve and synthesize the old with the new.

There are a range of new technologies and new techniques engendered by the Information Revolution that allow for the production of new knowledge and the dissemination of data, information and knowledge. Some of these technologies include the Internet, World Wide Web, CD-ROM, and printed, audio, video and other electronic media forms. These new technologies allow for academic practitioners to move from being "sages on the stage" into the role of the "guide on the side" and assist students in gaining the skills and abilities required to acquire and utilise knowledge contained in various forms around the world.

Produces an increased quantity of scientifically and technically trained persons

As discussed above, the emerging economy is based on knowledge as a key factor of production, perhaps a factor more important than any other traditional factors of production. The kinds of industries emerging in the age of globalisation—such as biotechnology, new materials science, human genetics, advanced computing, artificial intelligence, and human/computer interfaces—demand that employees remain highly trained in science and technology. Research and development is a critical component, and many countries are trying to develop National Systems of Innovation (NSIs) that attempt to harness the combined resources of its academic institutions with the research enterprises within the public and private sectors. In these countries, universities will have to quickly adapt to the needs and provide a key component of such national systems.

Blurs the distinction between mental and physical labour

As discussed above, the Fordist-Taylorist development model made strict separations between mental and physical labour. However, the new innovation-mediated paradigm requires a much more holistic approach to the business enterprise and valorizes the intellectual contributions of all employees. In fact, most observers would find it very difficult to make concrete distinctions between many Information Age-oriented manufacturing facilities and computer laboratories.

Encourages students to work in teams

Closely related to the last point, is the need for employees in globalised enterprises to be able to work closely in teams. Working in teams requires students to develop skills in group dynamics, compromise, debate, persuasion, organisation, leadership and management skills. Most academic institutions and programmes are set up to do the opposite, to force students to think only of themselves and their own personal development, perhaps with some very limited group work.

Uses virtual teams around the world

Again, closely related to the last point, is the need for enhanced virtual and networked activity. Not only should students learn to work in teams; but also they should learn to work in global networked virtual teams. These global virtual teams are being used increasingly in industry and international organisations for R&D activities. Chris Dede argues that "Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) enhances team performance through tools for communicating each person’s ideas, structuring group dialogue and decision making, recording the rationales for choices, and facilitating collective activities."

Is an agile and flexible system

As command and control systems disintegrate around the world, academic institutions must become less rigid and more flexible in their attempt to meet the varied needs of learners and the global economy. This includes variety in time, place, approach and curriculum offerings. As new issues and industries emerge within the global economy, academic course offerings should be adapted to reflect these new knowledge, education and learning requirements.

Break the boundaries of space and time

Using advanced information and communications technologies, a new system of knowledge, education and learning should apply a wide range of synchronous and asynchronous activities that aid the professor and student in breaking the boundaries of space and time. Synchronous activities can include real-time lectures (featuring audio, presentations, web sites, and even video), quizzes and group discussions; all of which can occur with the instructor being at the same location or even a different location from the learner. Asynchronous activities can include archived lectures (in audio and video), and other archived course material that can be accessed at nearly anytime, anyplace.

To meet the knowledge, education and learning challenges and opportunities of the Information Age, the GIIC argues:

It is not, however, sufficient anymore to raise the efficiency of the existing systems of education and improve the quality of their components. Even the best of them have served another set of demands for another age. Graduates of these systems, to varying degrees, now find themselves deficient in knowledge as well as cognitive skills that are necessary for the increasingly sophisticated living environment and for the ever-evolving labor market. More importantly, knowledge based businesses often complain that graduates lack the capacity to learn new skills and assimilate new knowledge.

To meet these challenges and to reap the benefits of the opportunities presented by globalisation, active responses should occur within the public and private sectors at national, regional and international levels.

At a national level, these requirements for knowledge, education and learning should be addressed with policy approaches that: (1) allow as many people as possible to engage in productive healthy forms of employment that enhances their quality of life; and (2) meet the increasing demands of global enterprises operating within the global economy.

Developing countries are behind significantly in the information infrastructure required to generate and disseminate knowledge. One concept that could address these concerns is the emerging vehicle of Multimedia, Multipurpose Community Information Centres (MPCICs or Telecentres). Current research indicates that these centres could serve as effective vehicles for enhancing the knowledge, education and learning opportunities for communities in emerging economies.

Within the private sector, at national levels, there are efforts to strengthen the partnership between the private sector and public sector in the delivery of education and learning. Again, the GIIC argues that there are specific roles for the private sector within this framework, because the educational establishment may not be able to redefine itself sufficiently to meet the requirements of the new information-intensive economy. The Commission sees three critical roles for the private sector in the education sector.

The first recommended role for the private sector is the rethinking of education. The Commission argues that. "Since its success depends to a large extent on the product of the educational system, the private sector should engage in the rethinking of education to meet the demands of the age of globalization and information by providing, systematically, input into the analytical and decision making processes in areas such as strategic shifts, curricula, restructuring, standards, and evaluation."

Collaboration in training for the new economy is a second role recommended by the GIIC for the private sector in education. This recommendation springs from an assumption that the training within private institutions has the following advantages: (1) employers can train workers quickly and place them into positions; (2) training costs are lower; (3) the technology in these enterprises is usually advanced; (4) quick responses to the needs of the marketplace.

Finally, the GIIC suggests that the provision of educational services is a critical role for the private sector in education. It argues that the public sector will be unable to continue bearing the major financial responsibility for the financing and provision of education.

With the escalating demands and the diversification of avenues of dissemination of knowledge, governments will not be able to be the sole providers of education. There will be more opportunities for the private sector to provide educational services with a competitive edge based on efficiency, flexibility, management style, and information technology. The obvious domain is at the secondary and tertiary levels as well as in the fields of skill development and upgrading and lifelong learning.

The GIIC believes that it is in a unique position, "at the intersection between technology and private businesses," to make a positive contribution to promoting these concepts around the world. It suggests the following responses for the GIIC in collaboration with its members and international partners.

  1. Create and support a forum to connect scientists, information technologists, policy makers, and practitioners for the purpose of rethinking education in the age of globalization and information.
  2. Support mechanisms for the exchange of ideas and experiences in the use of educational technologies.
  3. Encourage explorations, experimentation to push the frontiers of the potential of information technologies and communications for more effective learning.
  4. Engage in the design of pilot "learning communities" that expands the time and space dimensions of education.
  5. Encourage, and engage in, collaborative schemes for the development of educational curriculum-related software that can be used worldwide to achieve economies of scale and expertise.
  6. Support the design of information infrastructure that is most appropriate for education and that is cost-effective, implementable and sustainable at large scales.

Whether or not the GIIC engages in these activities, it is clear that at global, regional and national levels, within both the public and private sectors, there is a need for concrete responses in knowledge, education and learning to the challenges and opportunities presented by the age of globalisation. The next section focuses on key examples at each of these levels.

  1. Virtual Graduate Seminar: Example of Knowledge and Learning Responses

In the coming academic term (January 1999), the Centre for Information Society Development in Africa (CISDA) is participating in an experimental academic course. CISDA has developed a Virtual Graduate Seminar on the subject of "Globalisation and the Information Society: Information Systems and International Communications Policy." Graduate students from three leading universities are participating in this Virtual Graduate Seminar, the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor); American University (Washington, D.C.) and the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg).

The Virtual Graduate Seminar has six primary objectives. Participants should:

  1. Become familiar with and critique the recent literature and debates on the Information Age, globalisation, state autonomy and the role of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in development;
  2. Develop an understanding of the structure of the world system and the global economy, and the mechanisms—including international regimes—developed to "govern" the global economy within an anarchic world system;
  3. Develop a basic understanding of the technologies underlying information and communications systems, R&D approaches, and technology management;
  4. Develop a basic understanding of key issues currently being developed, debated, and negotiated in the development of the Global Information Infrastructure (GII) and Global Information Society (GIS);
  5. Develop an appreciation for the challenges and opportunities presented by international interdisciplinary collaborative research by participating in global virtual research teams with students from two other universities;
  6. Develop research, analytic, writing, technology and presentation skills through collaborative research, report writing and class presentations.

The Virtual Graduate Seminar is based upon the assumptions discussed above in section two of this paper, which is that the world system and global economy are facing a fundamental restructuring and an on-going process of globalization, leading to the development of a knowledge-based Global Information Society. Given these changes, the discussion in section three of this paper argue that it is imperative for students interested in the converging interdisciplinary fields of information systems, information and communications technology and international communications policy, to have an opportunity to engage in cutting edge educational and learning opportunities which prepares them for the new global realities. In response to this imperative, many universities are moving to provide unique learning opportunities and are engaging their students in global basic and applied research, and using new information and communications technologies as tools to enable this educational experience.

This seminar is designed to provide such an learning opportunity for graduate students at the University of Michigan, American University, and the University of the Witwatersrand, by immersing them in the relevant literature to contribute to the development of a deeper theoretical understanding of the issues covered, while engaging them in practical and applied approaches and activities.

The seminar seeks to break the boundaries of time, space and distance. It will employ information and communications technologies to create a networked collaborative learning environment. The seminar will have a mix of synchronous and asynchronous activities (meaning, some activities will take place at the same time, same place; some at the same time, different place; and some at a different time, different place). The seminar will provide continuous feedback, high levels of interaction and an emphasis on student work and group projects.

Each participant in the seminar will be assigned to one of five global collaborative research team (6 students) called Global Syndicates (based on the syndicate approach used at the University of the Witwatersrand). These global syndicates will be tasked with research problems, projects, case study readings, role-playing, etc. This approach is highly relevant for training in university-based research, public policy research institutes (think tanks), industry and international organizations. This type of scholarly and scientific research involves a significant degree of self-education and discipline.

To support the education and learning needs of this course, a web-site and virtual study center have been developed. Each student is expected to make extensive use of this virtual study center, which includes the following components:

Weekly Lectures

Technology Support: PlaceWare Conference CentreTM

Global Syndicates (Virtual Research Teams)

Technology Support: WebBoardTM

Technology Support: Xerox DocushareTM

Course Archive

Technology Support: Microsoft NetShowTM

The presenter, who can be in any location in the world with connectivity, speaks into the microphone and engages with the audience using a variety of tools. Presentations include, audio, live web, other applications (spreadsheets, java animations, etc.). Audience members can pose questions for the presenter, who can decide whether or not to answer the question off-line, or pose the question to the entire seminar. Our virtual research teams (Global Syndicates) will sit together in the virtual audience and ask each other questions during the lecture. The presenter, can poll the audience with pre-developed questionnaires and can also gauge the "temperature" of the audience, in terms of their current understanding of the lecture, and feelings about pace (e.g. too fast/slow).

  1. Conclusion

Globalization is a very real phenomenon that is transforming the world economic system including nearly all aspects of production, distribution and other business processes. With the emergence of a new development model, particularly in the highly industrialised economies, knowledge and information take on increasing importance. Thus, the era of globalisation has tremendous concomitant implications for knowledge, education and learning.

This paper has argued that one implication of this transformation is that a new system of knowledge, education and learning will include many components that do not exist in the current educational model. The new system of knowledge, education and learning should include the following ten key components.

  1. A focus on abstract concepts;
  2. Uses a holistic, as opposed to linear, approach;
  3. Enhances the student’s ability to manipulate symbols;
  4. Enhances the student’s ability to acquire and utilise knowledge;
  5. Produces an increased quantity of scientifically and technically trained persons;
  6. Blurs the distinction between mental and physical labour;
  7. Encourages students to work in teams;
  8. Uses virtual teams around the world;
  9. Is an agile and flexible system; and
  10. Break the boundaries of space and time.

In addressing the challenges posed by globalisation, tremendous levels of cooperation are needed, between the public and private sectors, and between global, regional and national organisations. The Global Information Infrastructure Commission is making some headway at forging such a framework for global cooperation.

Other institutions like our Centre for Information Society Development in Africa and our academic partners in the Virtual Graduate Seminar are working on concrete models for utilising advanced information and communications technologies to explore the boundaries of academic discourse. Further examples of the application of ICTs to knowledge, education and learning responses to globalisation must be explored in concrete interdisciplinary, multi-institutional research studies. Institutions like CISDA, GIIC and others may make a significant difference in helping the world’s citizens reap the benefits of the Global Information Infrastructure and Global Information Society.