Land of Plenty Broadband – Threat Or Opportunity for the Learning Function ?

Australia is on its way to become the “land of plenty broadband”, thanks the to the National Broadband Network (NBN). How will this impact the learning function ? Will it be an opportunity or a threat ?

This was the focus of my presentation at the LearnX conference in Brisbane this month (copy of the presentation available at the bottom of this blog). People who know me will probably easily predict my answer to these question. It is an opportunity if we can grasp the potential and gear ourselves to exploit it, otherwise it will be a threat as will impose changes. stretch our capability and force us to react. If past history is any indication then I suspect it will turn out to be a threat.

While little attention has been given to the impact of broadband on workplace learning, it is profoundly changing the way learning is done in schools and colleges in Australia. The use of internet enabled smartboards, tablets, frequent use of video conferencing, data augmented google maps will percolate into the corporate training room. And that is just the beginning.

So what does “plenty of broadband” mean ?

NBN aims to connect 13 million homes, schools and workplaces to high speed broadband internet. Considering that the population of Australia is about 22 million there will be very few places that will not have access to fast internet. An important number to remember is that 93% of this coverage will be at speeds of 100 MBPS. The rest of the coverage (7%) mostly for remote locations will be at slower speeds of 12 MBPS through wireless and satellite which is not be sneezed at either. There is plenty of information available at the NBN website.


NBN will provide internet speeds that open up a whole world of opportunities for how content will be accessed by users. To give you an idea of how what 100 MBPS can do have a look at the figure below. Rich media content such as video calling and HDTV uses tenth of the total broadband which will be available via NBN.

While NBN is an ambitious project to develop infrastructure for the Australia, the credit for pioneering the roll out national high speed internet goes to South Korea.  By 2010, the average South Korean will have a connection of 100Mbps (the same as what the majority of Australians will have by the end of the NBN implementation) and by 2012, it will be 1Gbps. 100Mbps means that you can download an episode of a TV show in less than 28 seconds. At 1 Gbps you don’t even have time to start the stopwatch before the show is downloaded. By looking at the South Korean experience we can make some predictions about the impact of high speed broadband of the learning functions and professionals.

So how does the availability of plenty of broadband impact the learning function and professional ?

It provides an opportunity for the learning function to deliver significant business benefits by assisting organisations morph and build capability to exploit new opportunities or contain the threat to existing business models due the availability of increased broadband. The impact on the learning function and the professional is shown in the image below.

Need to learn will accelerate.

The availability of fast broadband raises the current lowest common denominator internet speed to 100 Mbps. We can be assured that all business will look for ways to use the increased bandwidth to deliver their products and services in a more cost effective and scalable manner. At the forefront of this change is education and healthcare. Imagine being able to consult your doctor in the city from the comfort of your home in a rural Australia through a web cam on your computer. In Australia, a follow up consultation with a specialist virtually through video conferencing at a general practitioner is now reimbursed by the medicare in some circumstances. Internet enabled interactive smartboards which regularly feature in Australian classroom open of up a new way of learning which could be the envy of corporate trainers.

For other industries such as media the availability of high speed internet will be a disruptive and detrimental to exiting sources of revenues. South Koreans are watching more TV through internet (IPTV)  resulting in time shifting and video on demand as the consumer gets more control over their content choice. All industries will be impacted to greater or lesser degree. We also know that there is never really a “steady state” where the internet is involved. The learning function and the professional will play a critical role in making sure that the workforce has skills to required to deliver the ever evolving products and services.

Prepare for heightened expectations from business and learners.

The learning function will be expected to keep up with the increased “speed of business”  and heightened learner expectations which will require changes to the learning function which in many cases is still oriented to delivering either classroom training or “page turning” compliance course.

e-Learning will become more sophisticated

While video based learning will be possible as the broadband pipe opens up, the more significant shift will be use of media rich, interactive  3D environment and simulations. 100Mps broadband has caused a significant shift in leisure time from TV to online gaming in South Korea. These media rich, live and interactive 3-D online games have become one of the killer apps. So will it mean the death of “page turning” compliance courses ?

The development of “bandwidth rich e-Learning” which includes simulations, serious games, live interactive learning requires new and more sophisticated skills in learning analysis, design and development. This means that developing and making changes to “bandwidth rich e-Learning” will take more time.  Page turning e-Learning courses will remain the primary means to deliver basic knowledge at a reasonable price (per learner) in shorter turn around times. I see organisations (and vendors) gradually develop the capability of developing “bandwidth rich e-Learning” while retaining the current skills to develop “page turning” e-Learning. I suspect the higher budget and the lack of skills to required to develop “bandwidth rich” e-Learning will slow its adoption till such time that the business realises the benefits and allocates the budget required.

Opportunity or threat ?

However something I have learnt over the years is that change never happens as quickly or as widely as it predicted or planned. While the NBN faces political challenges to its existence and growth, it is unlikely to be derailed. The absence of a world class national internet infrastructure is a major risk to to growth of our economy in an highly competitive world. What is likely to be a greater challenge will be the uptake of NBN by the end users with pricing being a major factor. If the pricing is high customers will restrict the amount of bandwidth they consume hence reducing the uptake of high bandwidth services.

Despite these challenges there is little doubt that the uniform availability of the high speed internet will present opportunities and threats to the learning function. If we don’t understand and exploit these opportunities, some other function will and we may be relegated to the end of the business chain.

Am I right ? What do you think ?


  1. Increased expectations and more sophisticated learning surely is an opportunity and not a threat. If my customers and learners want better quality content from me – that’s a good thing.

  2. Hi Paul. Completely agree with you. The assumption I have made if the opportunity is not taken or delivered on becomes a threat. “It is an opportunity if we can grasp the potential and gear ourselves to exploit it, otherwise it will be a threat as will impose changes. stretch our capability and force us to react.”. This is a call to learning professionals and functions to prepare for this opportunity which is upon us (specially in Australia with the coming of the NBN).

  3. Jeevan I love your comment that if we dont harness it as an opportunity it becomes a threat. How many times have we seen that happen.

    Who is taking the lead on this to help facilitate usage in the education sector?

  4. HI Carol . Thanks for your comment. There are initiatives at the federal and state level. I know a bit about NSW. Centre of Learning Innovation ( is doing some work as other divisions within DET NSW. Other states have their own units. I suspect the effort is probably not as co-ordinated as well across the country as it should. I am trying in process of doing a learning conversation with people in the education sector so watch this space (and site).

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