Online Graduate Programs in Vietnam: A Model for a Global Partnership


Published: July 19, 2012 by Debbie Faires

Vietnam has seen outstanding growth in internet penetration during the previous decade with an increase of over 12,000% in the number of internet users (Burson-Marsteller Asia-Pacific, 2011, slide 4). There is also growing interest in distance learning in Vietnam, but little expertise in how to use the internet to facilitate online learning. The School of Library and Information Science partnered with the School of Social Work at SJSU in a grant-funded project to explore the viability of online graduate programs in Vietnam. The College of Applied Sciences and Arts (CASA) funded the grant to support investigations in 2011 – 2012 which enabled the research team to investigate technological and attitudinal readiness for online learning at Vietnam National University (VNU), Hanoi. Sandra Hirsh, Director of the School of Library and Information Science, and Alice Hines, CASA Interim Associate Dean, are the principal investigators on the project.

My role on the grant team was to assess VNU’s technology infrastructure and help with data collection. In September 2011, we interviewed eight university administrators and faculty at VNU in Hanoi regarding their use of technology in their daily lives (both at work and at home) and attitudes toward online learning.

Throughout the interviews, it was evident that technology plays an important role in the daily lives of the faculty and administrators. All of those we interviewed own mobile phones and use them extensively. One interviewee brought two phones with her to the interview. She explained she uses one for texting and the other for voice calls and that she is “addicted to technology.” Another said she “can’t live without [her] mobile phone.” When I read earlier this year that more people worldwide have mobile phone subscriptions than have safe drinking water (Sharma, 2012, slide 10), I was surprised. Then I remembered the care I had to take while in Vietnam not to drink tap water and I realized my personal observations in Vietnam and other parts of Asia supported this statistic.

Each of the interviewees told us they use a computer and access the internet often each day for a variety of tasks. Most said they begin their days by checking their email. Several reported use of Skype and instant messaging to keep in touch with family and friends. Each faculty member brings a laptop to class and conducts lectures that incorporate PowerPoint slides (this is a university requirement). A few of those we spoke with have 3G USB mobile broadband adapters to ensure reliable access to the internet.

So, given the good personal experience with technology we observed, how did those we interviewed feel about online learning? They were very positive and often enthusiastic. They commented that these types of classes would be convenient with “no limit to time” constraints. An administrator mentioned that the best thing about eLearning is how it gives students a chance to work on courses even when they cannot follow a fixed program. Another participant referred to the convenience of learning “anytime and anyplace.”

Location was another topic that several of the informants mentioned when thinking of the benefits of online learning. They pointed out that eLearning provides the ability to communicate easily across diverse geographic regions—both within Vietnam as well as around the globe. One administrator said that online learning is like having an “invisible classroom”—a phrase that reminded me of the “library without walls” that has been mentioned often in our field for over a decade.

The faculty and administrators also recognized significant challenges to the implementation of online learning at VNU. Besides the issues of technology infrastructure and training of faculty and students in how to develop and participate in online classes, there was an ever-present concern with societal perceptions of the quality of online learning.

In November 2011, members of our team conducted focus group interviews to further explore the themes that emerged during the key informant interviews. We are currently writing a final report to detail our findings and recommendations for next steps regarding online learning at VNU in Hanoi.


Burson-Marsteller Asia-Pacific. (2011). Social media infographics booklet. Retrieved from

Sharma, C. (2012). State of the global mobile industry: Annual assessment – 2012. Retrieved from


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