Covid-19 drives e-learning in GCC

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Digital infrastructure is highly established in some Arab countries. However its penetration into homes, companies and schools is still limited. AFP
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  • There has been a massive growth in content creation and learners' demand in last two years
  • E-learning is highly dependent on digital infrastructures, such as Internet usage and connection fees, which vary dramatically from one Arab country to another

Despite the widespread use of the Internet in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), many Arab countries have not yet tried e-learning and the successful examples are confined to a few wealthy oil-producing countries.

COVID-19 brought attention to the importance of e-learning and forced Arab countries to adopt this modern technology that had previously been overlooked.

Unprecedented growth

Education technology experts say the pandemic could be a turning moment for e-learning in the region.

According to Ibrahim Badredeen, GM at DISS Training & consulting and MD at Mexeen Executive Education,  the rise of e-learning in the region nowadays is due to two factors: The evolution of market acceptance and the social and behavioral changes brought on by the pandemic impacted how people learn and stay competitive.

In the past two years, everybody can see unprecedented growth in content creation and learners’ demand.  These two elements, according to him, were motivating each other to evolve.

“Billions of dollars were invested in content creation and conversion to digital learning, allowing industries to continue to evolve through knowledge learning and upskilling. These efforts will undoubtedly continue to dominate and impose e-learning as the default style of learning even after the pandemic stage.”

New Business model

Building a solid e-learning enterprise has been lately all about technology that does everything and strong content. While this is true, it is no longer sufficient to develop meaningful learning offers.

According to Badredeen, for many businesses, the ability to build a learning experience that helps learners gain information, apply it in real-world situations, and, most importantly, stay engaged and connected throughout the journey has been a missing element. This is characterized by “Instructional design”. It simply goes beyond creating teaching materials; it carefully considers how learners learn and what materials and methods will most effectively help individuals achieve their learning goals with massive engaging elements. This requires an effective instructional designer to be part of the process and work with subject matter experts.

Advantages and adaptation

The advantages of studying through e-learning portals are tremendous. It can cover mental health, cost, safety, and flexibility in receiving and assimilating information. In addition, people want learning solutions that allow them to study at their own pace and convenience while being recognized and receive a professional endorsement.

On the other hand, people will always have different preferences when it comes to learning modes. For example, some people are still motivated to socialize and network in a physical area, even though e-learning has introduced many functionalities that promote networking and allow communication among learners.

Baderedeen noted that the current trend in the e-learning space is the designed programs that make learning relatable through having Industry guest speakers, endorsements by leading employers in their respective industries, or courses co-produced by academics and professionals from workplaces.

These programs serve primarily the upskilling and reskilling initiatives, in which professionals gain new skills that can assist them in moving into a new space and finding a job. Through projects and capstones, these courses and programs incorporate a lot of collaborative learning with various learners.

Need for infrastructure

E-learning is highly dependent on digital infrastructures, such as Internet usage and connection fees, which vary dramatically from one Arab country to the next. The situation is most advantageous in the GCC countries and least favorable in other Arab countries.

It’s not surprising, then, to find varying degrees of development in the Arab world’s adoption of the e-learning paradigm. Some Arab countries have gotten off to a good start with online learning, while others are still planning.

Some of the reasons for the slow adoption of e-learning in Arab world are as follows: one, Arabic is widely used as a study language in the region, and Arabic has made limited gains in the digital information landscape. Second, the educational system has not adequately prepared students for an active, independent, e-learning approach to education, which is necessary for participating in and succeeding in the online learning world. And third is that while digital infrastructure is highly established in some areas, penetration into homes, companies, and schools is still restricted.

But to sum up, despite the delayed application of e-learning within the most Middle East educational systems, the wheels of change have finally started turning.  E-learning has already become a significant revenue stream for education and learning institutions across the globe and particularly in the region.

Online learning will undoubtedly continue to supplement any face-to-face (F2F) learning mode in the education sector, as it is unlikely to replace F2F completely.

 

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