Online learning is providing a range of choices and newfound flexibility that has enabled many people to access education from their comfort zones and when suitable. Previously, the traditional learning required that people walk physically into classrooms of these universities and sit-in for lectures. But now over 10,000 UAE students are taking full-time courses via the internet. Many women and girls, formerly discriminated by culture can now access education through their computers, tablets, or even tablets from their kitchens. Besides, e-learning is very convenient, since they are built around the user. The online classes can be taken at any time and any place convenient to the user. In fact, a learner can take more than one course at a time, or work during the day and study at night or over the weekend when free. At Zayed University, for instance, girls are not allowed to be present on campus grounds after working hours of the day or during weekends.
But following the advent of Online Learning Management Systems which facilitative digital learning, many of these female students can now interact with faculty members at any time of the day or night. Besides, many female students may feel shy about participating in class discussions especially if it’s a male-dominated class, but the online systems have given them a voice to post their opinions on online discussion boards.
Online e-learning has provided another dynamic interaction platform for its users. While in traditional learning one had to walk to a school and try to make friendships with classmates and schoolmates. Online learning has presented an easier means of interaction. Besides taking the same unit, and taking part in similar discussion groups via Skype or Google Hangout, most online systems such as Santia Learning Management System used widely in UAE universities, allows users to access active forums with input from the instructor. Besides, learning materials involve text pages, videos, PowerPoint presentations, animated features, drag, and drop testing which aim at attracting the attention of the student.
Advantages of Online Learning
Despite these much-applauded benefits of online learning globally and even within the Middle East and UAE; a lot of doubts have been raised about the authenticity and quality of online degrees and education. Many critics of online learning point out the rise in cybercrimes and the lack of face to face interaction between the student and the teacher as the main doubt towards the quality of online education. Besides, online learning is discriminative in nature. Since it is pillared on the use of the internet, e-learning discriminates against all those people that do not have access to the internet, and all those people who have little knowledge of the use of the internet and various e-learning tools. Besides, most of the online repositories contain educational material in only English and other European languages, thus disadvantaging the many Arabic students from UAE. This explains why most students in the UAE undertaking online learning are pursuing medical, technological, and scientific courses that teach their content in the English language in Arabic countries.
Furthermore, the absence of a practical interaction space for online learning has come up as a major challenge to online learning especially to technological and medical courses that demand a lot of practicals and experiments. In fact, most universities, in UAE have adopted e-learning as part of traditional learning, where students are given assignments and urged to look for content online by watching teaching videos on YouTube or forming online discussion groups with students from other universities. Online learning also brings up the issue of age and discipline, while it might work for higher learning students who are well disciplined it cannot work for 11th graders who are easily distracted when online. In essence, students must be highly disciplined and motivated if they are to learn online effectively.
E-learning Initiatives in UAE
The global ICT advancement has had immense pressure on the development of e-learning, compelling most countries in The Middle East region which were previously reluctant to embrace the use of the internet, to put in place measures to advance e-learning. Apart from providing an authentic list of approved universities and courses offering e-learning, the government of UAE has gone further and established relations with the Edutech Middle East, a renowned technology company in the region that provides solutions, and has spearheaded the process of providing various K-12 and college institutions with e-learning facilities and solutions. Besides, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific research has also overseen the founding of a virtual university in UAE that offers online courses exclusively: the Hamdan bin Mohammed e-University. Other universities such as the National University of Dubai offer a hybrid of online and traditional learning models.