Online Learning and the Path to More-Inclusive Higher Education

(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Al-Fanar Media).

Education is a powerful tool that can bring about a quantum leap in the lives of individuals and societies, offering them many advantages, such as better economic opportunities, and promoting social mobility and equality. It can also help establish a society that enjoys high levels of knowledge, innovation, and productivity, by providing individuals with the knowledge, skills, and values necessary to achieve success.

Despite education’s pivotal role in shaping the future of our world, getting an education is still a challenge for many people rather than a guaranteed right. This often results from socio-economic factors, such as financial hardship or systemic inequality.

Thus, many individuals need assistance to access higher education, due to financial hurdles or lack of educational opportunities. Here, online learning emerges as a way to make a difference and address some of these challenges.

Misconceptions about Online Learning

The Covid-19 pandemic brought many challenges to the education sector. However, it also highlighted the abilities of online learning to enhance flexibility, innovation, and accessibility. The spread of online education changed some negative perceptions about distance education in Arab schools and universities. 

“Investing in the global online education market, which is expected to hit $350 billion by 2025, is increasingly necessary to support students and make online learning a possible option.”

The adoption of online learning in higher education required more effort, as some were questioning its quality and efficiency, as is the case with all new innovations in various sectors, which face challenges until more people realise their actual benefits.

For many reasons, we should not consider online learning as a temporary solution. Today, most students rely on technological tools to do their homework. This includes taking notes on their laptops and using online learning tools.

Technology has made education more attractive with a variety of materials, multimedia content, and innovative learning tools. The appeal of technology-based learning may also contribute to lower student dropout rates, and to greater learning retention rates.

The current interactive online learning platforms have significantly changed the misconception about the isolation caused by this learning style. Today, virtual classrooms allow students to connect with a global student community, providing them with valuable resources that go beyond the capabilities of teachers. Students also demonstrate a higher degree of self-discipline and a sense of responsibility, which are important qualities for employers upon choosing their employees. 

A Powerful System to Improve Online Learning Quality

We, at the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, believe that online education’s importance stems from its ability to facilitate access to education, which prevents the deterioration of the sector in the future.

Since we started our interest in online learning in 2016, we have focused on mobilising the efforts of stakeholders and supporting the spread of online learning. Our foundation has also cooperated with regional and international universities to build the capabilities of online education, ensure the accreditation of its programs, and make them accessible to most students in the country. 

To achieve such goals, we have worked with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Al Ghurair Open Learning Scholars Program, and with the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education to form the UAE Universities Consortium for Quality Online Learning, with the aim of supporting select UAE universities to develop accredited online undergraduate programs. The Abdulla Al Ghurair Hub for Digital Teaching and Learning at the American University of Beirut also aims to facilitate access to quality online education for thousands of Arab youth across the region. 

Online Learning Makes Education Accessible to All

“As we strive for a more technology-dependent world, we must focus on investing in online learning opportunities that meet the needs of all students.”

Traditional higher education approaches have a number of drawbacks, including the cost, student debt, outdated curricula, lack of flexibility, and unfair results. Moreover, the odds of success and graduation decrease for students from less fortunate backgrounds, if alternative methods are not available to them.

We cannot say that digital or online education represents a radical solution to the problem, but it is undoubtedly part of the solution to ensuring equal opportunities for higher education. Investing in the global online learning market, which is expected to hit $350 billion by 2025, is increasingly necessary to support students and make online learning a possible option.

These changing factors prevent educational institutions from adopting a unified comprehensive methodology, but online learning allows education for all, allowing residents of remote areas, those with family obligations, or facing other challenges to obtaining a quality education.

As we strive for a more technology-dependent world, we must focus on investing in online learning opportunities that meet the needs of all students. This entails cooperation with stakeholders to create an inclusive and accessible education system for all. We can also raise the standard of education through cooperation with teachers, students, and other stakeholders.

Malake El Haj is the director of knowledge and innovation at the Abdullah Al Ghurair Foundation for Education.


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