Analysis of E-Learning Development in Saudi Arabia

Analysis of E-Learning Development in Saudi Arabia

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Abstract

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has started the new trend in which teachers are equipped with relevant and necessary skills to cope with challenged in the ICT field. KSA census shows massive population growth and scarcity of teachers and thus the urgent need for e-learning as the optimum option to remedy the situation. Moreover, financial burden for full-time class sitting for most students has become a burden thus calling for alternative means of teaching and learning. Since 2002, the government and many education institutions have come to embrace e-learning as the new trend that is going to compensate for the huge financial burden in learning, the scarcity of teachers, and limited resources in ICT implementation. The article, E-learning in Saudi Arabia: Past, Present and Future, takes into account e-learning growth in KSA, its potential needs and overall impact to various stakeholders. On the other hand, An Exploration of Distance Learning in Saudi Arabian Universities: Current Practices and Future Possibilities, analyzes the benefits and drawbacks of e-learning in KSA Universities and the overall growth of e-learning as the new trend in university learning. The Barriers Effecting Successful Implementation of E-learning in Saudi Arabian Universities presents e-learning and teaching as the current digital technology trend in universities and the different E-learning barriers in different dimensions of e-learning presented in KSA Universities.

Introduction

The world is changing technologically but e-learning is taking deep roots in every sector and organizations in any country. Information and instructional technologies (ICTs) are being used to make promote data safety, enhance business transactions, control machineries, and promote national intelligence in a country, among many other uses (Quadri et al., 2017). However, the influence of ICTs in teaching and learning has taken new heights in the academic environment especially in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

Saudi Arabia is using distance learning as the new tool to provide education to its vast young generation and it has shown this commitment by spending hundreds of millions of dollars in ensuring that its education system is improved. It has constructed new institutions, revised its curriculum, and embraced technology in learning. Distance learning has been depicted as the new opening in education facilitation due to its cost saving capabilities and wide student enrolment coverage as compared to traditional methods of learning.

E-learning has been outlined to develop positive attitude towards telecommunication technologies (ICTs). Such barriers as time, space, and distance for learners have been mitigated via the use of e-learning and leisure in teaching-learning activities is acquired. Universities around the world have embarked on the utilization of distance learning as the new efficient trend that enables them provide learning opportunities to a wide range of students. ICT has become an inevitable revolution and its implementation in the education sector has become practical and appreciated.

University education has been given special care by the ministry of education in Saudi Arabia with reforms that embrace e-learning as the new technology. The recognition of e-learning as the new trend in universities has seen the enrolment of more students especially due to its gender-based platform that accommodates both genders with little or no room for discrimination. All applicants in the KSA educational system are given an equal opportunity to learn. Secondly, as the global and national economy continues to toughen, there has been dire demand for students to work and learn on part-time basis. E-learning has provided this opportunity (Quadri et al. 2017).

The government has also been able to save on its spending in the education sector as compared to the use of traditional learning methods. The different articles combined in this analysis present the growth and challenges of e-learning implementation in Saudi Arabia showing the positive impacts that e-learning has brought in the country. This paper will make comprehensive analysis of the different qualitative and quantitative research arguments presented on the growth and challenges faced by e-learning in Saudi Arabia. It will go ahead to compare and contrast the methodologies and methods used by researchers in the mentioned articles and compare the conclusions reached to the data that each article provides.

Advantages of E-learning Implementation in Saudi Arabia

In Barriers Effecting Successful Implementation of E-learning in Saudi Arabian Universities, Quadri et al. (2017), defines e-learning in different ways with the help of technology. The author goes ahead to defines e-learning as the “innovative approach to education delivery via electronic forms of information that enhance the student’s skills, knowledge, or other learning performance”. in all the articles, the stakeholders of e-learning have been presented as instructors, students, technical and administrative staff, and other relevant higher authorities in the education chain of command that ensure a successful implementation of the education system.

According to Quadri et al. (2017), the benefits of e-learning have been presented as enabling and effective student-student and student-instructor interaction for longer periods even after working hours. Secondly, information accessibility has been made easy for students to enable them access learning materials and online tutorials. This includes special learners being able to access relevant learning material very fast. Thirdly, the cost of teaching has been outlined to have reduced significantly in Saudi Arabia. This is because e-learning has reduced travelling expenses for students and it has also mitigated time wastage and efforts required by students to get to class and learn.

Moreover, students have appreciated this new learning trend since they get subsidized fee structures for e-learning courses. In addition, Quadri et al. (2017), continues to ascertain that the quality of teaching in Saudi Arabia has improved tremendously since it has become easier for a single teacher to handle a class of 100 students in a single platform unlike in traditional class sitting. The platform has enabled teachers to make learning more interactive and interesting by integrating pedagogical theories and multimedia enabled systems.

E-learning has also been established and designed to be student-cantered. This has enabled students to take a self-paced learning that gives them flexibility in coverage all learning processes. Moreover, in a case where age difference is of concern, such as in class sittings, e-learning provides a platform that has little or no face-to-face meeting and thus age difference stops becoming an issue. E-learning has thus enabled people of different cultures, religions, age-groups, and marital status to assemble on an equal learning platform with little or no discrimination.

Another advantage that e-learning may have fetched instructors in Saudi Arabia is the ease and ability to track student performance and attendance on online platforms. The e-learning management systems (LMS) enables provision of rich logs that make it easy for teachers to track student activities in the system. This means that a huge burden has been laid off from the shoulder of teachers and efficiency in student performance and activity monitoring enhanced.

On the other hand, Aljabre (2012), present more advantages of distance learning from a general perspective. They start by outlining that the young, old, handicapped, professionals, and stay-at-home parents can all enjoy e-learning platforms. The second advantage is that the platform is easy to use and mitigates the need for travelling to school and in the process saving time. The Saudi Arabian government offers free education from primary through higher education. To counter the digital divide within its people, KSA allots monetary stipends to students of higher learning so that they can utilize the learning opportunities presented.

However, some students opt to withdraw from distance education courses and enrol in the traditional class sitting setting. Most of these withdrawals have been attributed to cultural aspects that deter the embracement of digital e-learning. Another reason presented is that non-Western students tend to have a participative holistic analytical learning that is limited in e-learning and this discourages them from enrolling in e-learning classes (Aljabre, 2012).

However, due to religious and gender discrimination of women, e-learning has been proven to be desirable for them as compared to men. The use of e-learning in higher education has made them more aware of their rights and most of them have desired to become professionals and work outside homes. Another advantage is that the huge enrolment of students in higher learning has been made efficient by the introduction of e-learning as most of them can be flexibly enrolled to different local and international universities within and outside KSA respectively.

The advantages presented in, E-learning in Saudi Arabia: Past Present and Future, has been discusses in terms of the potential need for e-learning in KSA. The authors argue that the scarcity of faculty members in terms of quantity, which means that the number is less than anticipated, and quality (qualified personnel who can implement e-learning programs) is needed. It is argued that its implementation will lead to reduction of financial waste in the education sector.

There is also an influx in the education sector and the Saudi youth, less than 20 years enrolling in institutions of higher learning have increased by 48.57% (Al-Asmari & Rabb Khan, 2014). The population in remote areas has also been depicted as high and there is need to embrace e-learning as a platform to connect these people in active learning without hav9ng to travel to classrooms. The government’s desire to mitigate illiteracy has found an added advantage in providing a platform that can increase learning opportunities by over 40% from the current education level.

Growth and Learning in Saudi Arabia

The three articles present different views on the growth and development of e-learning in Saudi-Arabian Universities. According to Al-Asmari & Rabb Khan (2014), it is because of the growing global demand and importance of ICTs that the Saudi Arabian Kingdom decided to implement e-learning system as an alternative to traditional methods. The authors give a historical advent of ICT in the country in the 1990’s. The provision of ICT services in educational centres and schools was launched by the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) in 1996. However, the ambitious project to cover all KSA schools was launched in 2000.

Another project called the WATANI schools net project was launched in 2001 which utilized a Wide Area Network (WAN) in the coverage of the entire country for all public and private K-12 schools. It was not until 2002 that the same program was extended to the General organization for technical education and vocational training in KSA. The project was aimed at providing learning materials and training programs to all students and teachers in vocational schools.

On the other hand, in “An Exploration of Distance Learning in Saudi Arabian Universities: Current Practices and Future Possibilities” Quadri et al. (2017), start by presenting distance learning in Saudi Arabia as an emulation of the success of e-learning in the United States and the United Kingdom. A new realm of education has been embraced in KSA and this has created efficiency in terms of time-saving, subsidized fees structure, and no walking distance needed by for students.

The article goes ahead to outline that the introduction of e-learning platforms has enabled the dissemination of information on world cultures and diversity available to all students and this has promoted cohesion and integration among students. It continues to assert that the benefits of telecommunication and its application in e-learning have been undeniable. The wide scale application of e-learning has been proven to be beneficial to KSA in promoting quality and efficient education (Aljabre, 2012).

When it comes to Barriers Effecting Successful Implementation of E-learning in Saudi Arabian Universities, it presents the status of e-learning in Saudi-Arabian Universities growing rapidly and being appreciated by its citizens. Huge demand has been noted especially for those people who want to study and work at the same time. Shortage in female teaching staff has also been recognized due to the highly segregated gendered society. However, with the introduction of e-learning, many female instructors have enrolled since the platform has little or no room for gender discrimination.

Barriers to E-learning Implementation in KSA

E-learning in KSA has not been a smooth sail as each of the article outlines. According to Quadri et al. (2017), there has been a struggle in convincing some education stakeholders on the need to transit from traditional methods to e-learning education approaches. In a bid to understand these obstacles, researchers have classified them into barriers related to students, instructors, infrastructure and technology, and institutional management.

Al-Asmari & Rabb Khan (2014), continue to present a quantitative analysis of obstacles in the implementation of e-learning in KSA. It presents e-learning as a solution to those who cannot afford travel abroad to learn due to financial burdens, and those who require flexibility on their work-study arrangements, as well as those who have interests in studying in international universities. An analysis for preferred venues to conduct e-learning classes is presented which such options as home, probably at home, in class or lab, probably class or lab, and those who do not care where they take the online classes has been outlined.

Comparing Research Methodologies and Methods

In a bid to understand the obstacles that the implementation of e-learning in KSA is facing, each article presents a different research methodology. In Barriers Effecting Successful Implementation of E-learning in Saudi Arabian Universitie, Quadri et al. (2017), presents both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies to understand the implementation of e-learning in KSA universities and the challenges it faces.

The article starts by using qualitative techniques in reviewing in detail, different literatures. Different studies from IEEE, Emerald Publishers, Science-Direct, and Google scholar data bases among other sources have been used to qualitatively analyze previous research done o implementation of E-learning in KSA. The authors went ahead to conduct a quantitative research using survey method approach. The survey was conducted on 147 different students, staff, and instructors in different universities based in KSA.

Four experienced e-learning teachers and experts with 10-year experiences were asked to design e-survey instrument to be used in the survey. The quantitative research survey was aimed at determining the 16 barrier factors that instructors, students, infrastructure and technology, and institutional management face when implementing e-learning programs in KSA universities and other institutions of higher learning.

A reliability analysis was done on the designed research survey and it was determined that out of the 16 barriers presented, the one with 0.973 coefficient Alpha reliability value had the highest reliability in the four categories outlined. From a qualitative literature review analysis, the current e-learning status in KSA is improving under the care and guidance of the General Organization for Technical Education and Vocational Training (GOTEVOT) (Quadri et al. 2017).

However, there is a concern in the shortage presented by female teaching staff due to cultural and other gender related aspects that prevent them from realizing their potential. The establishment of the National Centre for E-learning and Distance Learning (NCeDL) has established essential changes that have seen the embracement of e-leaning despite the huge technological, cultural, institutional, and manpower technical skill deficiency challenges facing the country in ICT sector (Quadri et al. 2017).

The other article, An Exploration of Distance Learning in Saudi Arabian Universities: Current Practices and Future Possibilities, used a qualitative methodology in conducting a descriptive analysis of literature reviews from prior qualitative research done by different authors. According to Aljabre (2012), different aspects affecting Saudi Arabia in terms of e-learning include the distance e-learning, the need for e-learning expansion on KSA, distance learning tools used in KSA, and the future distance of distance learning have been outlined in the qualitative research approach.

The qualitative research review leads to the authors recommending for distance learning expansion in KSA due to a myriad of factors. The first on is the fact that the enrolment numbers have increased in public and private universities, and more women are opting for e-learning platforms where there is less discrimination. The number of students physically admitted to university of higher leraning continues to shrink as there is no space. However, e-learning fetches as remedy to these qualified students who lack opportunities to enrol.

Different institutions of higher learning in Saudi Arabia have expressed the commitment to train its staff on utilization of e-learning in teaching. Secondly, the government has continued to inject more money education to see to it that digitalization expands fully in the e-learning sector so that physical public institutions of higher learning can be decongested. This analytical review presented by Aljabre (2012) also presents the future of e-learning development in KSA.

According to Aljabre (2012), as technology continues to change, the functioning of e-learning will become more efficient. The KSA government has to embrace e-learning and encourage it on its people if the aspect of importing skills and labor from foreign countries is to change. Expansion of e-learning will see more students being given a chance to enrol in local and international universities thus reducing population influx pressure in the local universities.

According to Al-Asmari & Rabb Khan (2014), in E-learning in Saudi Arabia: Past, Present and Future, they present both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies in outlining e-learning development in KSA. The authors use an observational research method as well as literature review from work done by other experts in the field. The researchers go ahead to present a quantitative research conducted between 2000 and 2012 e-learning users. They also go ahead to conduct a web-based survey on the use and effects, and obstacles of e-learning technology implementation in Saudi Arabia.

The analysis also presents a survey on various reasons for Saudi Arabians opting to take online courses. Various reasons and their overall population representation have been outlined. Some of the reasons presented include the proximity to school, fun in experiencing e-learning, work-related aspects, improving chances for university admission in Saudi Arabia, courses not being available in the university they are already enrolled, and the convenience of learn while at home among other reasons (Al-Asmari & Rabb Khan, 2014).

Other aspects quantitatively analyzed and presented include reasons for some people failing to take courses on the internet. Some of the surveyed reasons include the course being offered not accredited in KSA, little chances of promotions in the workplace, irrelevance of the course in the profession, others cite little interactions with faculty and other students on a face-to-face basis, and others cite worry for value of education presented by e-learning (Aljabre, 2012).

Different obstacles have been discussed and presented in this article starting with technical obstacles. According to Al-Asmari & Rabb Khan (2014), smooth functioning of e-technologies and expertise in learning tools are the major technical obstacles that face e-learning in KSA. Technical disruptions during teaching tend to cause data loss due to weak CIT infrastructure and weak networks. Another constant problem presented in the survey is the constant disabling of connections by Wide Area Networks (WANs), and World Wide Web (WWW).

There lacks the required expertise in dealing with these technical issues. This is because when students or teachers troubleshoot for causes of error, they find nothing neither in LANs nor Internet Service Providers (IPS). Computer laboratories present another problem due to software and hardware damages as a result of misuse and irresponsible transfer of data to external storages lead to virus transfer to the system. This affects students seriously during exams and exam cancellations and delays are thus done (Al-Asmari & Rabb Khan, 2014).

Other obstacles presented include material and financial related obstacles. In KSA e-learning is a new phenomenon and thus huge budgets for infrastructure is required. Equipping labs, installing new version programs, and availing reliable network are serious concerns for e-learning implementation in KSA. The spread of e-learning technology and infrastructure has been implemented in major cities only while most small towns lack the capacity (Aljabre, 2012).

Organizational and administrative obstacles come in terms of shortage in teachers who can implement e-learning programs efficiently. The knowledge needed in e-learning has not yet been fully impacted in a considerable quorum of instructors. Other staffs in these education institutions fear that computers will finish their jobs thus a negative attitude in implementing e-learning program efforts. From an administrative prospect, a lot of bureaucracy has been instituted in some of the institutions of higher learning and they frustrate the implementation of e-learning programs.

Findings

The findings presented by Quadri et al. (2017), in the qualitative-quantitative research survey in terms of barriers facing the implementation of e-learning have been classified into four categories; student’s dimension, instructor’s dimension, infrastructure and Technology dimensions, and Institutional management dimensions. All these warrant the conclusion made in the article in regard to e-learning implementation, impacts, and challenges faced in its implementation.

From a student Dimension, such aspects as lack of motivation, poor proficiency in English language, lack of E-learning knowledge, and lack of ICT skills are some of the major barriers that students face. However, lack of motivation was ranked the highest barriers to e-learning embracement by students based in KSA universities. When it comes to instructor’s dimension, lack of motivation, poor ICT skills, instructor’s resistance to change, lack of e-learning knowledge, and lack of time to develop e-course were the main barriers to embracement of e-learning by instructors (Quadri et al. 2017). However, lack of time to develop e-course was the highest barrier to instructors.

More quantitative results in the survey showed that infrastructure and technology development dimension outlined the following as the main barriers; inappropriate infrastructure, low internet bandwidth, and lack of technical support. The highest mean affecting technological effect was “low network bandwidth”. When it comes to institutional management dimension, lack of financial support, lack of instructional design, poor training in E-learning, and lack of inadequate policies are the main barriers to e-learning (Quadri et al. 2017).

On the other hand, Al-Asmari & Rabb Khan (2014), found that e-learning has had a number if impacts in Saudi-Arabia in terms of efficiency in delivering learning effectiveness. The first impact outlined is the ability of students to learn flexibly at their own pace. Time saving, and reduction of travel expenses was found to be another positive impact. The quantitative results presented showed that Improvement in quality of e-learning would motivate students in the pursuance of online courses.

Conclusion

The three articles present a comprehensive analysis of e-learning in Saudi Arabia both qualitatively and quantitatively. The first article goes ahead to conclude that the outlined 16 barriers based on Cronbach’s Alpha values are the most effective in ensuring a successful E-learning implementation in KSA if addressed. The research concludes that more attention should be provided to the above barriers. On the other hand, E-learning in Saudi Arabia: Past, Present and Future, concludes on a positive note that the future of e-learning in Saudi Arabia is promising since ICT awareness and promotion in education has now become a national policy. The improvement of internet facilities and professional capacity will maximize benefits of e-learning. The use of incentives will promote higher interests for students to enrol in e-learning and instructors to be motivated in handling the online learning platforms. Finally, the article An Exploration of Distance Learning in Saudi Arabian Universities: Current Practices and Future Possibilities, concludes by outlining that improvement in ICT has led to embracement of e-learning which has promoted distant learning. Distance e-learning will serve as a solution to the dilemma facing KSA universities.

References

Al-Asmari, A. M., & Rabb Khan, M. S. (2014). E-learning in Saudi Arabia: Past, present and future. Near and Middle Eastern Journal of Research in Education, 2.

Aljabre, A. (2012). An exploration of distance learning in Saudi Arabian universities: Current practices and future possibilities. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning9(2), 21-28.

Quadri, N. N., Muhammed, A., Sanober, S., Qureshi, M. R., & Shah, A. (2017). Barriers Effecting Successful Implementation of E-Learning in Saudi Arabian Universities. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (iJET), 12(06), 94. doi:10.3991/ijet.v12i06.7003