Is it Time for the UAE to Expand Online Learning?

Over the past week I have been reading articles and studies on e-learning in the United States and the Middle East. This includes online student enrollment, Learning Management Systems (LMS) and the expansion of online corporate training in the Middle East.

This will be part one of a two-part series on e-learning. The first part will look at learning management systems and student enrollment.

Learning Management Systems

Based on my knowledge of the higher education market in the UAE, Blackboard continues to be the clear market leader for larger schools with Desire2Learn making gains and Moodle a favorite among smaller schools. In a few cases UAE universities have built their own Learning Management System. The majority of UAE approved schools have installed a LMS but are used only for supplemental or blended learning.

The United States is a much different story.  The chart below shows you the number of schools who have a LMS with a student enrollment of 800 and above.

Detailed 2014 LMS usage data for higher education institutions with > 800 enrollments (United States)
Detailed 2014 LMS usage data for higher education institutions with > 800 enrollments (United States)

Other platforms not currently used in the UAE include Canvas, and Sakai. Also the LMS market has been revitalized over the past few years and appropriately 40 additional platforms are installed at various higher education institutions. Blackboard is still the LMS leader but its market share is slowly eroding.

Of the 3296 higher education institutions in the US with enrollment of 800 and above, only 7% of the schools (2% of the total student enrollment) do not have a LMS and online programs.

Online Enrollment in the UAE and United States

In the United Arab Emirates exclusive online learning is less than 1% of the overall higher education enrollment. Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University with an enrollment of 731 is the only UAE university approved by the CAA to enrolled students exclusively in distance education courses.

According to the United States Department of Education 12.5% (2,642,000) of the 21 million higher education students enrolled in the fall of 2012 are students enrolled exclusively in distance education courses. This breaks down to 11% of the undergraduates (2,003,000) and 22% of the graduate students (639,000).

For-profit higher education institutions in the United States have a significant online population.  The report states 58% (675,000) of their undergraduate students are enrolled exclusively in distance education courses and 76.5% (226,000) of their graduate students. In other words 61% of the students attending four-year and above for-profit higher education institutions attend online. It is important to note the vast majority of these undergraduate students are above the age of 25 and second chance students. Many work full-time and are taking online classes part-time.

When you analyze non-profit state and private colleges and universities you see only 7% of the undergraduate students and 15% of the graduate students are enrolled exclusively in distance education courses.

Should the UAE expand its offerings of online degrees?

Most US schools whether proprietary or non-profit have 10 – 15 years of practical online teaching experience. Numerous surveys of senior higher education officials state the overall quality of online courses are equal to the face to face classes.

My view is the UAE should expand its online degree offerings but start with a limited number of institutions. The UAE Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA) needs to make sure online programs are of equal quality of face to face classes. The CAA should consider encouraging a group of well established private and federal institutions to offer Bachelors and Masters degree programs in subject areas such as Business, and Informational Technology. For undergraduates, focus online programs to encourage non-traditional students to return as part-time students by offering degrees using a combination of courses online and face to face. The programs would be conditionally sanctioned by the CAA as they now do with all new programs and after one or two graduation cycles determine if the programs are meeting the academic standards.

That is what I think and now I would like your opinion.  Should UAE higher education institutions be encouraged to offer online degree programs. If yes tell me why and what programs, if no give your thoughts why the UAE should avoid this practice.

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