Online Learning: A Pathway To Inclusive Higher Education

May 1, 2023 thehrobserver-hrobserver-onlinelearning

By equipping individuals with the knowledge, skills, and values they need to succeed in the world, education can help to create a more informed.

Education is a powerful tool that can transform individuals, communities, and societies. From enhancing economic opportunities to promoting social mobility and equity, education can unlock a range of positive outcomes. By equipping individuals with the knowledge, skills, and values they need to succeed in the world, education can help to create a more informed, innovative, and productive society. Education plays a critical role in shaping the future of our world. However, unfortunately for so many this simple right of education is a luxury and not by default.

This perception often stems from socio-economic factors, such as financial constraints or systemic inequalities. Many individuals need help accessing higher education due to financial barriers or limited educational opportunities. Online learning can make a significant impact here in specifically tackling some of these challenges. 

Addressing misconceptions about online learning

While the pandemic presented many challenges for the education sector, it highlighted the potential of online learning to offer greater flexibility, accessibility, and innovation in education. Mainstreaming these learning styles helped considerably shift some negative perceptions around obtaining a degree remotely. However, more needs to be done towards normalizing online learning regarding tertiary education. For some, online learning was viewed with cynicism about its quality of education and effectiveness. However, any innovation across any sector comes with this risk until more people see the actual benefits of the approach. And there are plenty of reasons why online education shouldn’t be looked at as a compromise.

Today, technology is first nature to most students. From notetaking on their laptops to using online learning tools, technology has made education more engaging, offering diverse materials, multimedia-rich content and creative tools for learning.  This more engaging method of learning has also brought benefits in reducing the dropout rates with student retention actually increasing from 25% to 60% due to online learning as reported in a recent study by the Research Institute of America.  

Another common misconception is that online learning is an isolating experience. However, the current dynamic online learning platforms have radically altered this. Virtual classrooms today help you connect to a global student community and offer valuable resources beyond just your course tutors. Furthermore, students exhibit a higher degree of self-discipline and responsibility, traits often favoured by hiring managers.  

A Stronger Ecosystem for Quality Online Education

For us at the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation, what makes digital learning exciting is that it makes education more accessible, preventing future learning losses. We have been working in the online learning space since 2016 and have focused on mobilizing relevant stakeholders and advocating for the recognition of online learning. In addition, we have been working with universities in the region and beyond to build digital learning capacity and work towards the accreditation of online programs strengthening and making them accessible to more students in the country.

Our partnership with MIT on the Open Learning Scholars Program (OLSP) and with the Ministry of Education to form the University Consortium for Quality Online Learning (UCQOL) to support select UAE universities in developing accredited online university programs, and the establishment of Abdulla Al Ghurair Hub for Digital Teaching and Learning at the American University of Beirut, to improve access to quality online education for thousands of Arab youth across the region are just a few examples.

Online learning can democratize education

From student debts and outdated curricula to limited flexibility and inequitable outcomes, traditional modes of tertiary education display some significant downsides, and students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to succeed or graduate if there are no alternative modes. This is not to say that digital or online education presents a silver bullet, but that it can be part of the solution to equitable higher education. Given that the global eLearning market is estimated to reach $350 billion by 2025, there need to be bouts of investment to support students and make online learning a viable option. 

With all these variables considered, it becomes evident that institutions cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach to learning. Instead, online learning has the potential to democratize education, offering individuals from remote areas or with family commitments or other challenges the opportunity to access quality education.

As we continue towards a more tech-driven world, it’s important that we prioritise investment in online learning opportunities that cater to all learners. This means collaborating with stakeholders to create an inclusive and accessible education system that works for everyone. By working together with educators, students, and other stakeholders, we can transform education for the better.

Malakeh El Haj

Director of Knowledge and Innovation at the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation

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