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Online Lerning in the Arab World

Page history last edited by Zainab Al-Shidhani 10 years, 11 months ago



Online Lerning in the Arab World



Montaha Almansour & Zainab Al-Shidhani


Online learning is a wide term that describes a learning environment that depends on the electronic delivery of course content or course materials over the Internet.

This paper has been organized in the following way. The first section provides an overview of online learning. The second gives a brief outline of the status of online learning in the Arab world. The third provides examples of online learning in the Arab world. The final section is the conclusion.

An overview of online learning

The term “distance learning” evolved to describe another kind of learning, which is online learning (Conrad, 2006). How learning occurs and is communicated are important changes with regard to distance education. This involves learning new forms of communication through improvements and the variety of technologies available through the Internet. One of these forms is online learning, which has been known since the 1980s (Harasim, 2000). Online learning is a form of distance learning which is used to focus on restrictions related to time and place (Guilar & Loring, 2008). Online learning is defined as the ability to reach learning experiences through technology (Conrad, 2002; Carliner, 2004).

Benson (2002) and Conrad (2002) define online learning as an improved version of distance learning, and they define online learning as the ability of both non-traditional and disenfranchised groups to access educational opportunities. The accessibility of online learning is not the main point of online learning for other authors; they also discuss its connectivity, flexibility and ability to encourage varied interactions (Hiltz & Turoff, 2005).

Online learning includes many applications and processes such as web-based learning, virtual classroom opportunities, computer-based learning, and digital collaboration. A learning environment has different types of design depending on several points, such as learning objectives, target audiences, and type of content (Moore et al., 2010). An online learning environment (OLE) can be assumed to be an “umbrella” term that involves different learning environments (Barnard-Brak et al., 2010). These environments include the following: a course management system (CMS), a learning management system (LMS), a virtual learning environment (VLE), or even a knowledge management system (KMS). A CMS is also known as a collaborative learning environment and is defined as a set of tools related to the development and delivery of courses (Gagné et al., 2005, p. 219). However, a learning management system is defined as more of an administration system to manage the delivery of online learning (2005, p. 339). A VLE is a system that contains a set of teaching and learning tools for delivering learning materials to students via the web and enhancing a student's learning experience. Finally, a KMS is a computerized system that stores and retrieves knowledge, improves collaboration, supports creation, and facilitates the discovery, capture, integration, sharing or delivery of knowledge. All these terms can be referenced by an online learning environment (Barnard-Brak et al., 2010).

Online learning in the Arab world

Arab countries share many features; specifically: language and traditions. However, there are variations in the population, economics, wealth, security, education, and infrastructure.

As a result of changes in many factors, such as society, culture, the economy, employment, and information technology, online learning has developed dramatically throughout the last ten years, although online learning does not have a long history in the Arab world (al-Harthi, 2005). This improvement in online learning has also increased the number of online learning programs and drives many universities in a number of Arab countries to provide offers to students, such as those from Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon (Mohamed, 2005).

Online learning has grown to become an important part of higher education in the Arab world.  Online learning depends on four basic factors that are different from one Arab country to another: 1) the digital infrastructure, 2) the Internet, 3) PCs, and 4) the price of the Internet connection. It is worth mentioning that the situation in the Arab Gulf is more helpful and better than in other countries, such as Yemen. This means that some Arab countries are at a good level of online learning, while others remain at the concept stage. There are several factors challenging the spread of online learning in the Arab world (explored later in this paper). (Elango et al., 2008).

Many of the educational institutions in the Gulf region play a main role in online learning success.  Although there are variable degrees in the digital willingness in different parts of the Arab world, a good growth rate of online learning possibility has been observed (Sadik, 2013) It is interesting to note that in the e-learning market in the Arab Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman) the total spending was $72 million in 2004, rising to $240 million by the end of 2009. It is worth mentioning that Saudi Arabia and the UAE represent 80% of the total. Researchers point out that although the reach of the Internet in the Arab Gulf countries is poor, Saudi Arabia is on the top line in academic e-learning due to the large number in the student population, while the UAE uses direct to business e-learning services. It is worth mentioning that efforts are still being made by governments in the Arab world to improve online learning (Elango et al., 2008).

The beginning:

Beirut Declaration on Higher Education in the Arab States for the XXIst Century (1998), emphasized in the use of the new information and communication technologies to widen access to the higher education in the Arab world. In addition, it mentioned the benefits of the utilization of the modern ICT in the “quality, relevance, access and cost of higher education”. Moreover, it stated how the ICT introduction into the higher education will ease the communication and interactions between teachers, students and researchers in one hand, and the information access to all of them in the other hand. Also, this could open opportunities for distance, open, and life-long learning.  (UNESCO, 1998).

In responding to that, Arab states have adopted new visions to try to follow the socio-economically developed nations. One important vision is the application of the distance education with the assistance of ICT. (Mohamed, 2005).


Online learning become a need in the Arab world for many reasons. The following, are some of the main reasons:

1.       Provide learning opportunities:

Many universities offer online distance education for those who would like to study but they are working, have families’ commitments, or live in remote areas. (Rhema & Miliszewska, 2010, pg. 427)


2.       Survive with population increase:

Many of the Arab states like Egypt and Libya have big populations. Every year, millions of students finish the secondary education to start their studies at the college level. Therefore, open and virtual universities have been established to provide education to the Arab citizens. (UNESCO, 2003)

3.       Corporate Training:

Some Arab states like the UAE, realized the need to a cost-effective and continuous training solution in the globalizing and fast-growing economics world. In addition, online learning is good solutions for professionals who seek to upgrade their salaries and profiles in a very competitive market (Guessoum, 2006).

4.       Overcome the problems caused by difficult political and social situations:

According to Abdeen et al. (2008), Students in the West Bank, Palestine benefit from online learning to overcome the difficulties created by the political problems and physical wall. Students and faculty of Al Quds University were forced to use videoconferencing, telemedicine and e-learning because they were unable to move between the campus and the hospitals.

There are many examples of online learning application in the Arab world mentioned in the literature to prove the feasibility of such approach for the Arab world.



There are many online learning opportunities in the Arab world. Some traditional universities provide online courses for distance students besides their traditional-nature courses. In addition, there are some open universities like: the Arab Open University and Libya Open University. Moreover, there are totally online universities like: Syrian Virtual University and Hamdan Bin Mohammed e-University. In the following lines, we present overview of some of these universities mentioned above.

1.       Traditional universities:

Most of the traditional universities in the Arab world uses online learning as a form of supporting the face-to-face courses using learning management systems (Mirza et al., 2011). One of the current projects in the area is the The Hashemite University in Jordan e-learning centre. This centre is built to simulate “a classroom atmosphere though a digitized, internet-enabled eLearning module equipped with visual and descriptive educational content’’ (Arabian Busines.com 2008)

1.       The Arab Open University (AOU):

The AOU was established in 1999, in cooperation with the British Open University (OU). It has 6 branches (KSA, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Bahrain and Oman) in addition to its main campus in Kuwait. AOU utilized the ICT to make higher education and continuing education accessible “to every willing and capable Arab citizen” (Arab Gulf Program For United Nations Development Organizations, 1999).

Arab Open University uses moodle as the LMS (learning management system). Learning is delivered in blended mode. Students attend some lectures and the rest is through the management system (AOU Oman, 2013)

2.       Syrian Virtual University  (SVU):

According to Krauth (1999), "A virtual university has no campus and no faculty of its own. Instead, a virtual university makes available programs and courses offered by other colleges and universities using technology”.

The Syria Ministry of Higher Education created the SVU in 2002 to provide online learning to the entire Arab region and market. It was the first type of its kind in the Arab area at that time. All the instruction delivered online. Currently, the SVU programs consist of courses created by foreign universities that have strong experience in online learning as the SVU has partnership with these universities. (UNESCO, 2003).

Internet was introduced to Syria in 2000. Such project needed a stronger technological infrastructure. Therefore, SVU established tele-centre through the country, Saudia Arabia and Dubai to ease students communication and examination. Students use these centres  during the year free-of-charge. (SVU, 2013)

3.       HBMeU (Hamdan Bin Mohammed e-University)

HBMeU (previously known as e-TQM college) was established in 2002. It was the first of its kind in the UAE. It is equipped with an e-learning platform to “encourage the interest, uptake and application of … Technology Quality Management ... thinking in the Arab world through innovative, affordable and accessible means”. As from its name. almost all the services in this university are offered online (admission, learning, resources, etc)



Online learning application in the Arab world is challenged by different factors. Some of these challenges are:

1.      Language and Culture:

Since Arabic is the common and official language of the general education in the Arab states, but English is the dominating language in the world today. This, in turn, made a limited successful in the digital world in the Arab world. The main factor in the online learning world for students is their ability to participate and be active. Language is important tool in this regard. (Elango, 2008). In addition, Arabic is not common language in the information technology spaces. (Guessoum, 2006). Therefore, language is a factor challenges online learning in the Arab world. Moreover, some Arab states refused the internet introduction and any related applications for years due to their fear of immoral values and bad effect that internet could bring-about (Mirza, 1998). Mirza et al. (2011) added, in some states, conservative religious clerics warned the society from the internet negative effects in peoples believes and life.


2.      Awareness and attitudes:

Many people in the Arab world are still unaware about the learning online. Mirza et al (2011) mentioned that very low percentage of people are familiar with e-learning systems including people ate academic level and employees from governmental and private sector.

Sadik (2013) surveyed the public believes in the online degrees and found that traditional degrees are more preferable than online degrees in the Arab world. People are not certain about the authenticity of interactions between teachers and students in the online courses. In addition, resources accessibility and quality of content are real issues in the Arab world in the online learning.

Sadik (2013, pg. 31) added, Arab publics claim that online learningcould lead to dishonesty and cheating in coursework and exams, ignore admission standards and regulations, and do not pay much attention to practical skills, sense of academic community, and direct interaction

3.      Users Technological skills:

Both faculty and students computer skills are important in the online learning. Abbad et al. (2009) mentioned that students experience in using the internet is an important factor in adoption of e-learning. This is because students feel confident to learn online when they can use the online learning materials. Faculty ability to develop online learning materials and to use the cyberspace to communicate with their students depend in their technological skills. For that reason many e-learning courses didn’t stand themselves to e-learning because faculty members are not able to develop them further or at least mange them (Mirza et al. , 2011).

4.      Technical and pedagogical Support:

In relation to the previous point, technical support is crucial to prevent online learning project from collapse. (Abbad, 2009). In addition, online learning materials should be designed by pedagogical specialists to make them effective and efficient (Guessoum, 2006). To overcome pedagogical problems, some universities ,like: AOU and SVU, have partnership with experienced universities in the online learning like the UKOU and universities from Canada and Europe.  ( Syrian Virtual University home page, 2003)

Rhema et al. (2010) mentioned two additional challenges: underdeveloped technological infrastructure and the cost of the needed technologies.






Although the Arab world started bit late in the online learning field, they did good efforts to apply it and benefit from the ICTs. The start was a declaration. Online learning served many Arabic citizens. It provided learning opportunities for workers, housewives, residents of remote areas and many others.  Many challenges faced online learning existence in the Arab world, starting from the internet introduction, infrastructure, moving to peoples’ minds and attitudes. Most of these challenges has been overcome. Today, many Arab universities and businesses use online learning as learning solution to help people learn and become more knowledgeable and skilled.





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