E-learning offers limitless opportunities ‘Any university that does not go online by 2015 will be out of business’

WELCOME to the world of education without boundaries. You can receive a comprehensive education from a world-class institution — all from a laptop or desktop computer. You can study the course of your choice offered by universities across the world, from within the comforts of your home. Online distance education is redefining the way people study. Not only can you study at your own pace, you can also interact with hundreds of students across the world. Outside the realm of formal education, the Internet has obviously emerged as a key learning tool. If you’re an adult who’s done with your formal education but has some question of fact or some skill you want to master, the natural first place to turn is the Internet or for those who feel too old to go to the classroom, they have a better option now to finish their degrees.

In the past years, providers of massive open online courses (MOOCs) have won partnerships and pilot programs with universities, as well as credit equivalency approval from Higher Education authorities around the world. With many online universities now being accredited, the degrees offered by these universities are recognised worldwide. So, if you are looking at better prospects, without quitting your job, this may be the way to go!

Aamir Farooq Muhammed, the CEO of the International Institute of Computer Science and Administration who has pioneered Real Time Online Dynamic Learning Management System in ICSA Kuwait, in this interview provides an overview about the fundamentals of online education, planning and application, online learning pedagogy, online course design, online assessments, managing an online class, web tools and Learning Management Systems and the challenges of online learning.

Question: How would you describe the growth and development of distance learning and online education?
Answer: In the past decade, online education has significantly increased in popularity among students of all ages. This is mainly because taking courses at online schools and universities offer clear benefits over taking courses at conventional educational facilities. In the past, distance learning was based on modules, wherein modules are sent to students in places where they are and they send back the requirements that are asked from them. The students had to read books and follow the guidelines that the school gave them. But today, thing have changed for distance learning, set-up has changed now with the advent of technology. No more modular system, now distance learning has gone online and has become very close to the real time class room. There are short term or crash courses and long term course or bachelor’s degree being offered now online. We’re now having the real time dynamic online classroom through the technology called LMS or Learning Management System. Many of the universities have started using this. For instance, Liverpool University and Oxford University and most of the universities in the UK and USA are using the latest real time dynamic LMS. It’s amazing, students will not feel that they are not in the classroom. Once they log in the system and they can see the lecture presentations. He or she will be able to see the complete presentation at his or her own convenience.

Q: What do you think has led to the growth and greater acceptance of online education today?
A: The advent and immense growth of IT has greatly influenced the public’s acceptance of online education. Several years ago, there were some complaints and some hesitations on distance learning. Some were doubtful on how effective it is and there were some questions on the accreditation of courses. But things have changed now, people have become more receptive to the idea of online education than the traditional classroom set-up. I can say that we learn from watching or listening or both. These two senses are stronger than other senses when it comes to learning. With the audio-visual combination as we hear and see the lectures on the LCD screen, we get both features needed for learning. Today, there are more than 3,000 accredited and licensed online schools and universities accredited by educational authorities that have no difference at all with the learning that you get from actual classroom scenario.

Q: What are the advantages of online learning?
A: Online learning, or e-learning, offers a number of advantages for people and companies looking to develop a new content program or curricula — none bigger than the ability to offer that training anywhere, anytime. That means whether your trainees are all together in a classroom or scattered all over the country in different time zones, they can still tap into the same course materials, and at a time that’s convenient to them. Small wonder, then, why online and e-learning has caught on with schools and universities, retail chains, top corporations, and among professional trainers. Teachers can optimize the timeliness and focus of the curriculum, students can better fit learning time into their schedules, and companies end up spending less on training their workforce.

Online learning allows a more student-centered teaching approach. Because every student has his or her way of learning that works for them, getting an online education may help in ensuring that each lesson or material is completely understood before moving on to the next, which in turn, could result in better learning. Online course materials can be accessed 24 hours a day every day. This means that students can easily read and review lectures, discussions and other materials relevant to their course. There are some students who find it a bit difficult to understand spoken material in a typical classroom setting because of a number of distractions, boredom or tiredness. Because they can simply access the material online once they are prepared to learn, students are able to take in and understand the material a lot better.

Q: If one wants to embark on an online education, what does she or he take into consideration?
A: Students need to determine if online learning is an option for them because not everyone does well with this type of study. Some questions that any potential online students should ask is whether or not they can learn independently; how organized they are with their time; whether they are computer savvy; their level of reading comprehension; and if they have at least 10 hours a week to devote to each course. Many make the mistake of assuming that an online class will be easier than one taken in a traditional classroom. Often online instructors assign more reading materials than required in a regular classroom to ensure that students are engaged. Motivation is key to an online student’s success as is his ability to reach out to both instructors and fellow students using software.

Q: How popular is online education in Kuwait?
A: Online education has become very popular now in Kuwait especially among expatriates because it offers flexibility to students. Because they can attend classes and courses whenever and wherever there is a computer and access to the Internet, they can easily plan out a schedule that would work for them. Because of the flexibility offered by online learning, not only undergraduate students, but also individuals who already have full-time jobs or other commitments are able to take supplementary courses and even earn their college degrees online. There are even some household workers in Kuwait who have good employers who are now continuing their education online. In an online setting, a student is marked present as if the student has actually participated in the classroom discussion. This encourages students to interact, increasing the diversity of opinion as everyone, and not just one or two students, is given the opportunity to share their thoughts.

Q: Is online education more expensive than the traditional classroom education?
A: Online education offers a lot of savings because there are no additional costs for transportation and accommodation. Online education programs and courses also cost a lot cheaper than courses that can be taken in a traditional school. There are also plenty of online course offerings and education programs that offer the opportunity to students to connect with the most renowned professors and lecturers in the world. Making use of the tools and resources available on the Internet to attend classes, research information and communicate or interact with other students can help in learning the skills an individual needs in order to adapt with the present and future technology that is used in the business world or in the industry he or she is interested to work in.

Q: Some say that online education is detached and offers no interaction with fellow students and professors. What can you say about this?
A: Students who are taking online classes can also socialize, interact and discuss things that are not related to the course through “chat rooms” which are usually offered by most online institutions. There are also “webinars” offered in real time. Because online instructors usually come from different locations across the globe, students are exposed to knowledge shared by the instructors which cannot be learned in books. The different personal backgrounds of online instructors also allow them to teach students different perspectives on how class concepts can be applied in actual business situations. Students of online courses are also given the chance to talk with their instructors whenever they want to. Through online chat, email and newsgroup discussions, students and teachers can discuss concerns related to the material without having to wait for office hours.

Q: How would you describe the retention of students who are into online education?
A: I can say that there is better retention with online education. Because for instance, in coed universities, some students are distracted and can’t focused well on their studies with factors like their classmates, opposite sex and the environment itself. With clever design, user experience, and multimedia, online instruction can prove to be a richer and more effective learning experience than traditional methods and channels. An online student can go over and over the lecture presentations unlike in a traditional classroom, you can’t ask the professor to keep on repeating the lecture till you get it. Students taking up online education can get immediate results and feedback. Anyone who has graded papers knows it can get tedious, and it’s time-consuming. Many of the most popular standardized tests, in fact, still rely on evaluation techniques with slow results. Most online learning technologies integrate online quizzes and other tools to more rapidly evaluate the pace of learning. So you take online quizzes and you get the results as soon as you submit your answers to the quiz. One more thing, we can always monitor the progress of every student through the system. We can see how frequent the student logs on and what he or she browses on and studies.

Q: What are the setbacks of online education?
A: The advantages of online education can become the disadvantages if you are not the right candidate for online education. The flexibility of planning your own schedule in online education could be the disadvantages for you if you are a type of person that can’t manage your time probably between your work, family and study. If you are this kind of person, a pre-plan schedule may fit you well, letting yourself to study at your own pace with your own schedule may cause you to fail to complete your degree program. As most of online learning materials are in text format, if you are not comfortable with this format and prefer to listen to the lecture instead of reading it. Then, it will become the disadvantage for you and you need to reconsider your decision before you choose online education to be your degree pursuing channel. Are you able to communicate well through chats and discussion forum? You must understand that these media are the key communication channels in online learning environment and you must be able to adapt to it else it will become a disadvantage for you. That’s why, it’s very important that you have to be determined and focused if you want to be successful in everything that you do including online education.

Q: What are the challenges that online education face these days?
A: For online learning to succeed, it is essential that we find and train instructors who can adapt to this new medium. Fortunately, new technology makes it possible for instructors to create exciting new ways to learn online that engage students in ways that are more effective than a lecture hall with hundreds of students. We also need to develop a national transfer of certain online courses that can be taken anywhere in the country and then transferred to the student’s home institution. No student should face being shut out of a class he needs to get a degree when he can take the same course online at another institution. Higher education officials need to seek out partnerships with technology companies to ensure that their online learning courses take advantage of all new developments that increase the capacity to learn. Just like in our case, we are affiliated to a university in the Philippines, the Wisdom International School for Higher Education and it’s the first online school in the Mindanao region that offers a business degree. Masters degree or even Phd and right now we have 250 students Kuwait. The possibilities are limitless with online education.

Q: What are the prospects of online education in the future in Kuwait and across the globe?
A: More and more schools and universities are starting to offer online education to students and even to those who are working full time in offices and various disciplines. This gives even more options as far as online education programs and courses are concerned, allowing students to choose those which they think would best help them in achieving their personal and educational goals. People have to be more open to online education. For instance, here in Kuwait with the new labour law in place, expats who are working in offices like managers, supervisors or executive secretaries need to have a diploma whenever they renew their visas otherwise their visas won’t be renewed except if they have been working for at least 10 years in that position. I know some who have been working as a secretary for five or six years who need to have a diploma for their visa renewal. Most of our students right now have full time jobs but unfortunately did not finish a degree but with online education, they can have better career growth and they can stay longer in Kuwait for greener pasture. As Bill Gates has said, any university that does not go online by 2015 will be out of business. So this is the way to go and we have to embrace the concept of online learning and maximize it to our own advantage for our professional growth.


Aamir Farooq Muhammad is the CEO of the International Institute of Computer Science and Administration (ICSA) and Managing Director of the Computer Information Technology Center in Kuwait. He has also worked as Marketing Manager at the Kuwait Classified Advertising & Publishing Co. He is also a certified General Motors (GM) Certified Computer Diagnostic Engineer.

Educational Background
Completed his Bachelor degree and Masters degree in Business Administration and a Certificate Course in Automobile Engineering in the United Kingdom.

Founded the International Institute of Computer Science (ICSA) in Kuwait
Established the Real Time Online Dynamic Learning Management System at ICSA
Established Computer Information Technology Center (CITC) & Software Development & IT support
Established the Kuwait Business Pocket Directory (Kuwait Classified Advertising & Publishing Co)

Michelle Fe Santiago - Arab Times Staff

By: Aamir Farooq Muhammed

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