Online Education is Changing How We Learn

Internationalization was one of the biggest buzzwords at the Gulf Education Conference and Exhibition (GECE) that took place in London earlier this week, but so were Massive Open Online Courses — widely known as MOOCs — the newest disruptors in education.

Designed to be an inclusive way to disseminate knowledge throughout an unlimited pool of students over wide-ranging geographical areas, MOOCs are a significant point of discussion for those interested in the future landscape of higher education.

The Challenges and Benefits of MOOCs

Tim Gore, director of Global Networks and Communities for the University of London’s International Programs, spoke at the GECE earlier this week on the opportunities and challenges of MOOCs and blended learning: combining both on-site and online classes for students.

The University of London uses a full Coursera platform for its distance learning programs, but Gore notes that there are significant challenges before this becomes the norm for universities across the globe. “Distance learning is not fully accepted by everyone,” Gore said.

High dropout rates and the fact that all programs are not necessarily accredited are what Gore says to be the most significant challenges that MOOCs face today.

Gore says that he blames the low retention rate of some MOOCs to the lack of preparation given to students regarding the changing paradigm in distance and online education, compared to more conventional formats.

“Students adapt well to online learning, but it needs to be a structured process,” Gore said. “You can’t just suddenly change pedagogical approaches and expect students to integrate seamlessly.”

The University of London’s MOOC program extends beyond traditional off-site international students. The premise of the open source learning structure is designed around an inclusive practice, which includes people with disabilities, travel restrictions, and even prison time.

This wide-ranging group of potential students creates some hurdles to overcome for not only pupils and educators, but institutions as well. “Very often the biggest resource constraint is trained teachers and facilities to provide the teaching,” Gore said.

GECE was hosted in London to establish links between U.K. and Gulf-region institutions; something that Gore says is going to be no small task. “In the Gulf in particular, a lot of students won’t be familiar with online learning,” Gore said.

Arab Open University (AOU) is following in the University of London’s footsteps with its online learning program, by taking a blended approach, which gives students the opportunity to take classes in both a brick and mortar institution and via internet access at their discretion. AOU operates in several locations across the Middle East, including Kuwait, Jordan, and Lebanon.

Gore cautioned that although the internationalization goals of higher education are a novel and progressive idea, it is important to keep in mind that it is equally important to make sure that the broad international goals coincide with the practical objectives of the localities.

Gore added that it’s ultimately the students who should benefit from the experience of participating in MOOCs. “The question is, are we doing enough to guide them to that experience?”

Image courtesy of Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung

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