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Online education – pros and cons – discussed at fourth Education Forum

Academics in the region need to go beyond debating the pros and cons of online education and instead need to focus on integrating their efforts towards the creation of a standardised model of education that combines elements of both one-on-one classroom education and e-learning platforms. This was the conclusion drawn today at the fourth Education Forum organised by Dubai International Academic City (DIAC).

Professor John Grainger, pro-vice chancellor and executive VP at Murdoch University, International Study Centre, Dubai said, “The decision for and against online education seems to me to be an unsolvable problem, where some academicians still prefer conventional education other prefer to capitalise on the technology and Internet to go beyond traditional barriers. What we as those responsible for the functioning of these educational facilities need to think about is how we bring this issue to the forefront and help the students, our ultimate customer, decide what model suits them best.”

“With the Education Forum, we now have an opportunity to collaborate in developing a single standardised model combining the benefits of both the traditional classroom and e learning to help augment the creation of a true knowledge based economy in the region,” added Grainger.

The unsolvable problem that Grainger talked about was brought to the fore several times at the panel discussion titled, “Does online education deliver?”

Panellists such as Dr.Mansoor Al Awar, chancellor, Hamdan Bin Mohamed e-University and Raj Kapoor, director, Dubai Student Service Center, University of Phoenix stood for the capabilities and opportunities provided by online learning. Others such as Professor Abdullah Al Shamsi, vice-chancellor, British University in Dubai believed that e learning could in manner or form make for an equal substitute of traditional one-one-one classroom education.

“The future of education is online as the medium offers innumerable merits- such convenience, access to a multinational environment with significantly lower cost, time and effort expended. It not only empowers all pursuers of academic certification but also contributes to the development of soft skills as students need to be self motivated and capable of managing their own time efficiently in order to attain their degrees and certifications,” explained Dr. Awar.

“Although online learning and its capabilities are being explored, we have to accept that there are fields of study that need more personalised knowledge transfer environments. For instance, students interested in nursing, medicine and engineering clearly need more practical learning capabilities. As do the MBA degrees in finance and accounting. Therefore, I believe that online education can only augment classroom education; it cannot replace traditional learning environments. Education is not only about the textbook, it is about the student’s experience at the campus, as part of a community and society within the campus and that an online environment cannot provide,” said Professor Al Shamsi.

According to Suha Mardelli, HR director at Bayt.com, an online recruitment site, virtual education although a brilliant solution to the inelasticity of the talent supply and demand cycles in the region, e-learning needs greater recognition from both regulatory authorities such as the Ministry of Education and enterprises operating in the region to drive its adoption further.

Mardelli pointed out that based on statistics released earlier this year by the Human Resources Management Society in the United States, although the situation is a lot better now than in the recent past, only 30% of all organisations in the North American region said that they would hire an executive with an online degree over one with a similar traditional degree.

The general consensus at the event, although particular to the UAE, was that the government’s recent announcement pertaining to the successful development of standardised criteria for accreditation and certification of online universities will only drive the understanding of e-learning platforms in the region and aid educational bodies develop models that bring together the best of both borderless online learning and traditional classroom environments in the near future.

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