Lilac Ahmad Al Safadi, President, Saudi Electronic University (SEU) |

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Leveraging e-learning and closing the digital equity gap

How would you describe the state of e-learning in higher education institutions before and during the Covid-19 pandemic?

LILAC AHMAD AL SAFADI: Before the pandemic, the Ministry of Education (MoE) had taken steps to modernize higher education institutions and meet the growing demand for post-secondary education by promoting online learning. For this reason, Saudi higher education institutions had sufficient digital preparation to handle the temporary shutdown of in-person learning due to the pandemic and to move e-learning within 24 hours of the decision. of the ministry to close schools.

During the pandemic, Saudi Arabia upgraded its e-learning infrastructure to handle large-scale distance and concurrent education, and held professional development trainings for educators to further develop their skills in education. online education. The Department of Education has created a strong governance framework that continuously assesses the continuity of education and takes swift action to ensure the sustainability of systems, while providing students and faculty members with an experience of quality online learning. In addition, the Ministry of Education reformed some regulations to promote multiple modes of learning and apply quality criteria. These pioneering actions and other measures that helped control the crisis have facilitated the continuity of safe education.

Saudi Arabia’s recovery strategy aims to maintain and even extend the gains made during the pandemic. This means expanding digital education initiatives beyond the immediacy of the crisis to achieve the goals set out in Vision 2030, the Kingdom’s long-term development agenda.

What are the limitations of distance education and when is it best to combine online courses with in-person learning?

AL SAFADI: Physical and virtual classrooms offer different learning outcomes. Online learning can be a disadvantage for less trained teachers, as they must be equipped with specific online teaching strategies, as well as for students, who must have strong time management and independent learning skills. Additionally, some courses require active and practical engagement with students. However, it is important to recognize that traditional classrooms are not perfect. They don’t always offer rich interaction and engagement for students, and often focus on providing information and awarding degrees rather than involving students in meaningful and interactive learning experiences. Conversely, standardized courses and personalized learning can be delivered online at the convenience of the student, on a large scale and at a much lower cost.

Online learning involves transformational thinking from time-based, teacher-centered learning applied in the physical classroom to student-centered, mastery-based learning. The latter aims to acquire skills through flexible, collaborative, engaging, motivating and personalized learning, where students have control over the time, place and content of their education.
SEU adopted blended learning over a decade ago to harness the best of both worlds, and is now adopting advanced models in this area – such as flipped classrooms and collaborative experiences – for more effective and efficient learning. SEU’s new digital transformation strategy aims to further explore the use cases of bionic learning to fully integrate technology into the learning experience and transcend traditional boundaries associated with education.

Which segments of the population stand to gain the most from online education?

AL SAFADI: Online learning has the potential to increase access to higher education among students who need flexibility, such as applicants with family obligations, those living in remote areas, those with work responsibilities that do not correspond to traditional university timetables and students with a physical disability who require personalized services. services. These people have everything to gain from online learning.

Additionally, the digital savvy generation that has been raised on virtual connectivity, user-generated content and flexibility is widely represented in the Kingdom. This generation is also driving increased demand for online learning as they seek more innovative and accessible ways to study.

How can Saudi Arabia’s distance education experience advance the goals of Vision 2030?

AL SAFADI: Vision 2030 prompted Saudi Arabia to modernize all government services and encouraged nationwide cooperation between government institutions. Education is a priority in the framework to ensure that the population has the knowledge and skills required in the future economy. This means providing a solid and quality educational foundation for all segments of society.

Education has been one of the most effective sectors in meeting the goals of Vision 2030. Efforts have been made to leverage innovation and technology to modernize the sector and fulfill the commitment of vision to provide citizens with equal access to education, to diversify the economy and to prepare young students for the jobs of the future. Efforts to modernize education have included establishing online education as a key component of education in line with international standards to ensure optimal learning, rather than temporarily shifting to distance learning in response to a crisis.

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