‘E-Learning’ has emerged as a popular educational method within the Middle East, reflecting and complementing the region’s pursuit of knowledge-driven economic diversification. The growth rate of self-paced e-learning in the region is currently at 8.2 per cent and is expected to generate revenues of over USD 560.7 million by 2016.
The Arab World has become fertile ground for online learning due to its heightened focus on establishing genuine digital societies. This is in partial response to a 2012 report from the (UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA) noting a gap in digital Arabic content, particularly in terms of e-Books and e-learning. The Middle East E-Learning Association (MEEA), which is a non-profit organization counting Bahrain, the UAE and Kuwait among its members, is ensuring that widespread campaigns are in place to further promote e-learning throughout the region.
An added plus in favor of online education, is how it complements environmentalism campaigns across the region. Recent studies conducted by Britain’s Open University reveal that the methodology requires 90 per cent less energy than traditional courses. The amount of CO2 emissions per student is also reduced by as much as 85 per cent.
The UAE, an information and communications technology leader in the region, is an excellent model of Arab initiatives to put technology at the fore of social and economic development. Dubai, for example, is undertaking projects to transition itself from just an eGovernment that uses electronic tools to a full-fledged ‘Smart Government’ that supports an electronic culture for the well-being of all citizens. The emirate fully supports accredited online education programs, which enable thousands of people to fulfill their personal and professional ambitions via the internet.
Across the region, students in higher education are demanding more use of technology in the classroom. US-based media company O’Reilly Radar reports that the highest age demographic of Middle East users of Facebook is between 15 and 25 years old. Many in this group are students who expect the same level of interactivity and collaboration they enjoy in the popular social media site in their respective academic environments.
Enthusiasm over the online learning paradigm has spilled over to the private sector as well. The region’s business community is heeding the results of a recent corporate survey revealing that 72 per cent of respondents use e-learning to keep them updated on market changes and remain competitive within their sector. This is a critical advantage for people-centric industries such as media, marketing and public relations that have to respond quickly and decisively to constant market shifts with new skill sets and knowledge.
More than providing a business edge, online learning fosters a learning culture that benefits the organization and its members in the long term. This is evidenced by a study conducted by Bersin & Associates showing that companies with a strong learning orientation performed better in their market. The results further reveal that such enterprises are 46 per cent more likely to enjoy industry leadership, and that their adoption of e-learning led to a 34 per cent increase in effective customer services as well as a 17 per cent higher likelihood of topping market share.
Moreover, studies estimate that nearly 25 per cent of all employees resign due to the lack of training or learning opportunities. Companies who do offer e-Learning and on-the-job training, on the other hand, generate around 26 per cent more revenue per employee. So online learning offers professional fulfillment on one side of the business scale, and enhanced enterprise productivity on the other to offer a win-win approach to organizational development and growth.
These compelling figures are understandably influencing more corporates and professionals in the region to flock to online courses that can keep them at the top of their game.
E-learning is a perfect fit to the Middle East’s status as a business and investment hub, where time, talent and information are of the essence. Online education affords companies and professionals the flexibility of expanding their expertise, knowledge and credentials at their own pace, at their own time, and at their preferred study setting. It also familiarizes learners with technology, which has become an indispensable tool across all industries and markets. In terms of individual pursuits, e-learning satisfies the regional demand for knowledge in a flexible, highly accessible, and very convenient manner. It will definitely play a major role in developments across the Middle East’s social, economic and business spheres.
The idea of pursuing a chosen course/program through the internet is not new. Many companies were already experimenting with the model in the late 1990s, when the internet was still in its nascent stages. But in a place such as the Middle East presently experiencing tremendous social and economic upheavals, its influence has taken on a whole new meaning. Online learning has become an important facilitator for personal growth, professional excellence, and national development. It is an opportunity that is being fully embraced and taken in by a knowledge-thirsty region.