education elearning higher education Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia, E-Learning and What’s Next (the industry)

The e-learning and distance learning conference in Saudi Arabia, brought a whole new perspective on what is taking place with e-learning in the Kingdom. It was enlightening and exciting.

I admit it.  The apprehension was there.  Uncertainty. Unknown. Rumors.

Tell you friends you are going to Saudi Arabia to speak, and they are stunned.

Tell others and they are surprised. “Isn’t it dangerous?”, said one. “Oh, I heard it isn’t safe”, said another.

Well, it is safe and the people are friendly. 

The conference – 4th international e-learning and distance learning 

The conference was for individuals in K-12 and higher education, with the majority coming from HE (higher education).  They traveled from all over the country and although it was hard to gauge, I surmise UAE as well.

I had one participant in my workshop tell me he traveled several hours to come hear me speak and afterwards, told me it was worth it.

They were folks who were using either e-learning ( 100% online learning classes) and/or a mixture of e-learning (online) and face to face with some component of online learning.  The latter seemed to be the majority.

Many (okay overwhelmingly most), had never utilized mobile devices as true digital tools (part of my presentation) and social while being used, was more from the usual synchronous take of discussion boards, forums, groups, etc.

The speakers were from Saudi Arabia, England, America and Canada. Stephen Downes was there.

A great chap who provided a new perspective of PLE (private learning environments) for students, which in simplest terms, is the idea that each student would become their own LMS.

It’s logical and in some ways it is already happening with personalized and localized approach/design with many LMSs (on the business side).  For higher education though it is rare.

That’s because HE systems in general are behind the times, living relics who see themselves not as a true online learning presence, rather the synchronous, ahem, shove the classroom online approach to learning (more on that later).

Vijay Kumar, from MIT and highly recognized and respected in higher education circles, believes that e-learning should be changed to digital learning, since it encompasses more than just online learning.

I admit the term, e-learning has been warped from it’s original meaning.

As earlier noted, the term was designed to mean, online learning (web based learning or WBT).

No one in the 80’s were saying they were creating e-learning and yet, talk to many folks now, who in the past were doing some form of computer based learning or via LANs (local area networks), and they will say they were doing e-learning.

How, you might ask?  Oh, in their eyes, e-learning means electronic learning.  I recall talking to a well known individual in our industry who told me he was doing e-learning in the sixties.  No, no you were weren’t.

No one was saying “e-learning”, then.  In the early 90’s, CBT was used on the corporate side and on HE, computer based learning.

But I digress.

Vijay is an extremely nice guy and quite knowledgeable, but I disagree that the term digital learning should replace e-learning.

Here’s why

E-Learning is an umbrella term and should stay that way. But, as with anything, it needs refinement and that is where my spin comes in.

Think of two columns.  In column one “Online Learning” – as the header

  • 100% online courses, content, classes, etc.
  • Learning Management systems/learning platforms or whatever you want to say your solution is
  • Social learning
  • Mobile learning
  • Virtual learning if it is online
  • Apps/APIs
  • Web conferencing
  • Performance management (not TM)
  • Digital tools if they are available online as SaaS offerings
  • Authoring tools
  • Future learning (to be defined)
  • Majority of learning technologies
  • MOOCs, SPOCs
  • Assessment tools online
  • Flipped classrooms if online (personally, flipped is a stretch, I mean you and I were doing it in the classroom – bring in an assignment or whatever and talk about it – yeah, boring).

In column two – “Digital Learning” as the header 

  • Digital learning – whereas the tools are used offline – in the classroom, or at the workplace
  • VR – Virtual Reality
  • Kinect
  • Digital tools that are used offline to boost and enhance the F2F (face to face) learning experience, which is being highly utilized today in K-12 and higher education
  • Learning technologies used in the classroom (and not online)

What does it mean?

Under e-learning, you have “online learning” as one column, “digital learning” as the other column.

To me that makes perfect sense.  “Digital learning” is overwhelmingly used today in K-12 and higher education.

“Online learning” is overwhelmingly used in business.

I don’t see it changing that much in years to come. In fact, I see “digital learning” as only minimal impact with the business side.

Yeah, “online learning” is seeing growth and expansion, especially with m-learning and social learning on the HE side and will continue, but there is still a strong presence of online and F2F going hand in hand.

The day “digital learning” is used as the main term, is the day we admit defeat and accept the angle of electronic learning as the be and see all word, with digital as the “term” to use.  I hope I never see that come to fruition.

But, I can see it with HE and K-12 and that is of equal concern.

Oh, and I’m not the only one who feels that way (i.e. digital learning being the word/term to replace e-learning).

Conference, part two

As mentioned earlier there was a lot of interest and enthusiasm for e-learning.  Attendees asked a lot of great questions and it was clear they wanted to try new things.  That was awesome.

There were vendors as well, the majority coming from the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia.

Vendors that were well-known (on a global scale) were Classera (a potential Top 50, with its refreshing approach to gamification across all schools who use their system) and Brightspace (aka D2L).

Who are the leaders in HE and K-12 LMS market

Based on my discussions with attendees, Blackboard and Moodle dominate.  There are other players, but those two reign supreme.

Authoring Tools

Wide open space with no one player leading the pack.  Ripe for expansion for vendors seeking a new market.

Other e-learning offerings

Equally wide open. Endless opportunities for the market (i.e. Saudi Arabia).

Bottom Line

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Saudi Arabia. The conference is on the right path, and I suspect some growing pains, but that is what makes it exciting.

If you asked me if I would go back – the answer would be unequivocally yes.

And to me that is speaks volumes.

For at the end of the day, strip away where people are from and you will see that they are just like you and me.

Especially those who see e-learning as the future

And are embracing it.

E-Learning 24/7