BEIRUT: The emergence of online and distance learning is shaping education systems around the world as an increasing number of students find in the new technology a convenient and affordable alternative to seeking education overseas. Alan Mehanna, a 30-year-old Lebanese-American dual national, is among those who sought to pursue higher education online but only to later learn that his master's degree in screenwriting from Full Sail University in Orlando was not recognized in Lebanon.
Mehanna, who was seeking a job as a university instructor, had his request for degree accreditation turned down by the Education Ministry.
This is the case for many online degree holders seeking a job in Lebanon. "We're in an age where technology and the internet are ruling supreme over basically everything, especially education, so why are we still shutting the door on educational reforms such as these," Mehanna told Annahar.
Indeed, e-learning and online education are leaving a mark around the world. The size of the e-learning market was estimated to be over $165 billion in 2015 and most likely to grow by 5 percent between 2016 and 2023, according to a study by Docedo, a cloud Learning Management System (LMS) that allows people to incorporate formal, informal, social and experiential learning in a single platform.
"Factors such as the possibility of allocating a lower budget for eLearning purposes (compared to traditional education methods), together with increasing flexibility in learning are expected to drive industry growth even higher," the study said.
According to Ambient Insight Research, a firm that uses quantitative predictive analytics to identify revenue opportunities for global eLearning and mobile learning suppliers, global revenues for eLearning and online education reached $46.6 billion in 2016.
However, in the Middle East region, online education, as well as e-learning, comes second to last behind Africa in terms of investments, which stood at $683 million in 2016. North America, on the other hand, topped the chart, with investments worth $23 billion in 2016, according to Insight's report.
The trend in the Middle East is, however, changing particularly in the Gulf region where governments are heavily investing in the development of the education sector including e-learning, according to a report by Alpen Capital a finance advisory firm. "Despite a significant drop in oil prices affecting their major revenue stream, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Oman have apportioned more than 20 percent of their total budgeted expenditure in 2016 towards the sector," the report said.
In Lebanon, online degrees, diplomas, and certificates are neither accredited nor recognized by any official authority within the country, according to Dr. Ahmad Jammal, head of Lebanon's Higher Education Council.
"Online education is a slippery slope, there aren't any guarantees to it and no one knows if the diploma is given by an accredited source. Also, no one knows if the students are actually attending e-classes, let alone doing their homework on their own without any outside help," Jammal told Annahar.
However, he added that the Ministry is working on plans to integrate technology into the country's traditional education system. The integration of online education tools will "help engage students through interactive classes and will provide more analytical information that professors could work with," Jammal said.
Joyce Menassa, Dean of Students at the Notre Dame University in Zouk Mosbeh, disagrees. She sees in online education and distance learning an opportunity. For instance, online education offers people with special needs and the elderly a chance to educate themselves in the safety of their own home, Mehanna says. "I fully support distance learning because it offers students the opportunity to explore new material and work on specific assignments from a regulated point of view," Menassa told Annahar.
"There are multiple ways of verifying if a student is attending an e-classroom either via webcam or by notification systems, to say the least, taking into consideration that distance learning offers in-depth performance analytics about students that could help instructors sharpen their teaching methods, which cannot be found within traditional methods of teaching."
Nadim Khouri, an instructor at the American University of Science and Technology and an ABD (All But Dissertation) Ph.D. candidate, says distance learning should be gradually integrated into Lebanon's traditional education system.
"Online education should be first offered to students at a school level so they would learn to take it seriously at a later stage," Khouri told Annahar.
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