E-learning is here to stay

Muscat: The online mode has been looked upon as the way forward to continue higher education without disrupting the academic year.

The Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) has set the specifications for technical colleges and private institutions in this regard. Many private institutions have already lined up their summer courses online in the wake of Covid-19 outbreak, as the transformation was very quick resulting in not just working from home but studying from home as well.

The trend may be here to stay because it may be slightly easy for the institutions and colleges, which already have a blended learning system in place.  A combination of face to face and online learning depending on the time and materials to be covered in addition to the availability of resources.

Modern College is one institution that already had blended learning in its curriculum so the transition has been smooth. Dr. Hesham Magd, Head of Department of Business Faculty and Qualify Assurance Modern College of Business and Science, said, “The day the students arrive in the college they are trained to use our technology.  We have been using technology as a supplementary tool within our teaching.  Soon after the current situation, we just managed to get our system up and running.”

The college’s lectures, presentations discussions, tutoring, mentoring or case studies were taken to text app, video conferencing and virtual classroom.  “We can share applications with our students and we also record our virtual classroom lectures on our learning management systems such as PowerPoint presentations, videos, discussion boards, chat forums, articles, so students can see it whichever time and wherever they are in the world.  So it is accessible for everyone at any time,” noted Dr Magd.

It is different from the traditional classroom where you are confined and only attend a class at a certain time, and in case the student missed the class he/she has actually missed. The interaction with the instructor is also better now.

The college did not miss out any of the 273 courses in the Spring Semester. “All of them are delivered online,” he said.

Commenting on the challenges, he said, “Online learning is a new trend to be adapted into mainstream. Complete e-learning is being practiced for the first time so we must expect a few hesitations from students.  Sometimes they might lack self-motivation and might miss the social connectivity.”

“Students like to interact face to face and talk.  When they are online, maybe not all are comfortable to speak their mind.  And some students might not very comfortable using technology.  We might have difficulty in building this community of learners because online learning is about sharing and creating the opportunity of learning and it is not about just sitting and listening to the faculty member on what he has to say.”

Currently, all the teachers are teaching from home.  So would the online teaching is going to stay even after the Covid-19 crisis?  In Western countries online teaching has been gaining popularity since early 2000.  Currently, some of the top universities in the world are offering free courses for the public as the world goes through lockdown.

The Modern College envisions online learning is a trend that will stay because some students live far away and it might be difficult for them to physically come and attend lectures on campus.

“Others can look after their responsibilities like work and home and continue to study.  Higher education would become affordable and accessible instead of moving from one city to another.  Education will be available for everyone irrespective of age, gender or economic status,” suggested Dr Magd.

As a prerequisite for online study, the student must have basic knowledge of technology.  “The faculty member will observe and assess what each student requires from classroom participation.  What we have seen is that students prefer technology.  We can do exams online now and get your grade within one hour through our application.  You are doing exactly what has been done in the physical exams.  They have already attended one exam so they are being trained for the final exams,” Dr. Magd explained.

This period is also a transformation for the role of faculty members as their hours could be longer than ever before compared to on-campus teaching.

“Initially there could be stress because it is a new experience as there is a lot of preparation.  But once you prepare one course then it is easier because the materials are uploaded and the system is in place.  Then it falls down into communication.  By next term, 80 percent of the work is all done.  This is only our beginning and the more we practice we become stronger.  We are sure it is going to be a trend that will stay on,” Dr. Magd said.