Today’s buzzwords: “Distance education” and “E-learning”. Although their meanings are often interchanged, there are differences between the two. By definition, the first denotes a method of learning that involves the physical separation of the educator from the learner, characterized by non-contiguous communication. And the second refers to a style of learning that includes the use of technology and digital resources for instruction and assessment. Both are focused on the digital technology element.
Although distance education and e-learning have been gaining momentum in the past few decades, it is the recent COVID-19 pandemic that has emphasized its importance and driven the education sector online. Ever since, the nature of distance education and e-learning has been changing and evolving more rapidly, as higher education institutions, staff, educators, and learners are embracing a new level of digital maturity. In parallel, the online learning ecosystem has also been growing considerably. Today, more and more organizations are taking up e-learning and distance education, in addition to embracing the blended learning approach, which is becoming increasingly popular. This is a crunch time for higher education institutions that must not be squandered.
In its previous book “Higher Education in the Arab World: New Priorities in the Post Covid-19 Era”, which is now being published by Springer Nature, and as part of the theme of focusing on Arab universities, the Arab Academy of Sciences has delved into the challenges and lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and addressed what higher education should look like in the post COVID-19 era. Generally, this had meant a move from traditional means of education to purely digital at the start of the pandemic. This year, our book will reflect on how higher education institutions in the Arab world have been adjusting to this new normal and look onward into the future of higher education. The book will aim to bring together key stakeholders including educators, experts, and administrators to share their experiences and ideas on distance education and e-learning in the 17 chapters that will constitute the book. Authors will discuss challenges in shaping the future of education, drawing on the changing needs of students, educators, and staff in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. They will also be exploring how to harness the full potential of distance education and e-learning in order to enhance and improve educational outcomes.
Among other things, Arab institutions in particular need to rethink teaching and learning, redesign assessment, enhance student engagement, survey digital education tools and trends in tech-savvy education, address the digital disconnect and inclusive learning, and look into the future of research. Largely, they need to adopt technology-enhanced learning as a central part of their strategic agenda, ensure the quality of education is guaranteed, and develop a vision for the future of higher education in the Arab world.
Blended learning is becoming the new trend of modern education, where the instructor becomes the facilitator rather than the disseminator. In this style of pedagogy, e-learning, distance education and face-to-face interactive learning, become blended, guiding the minds of men and women towards a horizon of enquiry, problem solving, and creative critical thinking, and releasing the potential of learners.
While it is one thing to embrace e-learning and distance education as an essential part of the future of higher education, it is quite another to implement them. If these are to be successful, critical success factors need to be identified and policy makers in the higher education institutions need to be well informed for the education process to be implemented effectively. This book provides a platform to: discuss the benefits and advantages of e-learning and distance education; address best practices and success factors; and consider the hurdles and challenges in their implementation by drawing on experiences from developing and developed countries, all the while taking into consideration the needs of students, emphasizing quality assurance, and addressing norms and standards of accreditation.