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Saudi Arabia emerging as regional e-learning leader: US professor

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    Saudi Arabia emerging as regional e-learning leader: US professor

    By SHAHID ALI KHAN

    RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is taking a lead in the field of e-learning and distance education in the Gulf region, said Prof. Curtis J. Bonk of Indiana University.

    Bonk was one of the 44 international keynote speakers, who addressed the four-day 2nd International Conference on e-Learning that concluded in Riyadh, Thursday.

    He spoke on the topic of "e-learning: nature (technology) and nurture (pedagogy)." Bonk said the National Center for e-Learning and Distance Learning (NCEL), the organizer of the event had done a good job by inviting some of the leading international experts in the field of e-learning and distance education from different countries such as the United States, Britain, Australia, Malaysia, India, and Pakistan.

    NCEL, established in 2005 by directives of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah is a branch of the Ministry of Higher Education.

    "I think Saudi Arabia's efforts in e-learning are very significant because the field is mature, the skills are being blended and unfolding on the online format. People are pursuing degrees and certificates through online courses.

    This shows that there is the possibility of continuing learning throughout life, which is an important development," he said.

    However, Bonk said there are still some challenges and constraints that the Kingdom has to address on a number of issues relating to e-learning and distance education.

    "I think what Saudi Arabia needs is to develop a strategic plan and vision in order to address the issues relating to e-learning and distance education," he said.

    For instance, Saudi Arabia needs to develop infrastructure in the field of e-learning and distance education in areas such as an interactive mobile curriculum, e-books and how e-books are infiltrating here and who is going to develop e-books platforms and evaluate the effectiveness of e-books, said Bonk.

    "The people in Saudi Arabia have mobile phones but not a mobile curriculum," Bonk said emphatically. He said Saudi Arabia is required to take a multi-prong approach with a combination of applications and recommendations since emerging technologies such as electronic portfolios, blogs, wikis, podcasts, e-books, digital object repositories, computer games and simulations, and wireless and mobile computing have been generating waves of new opportunities in higher education, schools, corporate training and other learning environments.

    Bonk said it was his fifth visit to the Kingdom. "I have visited Saudi Arabia five times in a period of four years. Over those four years I have seen qualitative change with lots of people looking to participate in e-learning and distance education," he said.

    Prince Sultan Grand Hall at the Faisaliah Hotel, the venue of the 2nd International Conference on e-learning, was crowded with enthusiastic people who wanted to know more about e-learning, he said.

    Over 11,000 people including 2,000 women participants registered for the four-day e-learning conference.

    The quality of papers presented in the conference was superb, Bonk said. The national and international experts on e-learning took into consideration not just local needs but adopted a comprehensive approach showing what the next steps should be, he said.

    "I was impressed with the level of awareness and knowledge of women participants who knew the literature so very well. The papers presented were not just research specific but took into consideration the whole aspect of e-learning and distance education," he said.

    There is awareness in Saudi Arabia about e-learning and distance education at the academic level with professionals engaged in publishing articles, doing research studies and holding conferences, which did not exist five years ago, Bonk said.

    However, there is still need to create awareness at the general public level, he added. "This week was almost like a celebration with lots of people from both the public and private sectors, students, teachers and professors, research scholars and businesspeople involved in e-learning and distance education activities," he said.

    An exhibition with the participation of over 40 exhibitors both national and international and 24 workshops with international instructors and teachers were organized on the sidelines of the conference.

    Saudi Arabia emerging as regional e-learning leader: US professor - Education - Zawya