The benefits of distance learning have been known to the world as long as technological advancements made such learning possible. Not all the countries, however, were able to fully enjoy these benefits. Saudi Arabia is a country with a high-income economy (Kendall 2008), but it is not developed enough to make the online education easily accessible to the population. This being the reason, Saudi Arabia has been much slower than some other countries in moving into the distance education. Recently, the country has recognized the importance of distance learning for its development and educational strategies, which resulted in the emergence of a great number of educational programs offered to the students who have access to the Internet (The State of Distance Education in Saudi Arabia 2010). This not only made education easily accessible, but offered educational opportunities even to the female students. The problem of distance education in Saudi Arabia has not been sufficiently researched yet. This is why there is a necessity to find out how effective the online education is in this country. This research proposal is going to outline the research aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of distance learning in Saudi Arabia through assessing the achievements of students already involved in online education.
The literature on the distance education is abundant, though not many studies have been dedicated to the exploration of this issue with regards to Saudi Arabia. For a long time, distance education seemed to be impossible in this country due to certain social norms. For instance, Rogers, Berg, Boettecher & Justice (2009, p. 767) mention that social norms of Islam forbid the interaction of males and females who are not related, which also spread to the educational sphere: “Male instructors are not permitted to teach female students face to face and vice versa.” Harry (1999) and Smart (2005) also agree that distant learning has become an alternative way to give and receive higher education in Saudi Arabia. The matter is that close-circuit television allows male instructors to teach female students without seeing them: “The instructor delivers the lecture while being recorded; this recording would be broadcast into a specially equipped classroom to the female students. The students will be able to see the instructor, but he would not be able to see them” (Roges et al 2009, p. 767). Thus, distance learning started developing in Saudi Arabia as soon as the social norms have been dealt with.
In this way, distance learning let the population of Saudi Arabia equally enjoy the educational opportunities. At present, three online learning programs are practiced in Saudi Arabia. They are Deanship and Faculty of Distance Learning at King Abdulaziz University (Jeddah), the Al-Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University, and the Girls Colleges (The State of Distance Education in Saudi Arabia 2010). Even though some academic staff considers distance education less scholarly, the students continue reaping the advantages of the online education.
The primary objective of this research is to discover how effective distance learning is for the Saudi Arabians. Meeting this objective is possible through fulfilling other smaller objectives each of which is extremely important. These objectives are as follows:
- To find out the students’ attitudes and expectations towards the distance learning;
- To prove that distance learning can offer the students increased career opportunities;
- To discover whether the distance learning can improve the economy of Saudi Arabia with time;
- To obtain the evidence that distance learning can ensure the Saudi Arabian citizens with higher standard of living.
Achieving all these objectives is possible through properly directing the research. For this, consistent methodology and evaluation techniques have to be developed and, if possible, implemented. Only then will it be possible to meet the primary objective.
This will be a qualitative research based mostly on the observations. Distance learning, be it Computer Science or any other area, requires hard efforts from the students because they are deprived of a number of opportunities that ordinary students have. This research methodology takes into account different aspects of this problem. This research is going to use three main methods for collecting the data. They are structured interviews, analysis of documents and materials, and reflexive journals. Each of these methods will be used at a definite stage of research and will require some preliminary actions to be done.
A group of students (a sample of 40 people) currently involved in distance learning will be randomly selected for this research. First of all, the questions for the structured interviews will be designed. The questions should be aimed at discovering the students’ attitudes towards the online program they have chosen and their expectations regarding it. These questionnaires will be distributed among the students before they begin the course. Secondly, the progress of the students will be registered throughout their studies. Reflexive journals will be used for this. The students will be reporting about their current grades and test results; this will help to eliminate the bias regarding the efforts the students put into their studies (for instance, if someone is not performing well in the course of the chosen program, this may significantly affect the final results and mislead the researcher). And thirdly, the final evaluation of the students’ academic achievements will be performed. For this, the researcher will obtain and analyze necessary documents and materials regarding the students’ final tests. After this, the data will be arranged into the tables and qualitative statistics will be compiled. The additional research will be necessary to meet the research objectives regarding the career opportunities and raising the living standards of the population (the participants will be further interviewed to discover how helpful the distance learning was for them).
The timeline of the project implementation is going to depend on the program chosen. The length of the courses varies from several weeks to several months. It seems the most optimal to choose the students who are taking the courses of no less than 5 months in length. During this entire time, the researcher will be observing and recording the students’ progress. If no personal observations are possible, the data will be obtained via the Internet (most likely, e-mails). Questionnaires will be designed two weeks prior to the beginning of the first set of interviews in case certain changes will need to be introduced into them (for instance, some of the participants will refuse taking part in the research and will have to be replaced).
While the assessments will be carried out by the researcher during the whole period of the project implementation, it is recommended that the final evaluation should be external. This means that a person not involved into the research (an independent observer) will perform the evaluation. Together with this, the researcher will also carry out the final evaluation (the results of which will be compared with those of the external one). The findings will be reported to the research supervisor and sponsors of the research, if any.
As it can be seen from the proposal, it does make sense to carry out this research. Its greatest value consists in researching the sphere that was hardly explored by other researchers. Since Saudi Arabia has started paying due attention to distance learning relatively recently, it is worth exploring whether this type of learning can at all be beneficial for the country and the welfare of its population. This research, as well as the research possibly carried out afterwards, will illuminate all the important aspects of this problem.
ELearn Magazine 2010, The State of Distance Education in Saudi Arabia, ELearn Magazine, Web.
Harry, K 1999, Higher education through open and distance learning, Routledge, London and New York.
Kendall, D 2008, Sociology in our times: The essentials, Cengage Learning, Wadsworth.
Rogers, P, Berg, GA, Boettecher, JV & Justice, L 2009, Encyclopedia of distance learning, Idea Group Inc., New York.
Smart, J 2005, Higher education: Handbook of theory and research, Springer, London.