While online learning holds increasing potential for high quality learning opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, there are reputed to be challenges, in particular legal frameworks that do not allow for the recognition of online degrees. However, increasingly institutions need to provide flexible access to tertiary education for people who may be working, have family commitments or be mobile such as refugees. There is also an opportunity to draw on what young people in MENA enjoy most about media, social media and the internet, enabling them to use it to obtain a good education.
While the educational culture across the MENA region values face-to-face learning, the rise in blended learning suggests that online learning is becoming more acceptable. This move, combined with the growth in technological availability, is likely to see a continued shift of balance towards online learning. In the short term, online learning may be more readily accepted when it is implemented in the context of blended approaches that balance face-to-face and online learning.
Online learning can be attractive to women who are more restricted in their use of public space and institutions, but there remain major social barriers to women gaining equal access to quality education of whatever type. Across the MENA region we find large refugee populations who are increasingly youthful as well as frustrated by lack of opportunities. Online learning has the potential to reach mobile populations as well as to deliver at the scale needed to meet the demands of such large student bodies.
Equally, the impetus to meet this hard to reach group has been a spur to innovation in online learning. It is expected that the lifelong learning trend will become dominant in the MENA region in the next 10 years, with individuals needing to keep updating their skills and knowledge to remain relevant in the job market. There will be a demand for open and blended degree programmes as well as certificates and diplomas.