Why Jordanian Universities are Embracing eLearning
Jordan has one of the fastest growing university systems in the world. Currently 4.6% of the population is enrolled in a higher education program. The system serves over 300,000 students, and there is speculation that this rapid growth will continue over the coming decades. While a welcome trend, the current growth in higher ed is placing a strain on the small country’s education system. Combined with Jordan’s current brain drain, some estimates suggest that to the respond to the nation’s rising educational needs, it will need to recruit up to 6000 academic staff over the coming four years alone. To address the nation’s demand for higher education, eLearning in Jordan continues to grow and so far, evidence suggest that eLearning may be the most viable way forward.
In 2007, the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) in Jordan established a national eLearning strategy for higher education that sought “to support institutions of higher education in their move towards embedding eLearning appropriately using technology to transform education into a learner centric system that is internationally distinguished in its quality and impact, to foster innovation and excellence in teaching and learning, and to support employability of lifelong learning.” However, as emphasized by Adnan Aoum of Yarmouk University and colleagues in a recently published article in Advances in Social Science, “Efforts to integrate and embrace Technology-enhanced Learning (TeL) in university education over the past decade have been limited in scope and modest in achievements and success, mainly due to cultural and quality assurance issues and considerable technological infrastructure hindrances.” Change now appears likely as officials continue to look beyond their own borders for examples of how to integrate and assess eLearning in Jordan.
A major obstacle facing Jordan in its quest to implement eLearning programs is assessment and accreditation. To respond to the challenge, a consortium of five Jordanian universities along with the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) and Higher Education Accreditation and Quality Assurance Commission (HEAC) recently joined forces with several European universities and quality assurance agencies to tackle the problem.
From 2013 to 2016, a project known as “Enhancing Quality of Technology-Enhanced Learning at Jordanian Universities” or EQTeL set out to promote reform and modernization of higher education in Jordan by introducing a national quality assurance system for online learning and improving, developing, and implementing accreditation standards, guidelines, and procedures for quality assurance of such courses on a national level. The long-term goal of EQTel is to develop new standards for online courses and support the professional development of the teaching staff, trainers, evaluators, official accreditation reviewers and higher education public authorities who help oversee such courses.
As part of the EQTeL initiative, three pilot courses were selected, designed and then delivered by several Jordanian universities. Over the course of three semesters, the courses were monitored for quality assurance. Key questions probed included the following: How effective were the instructors teaching the eLearning courses from the perspective of the students in comparison to traditional learning courses?Were there any statistical differences in students’ grades in the eLearning method in comparison with the traditional learning method? And what feedback can be drawn from faculty members, technicians, and students supporting the delivery of the courses? The results were highly encouraging.
Over all, as reported by Anoun and colleagues, the pilot study revealed a strong enthusiasm for eLearning among Jordan’s students and faculty. First, as reported, the majority of students liked the courses. Indeed, 65% of students surveyed indicated that they would recommend their eLearning course to another student. Most critiques were technical (e.g., the system was too slow or went down too often) rather than pedagogical. Faculty were also supportive: “All faculty members expressed their satisfaction with the experience especially in terms of the quality of online education in general.” In general, the Jordan study found that eLearning outcomes were not significantly different from outcomes in traditional face-to-face classrooms but that the mode of delivery holds a significant benefit: the ability to reach a large number of students in a rapidly expanding higher education system.