BLENDED EDUCATION

Saudi Arabia 2016 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Prof. Abdullah A. Al-Mosa, President of Saudi Electronic University, on the future of distance learning, equipping students with valuable skills, and the future of the education sector.

Prof. Abdullah A. Al-Mosa
BIOGRAPHY
Prof. Abdullah A. Al-Mosa is President of Saudi Electronic University. He holds a PhD in curricula and methods of teaching computers, a master’s degree in computer science, a master’s degree in statistics, research methodologies, and an educational assessment from Ohio University, as well as a master’s degree in curricula and methods of teaching from Umm Al-Qura University. He was formerly Vice-President for scholarship affairs with the Ministry of Higher Education, General Supervisor of the general administration for missions and scholarships at the Ministry of Higher Education, and Dean of the College of Computer and Information Sciences at Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University.

What role does the Saudi Electronic University (SEU) play in the education sector?

The use of technology in education is not very common in either Saudi Arabia or globally. SEU has embraced King Abdullah's vision in incorporating technology with different knowledge fields. SEU offers a blended e-learning system, which is a mix of distance and face-to-face learning. Students come to campus once a week for their face-to-face classes, where they meet with their teachers to discuss different topics. Also, SEU students attend online lectures. The university focuses more on learning than teaching, which holds a number of benefits such as saving time and money and offering everyone an opportunity to learn no matter where they are. This is the future of learning in universities, and I believe that by 2025 there will no longer be any face-to-face learning.

Is blended learning only offered by SEU?

The blended model we use is only offered at SEU. There are other distance learning universities, but they use totally different models. SEU is now in its fifth year and we are proud to graduate our first class this year. The university also offers MBAs. Each department has around 33 courses with a total of more than 250 individual courses, all of which are offered online. SEU has many branches all around the Kingdom. These branches are located in Riyadh, Dammam, Jeddah, Jazan, Alahsa, Aljouf, Almadinah, Altaif, Tabouk, Abha, and Alqassim. Students do not need to come to the main campus. The administrative building is in Riyadh and its 50 classrooms can accommodate a minimum of 20,000 students. If we wanted to provide classes for 20,000 students in the regular education system we would need 10 buildings to do so. Also, in our system, students can listen to lectures at home or on the go. We offer morning, evening, and even weekend groups. By doing so, we save a lot of money and reduce traffic.

How does the education sector in Saudi Arabia and SEU specifically provide students with the skills employers are seeking?

The main problem is that although we have highly skilled graduates, companies are still demanding Saudis who are trained and ready to start work—companies are not willing to train them. We believe that this model of learning helps prepare students to be responsible, manage their time, and learn continually. Usually institutions focus on teaching almost 70-80% of students' time; however, education is not only teaching. Students' time should be comprised of 30% teaching, 50% skills and experience, and 20% attitude. Experience, skills, and attitude are more important than just receiving information, especially today. We live in the age of technology and students need to be reshaped, along with educational institutions. This will have a positive impact on students, especially when they enter the business world. Students who graduate from such universities will be better prepared individuals.

What changes are in store for the education sector in Saudi Arabia?

I used to be Dean at the College of Computer Science, and back then I predicted that mobile phones and laptops would soon be all-in-one. By 2025 there will be no need for universities. Unfortunately, there is a resistance from professors, who are the current leaders now. There is a conflict between the older and the younger generation. Students will not continue to work in academia. Students in the US, especially, believe that they do not need to amass student loans and attend lectures to get a degree. They are starting to demand more available content and flexibility to work. Once current professors retire and the new generation leads, e­learning will flourish. For example, SEU student enrolment numbers tripled over the previous year, but we cannot accommodate all of them right now. We need our university to invest in more content, rather than more buildings or infrastructure. By content I mean developing courses and materials for them. We do not need more buildings—they are a waste of time and money.