Both virtual and blended schooling today allow students access to quality education, world-class learning materials and globally-certified teachers Image Credit: Shutterstock

The nature of learning is rapidly changing. Education is now not just about sitting in a classroom and being taught within the framework of a rigid schedule. Thanks to technology, young students can learn and engage in ways that were once not possible. Virtual and blended schooling are examples of such possibilities brought about by advancements in technology.

Both virtual and blended schooling today allow students access to quality education, world-class learning materials and globally-certified teachers – simply by leveraging technology. In a virtual school environment, students communicate with teachers and other students over the Internet. The entire educational framework is interactively enabled using technology. A blended school environment would include traditional face-to-face classes as well, along with the virtual learning environment.

The disruption caused by online learning is not a future trend. We are already seeing the widespread usage of technology in education. In the UAE, tablets are a part of learning in most schools. Homework is regularly completed and submitted online. Apps are used for parents to track their wards’ progress in the classroom. While virtual schools have yet to be adopted in the region, hundreds of students in the UAE are enrolled in online courses beyond the school curriculum. In fact, recent studies show that by 2019-2023 at least 50 per cent of all classes will be delivered online. At the same time, accredited virtual schools like iNaCA can send sealed transcripts directly to the child’s local school or to the university of choice as part of the application process.

The disruption caused by online learning is not a future trend. We are already seeing the widespread usage of technology in education.

- Özhan Toktas, Managing Director, Pearson Middle East

Is online learning here to stay? We believe it is. The Middle East is among the youngest regions in the world, with the highest population growth rates globally. The percentage of the population under the age of 25 in the region ranges from 34 per cent in the UAE to 50 per cent in Saudi Arabia. Realising the potential of this demographic boom is a key goal of regional governments as well as educators, as these children will consume information in a different way than we used to do. Technology has exponentially increased the opportunities to learn and absorb information in new and creative ways.

Arabic, for example, is a subject that non-native speakers in the UAE often struggle with. New blended programmes introduced in the UAE schools like bilArabi help kids learn the language in a fun and engaging manner as it uses both online tools like quizzes and games, as well as classroom materials. Recognising that an interactive approach plays a significant role in enriching children’s learning experience and development, blended programmes use an inquiry-based approach that makes learning student-centred. In general, virtual and blended learning offer a host of advantages. This form of learning can radically magnify the educational opportunities for students, while also transcending demographic and geographic limitations. They can greatly improve the quality of instruction, enhance productivity and offer education at economical costs with customised instruction from teachers. They can also pave the way to bespoke education, enabling students to learn in their own style and at their own pace, while matching highly individualised interests.

This is especially ideal for students for whom traditional schools are not a good fit, such as gifted children or those struggling to overcome learning difficulties or even those who may be career-focused or are targeting admissions to a specific university.

Going forward, we will see that online learning is changing the conventional schooling landscape as we know it. Subject offerings in schools may possibly be reduced or changed because virtual schools are more efficient. We expect that virtual schools will become a small but permanent part of the educational landscape, and their presence will continue to grow.We already know that children spend most of their early lives learning. Studies indicate that most kids spend anywhere from 800 to 1,000 hours on formal education annually. Therefore, it is not surprising that parents want their children to learn from a solid curriculum in the best possible environment.

This alternative to traditional schooling allows students and their parents to have access to incredible resources worldwide to help them succeed and can foster a love of learning.

— The writer is the Managing Director, Pearson Middle East