AGFE and MIT Unveil White Paper on Path Forward to Enhance Blended Learning in the Arab world

Dubai, UAE; October 20, 2020: The Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education (AGFE) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Office of Open Learning today published a comprehensive white paper to promote blended learning in the Arab region. Offering timely insights as the world transitions to blended and online learning models following the COVID-19 pandemic. The results of the study will guide policy makers and higher education institutions to offer more sustainable, high-quality and accredited online degree programs and courses.


Based on a study conducted over the course of three years, from 2017 to 2019, at the American University in Cairo (AUC) and American University of Beirut (AUB), the white paper is titled, ‘Charting a Path Forward: A Multi-stakeholder Collaboration to Promote Blended Learning in the Arab World.’


A first-of-its-kind study

Dr. Sonia Ben Jaafar, CEO of AGFE, said: “What the COVID-19 pandemic exposed in the Arab region is that all stakeholders in the education sector are ready to embrace blended and online learning models. This reality reassures our drive to continue promoting and supporting innovative learning models in the region. We are deeply concerned about the trend of Arab youth who are not in employment nor in education or training (NEET) that is notably higher than the rest of the world according to the International Labour Organization. Education for elevated livelihood is our mission and demands joint-work from multiple stakeholders who appreciate the potential of blended and online learning models for the sustainable development of the Arab region.


“Our joint study with MIT is a first-of-its-kind in the region to offer valuable insights on how we can look at quality education from a fresh perspective, and implement them to meet the aspirations of our young people for their education and careers. The study highlights the commitment of the Foundation to enhance standards of education in the region employing innovative approaches.”


Dr. M. S, Vijay Kumar, Associate Dean of Digital Learning and Executive Director, Jameel World Education Lab at MIT, said: “Backed by our experience of working at the frontiers of digital learning and inspired by the commitment of AGFE to expand access to accredited online learning, we conducted this joint project to promote blended learning in the Arab region. Our focus on developing blended learning courses for regional universities marks a step forward in embracing online learning to improve access to quality education. With the COVID-19 pandemic redefining the landscape of higher ed, the findings of the white paper offer new insights to enhance the standard of online learning and to deliver a more sustainable model of higher education relevant to the new reality.”


The evaluation was conducted on a collaboration between AGFE and MIT to support a group of faculty, administrators and designers at AUB and AUC to redesign 4 courses using MITx course materials. To date, these innovative courses have reached almost 1,200 students. The core goals of the project were to promote greater awareness of the opportunities surrounding accredited online learning, to facilitate high quality (re)design of selected foundation courses, to further develop faculty and instructional designers in the Arab region, and to encourage greater collaboration among universities, foundations, and governments in the field of online learning.

Results from the study showed that faculty, administrators, and designers were deeply engaged in the project and were committed to continuing their involvement with online and blended learning.  In fact, three faculty members recently acknowledged that the conversion to total online instruction during the Covid-19 pandemic was much easier after participating in the AGFE-MIT project.  The faculty and designers are also optimistic about the growth of online and blended learning within their institutions.  On an institutional level, both universities have been pursuing ambitious plans to grow their online and blended learning offerings.

The project started with an introductory meeting in Dubai in 2017, with representatives from the four entities. This was followed by a design camp at AUC for participating faculty, administrators, and designers from AUB and AUC who convened with experts in course content, pedagogy, online course design, and evaluation from MIT.


Drawing on feedback from both institutions, seven components have been identified as critical to ensuring the successful implementation of blended learning projects.


The Seven Key Findings

  1. Need for Participatory Design: Blended learning projects should be co-designed with all stakeholders involved. If the goal is to significantly change pedagogy for an entire course, participatory design must include a course team comprising all the faculty who teach the course.
  2. Assign team roles and responsibilities: The team comprising instructional designers and educational technologists were central to driving the online programmes at AUC and AUB. Specialists in building expertise in the learning sciences, data analysis and knowledge of online teaching, will all be core team members that contribute to building online and blended learning capacities at university level.
  3. Communication about the Project: Effective communication is a key aspect of any project. The interchanges allow administrators and the project team to answer questions and address concerns regarding the introduction of technology into the classroom
  4. Students as stakeholders: The evaluation results indicate that students are important stakeholders to consider in similar efforts moving forward. However, gaining student acceptance of changes in pedagogy is not easy, and can be a lengthy process.
  5. Data as evidence: Perception data, or feedback from administrators, faculty, designers, and students, is an important source of information to understand the lived experience of those who were involved at the various levels.
  6. Leadership Commitment and Alignment with University Goals: Online and blended learning are not seen as a priority for most universities in the Arab region and their implementation can breed internal resistance from staff and faculty. Therefore, it was critical to have leadership support.
  7. Accreditation: Although governments across the Arab region, to differing degrees, grant approval for universities to offer blended or a limited set of online courses (as part of a residential degree program), there are currently no national policies or procedures for accrediting full degree programs online. There must be clarity on how to initiate such a process and what quality indicators universities need to address to do so.


The white paper was prepared by Dr. Glenda S. Stump, Education Research Scientist, Open Learning, MIT; Brandon Muramatsu, Associate Director of Special Projects, Open Learning, MIT; Dr. Samar Farah, Director of Research and Innovation, Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education; and Dr. M. S. Vijay Kumar, Associate Dean of Digital Learning and Executive Director, Jameel World Education Lab, MIT.