Online education: Why it is becoming more popular

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“In today’s busy lifestyle, most people have no time to go back to school even they have intention to get more degrees for career advancement, job promotion or simply to learning something new. Online education benefits such people.

Bob Rutarindwa holds a master’s degree in business administration from an American university but he did not need to travel to the US to pursue it. He did it here in Rwanda. And as he explains, a big part of Rutarindwa’s studies were done in a special classroom, lined with rows of computers equipped with webcams and microphones.

He also watched videos and took part in live virtual classes as part of his MBA programme at Oklahoma Christian University.

The university conducts classes using ‘Blackboard Learn’, a web-based server software which features course management, customizable open architecture, and scalable design that allows integration with student information systems and authentication protocols. Its main purposes are to add online elements to courses traditionally delivered face-to-face and to develop completely online courses with few or no face-to-face meetings.

Like him, many students in Rwanda are opting for international colleges and universities that provide online learning as an option.

Instead of sitting in a traditional classroom, online education makes one a member of a virtual classroom where they electronically interact with instructors and classmates around the globe from wherever they are. All one needs is a computer with a good internet connection.

This mode of learning is quickly gaining ground in developing countries with students either doing online courses alongside traditional courses or complete an entire course of study online leading to a degree award.

Advantages

According to Sheila Kawera, a teacher in Kigali, in today’s busy lifestyle, most people have no time to go back to school even they have intention to get more degrees for career advancement, job promotion or simply to learning something new. Online education provides some relief to these people.

Rutarindwa says that online education is designed for students who want more flexibility than that offered by the traditional ‘brick-and-mortar’ classroom. For instance, students who have full-time jobs or families may prefer to learn at their own pace.

However, he says the system needs personal discipline where a student has to be serious enough to be able to hand in assignments on time.

Andrew Cohen Gahire, another alumnus of Oklahoma Christian University, says that online education gave him a lot of access to information he needed in his studies as he had access not only to hard copies of books but also soft copies from the university’s online library.

He also cherishes the cost friendly nature of this education.

“If you compare two students, one studying online from here and another one goes to Oklahoma in the US for the same course, you will find that it will be more expensive for the one who travels to the US,” Gahire says.

He adds that online learning is in line with supporting green economies.

“Everything is submitted online, there is no use of papers and pens. It is good for the economies that are going green,” Gahire says.

“It makes life easy; you study from where you are. You can open up your computer and study at the airport waiting for a flight, in your house, or in any other place,” he adds.

Moreover, Gahire believes that having academic documents earned from a university of international reputation gives an employee an edge over his counterparts on the labour market.

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Students interact. Online education denies one a chance to meet their colleagues and lecturers face-to-face. / Net photo. 

“Employers tend to prefer to have a candidate from an international institution than someone who went to a local university,” he says.

With this, he thinks that the trend of online learning is going to keep growing in Rwanda as more people register with universities in Europe, the US and India.

Challenges

Though Gahire appreciates the merits of online education, he points out that it is a little challenging with regard to sending questions to lecturers as one may not get an immediate response as is the case in a traditional classroom setting.

For Rutarindwa, online education falls short of that “face to face relationship” between students and lecturers.

“The interaction is only electronic. Face-to-face interaction with lecturers is better because it creates a relationship between the student and lecturer which improves overall learning,” he adds.

According to education portal, e-learning industry, at school, students learn how to make friends, be patient, get rid of disappointment, and especially to compete. Competition between colleagues can be very stimulating and students will only benefit from it. Online learning cannot offer human interaction.

Another disadvantage is the fact that online courses cannot cope with thousands of students that try to join discussions. Also, online learning can be difficult, if it is meant for disciplines that involve practice.

What experts say

Jean Chrysostome Rindiro, the director of Oklahoma Christian University in Kigali, the online system is cheaper since the university administration that used spend a lot of funds to bring in lecturers from the US and accommodate them, among other things.

“The university takes in 80 students a year who completely learn online. The institution has all its lecturers in America; there is only a small administrative unit in Rwanda to coordinate students and help with things concerning I.T,” he explains.

Hope Asiimwe, an information technologist at the University of Kigali, says it is hard for a student to get all that he may need to be an expert by just learning within the circles of his country. She, therefore, advises that it is good to add some online courses on the traditional classroom courses that someone may have done locally.

Asiimwe says she, for instance, studied her bachelor’s degree in ICT at the University of Rwanda but did her CISCO course unit online from a U.S university.

However, Jean Uwamahoro, a physics lecturer at the University of Rwanda’s College Of Education, says learning science courses online is difficult unless during the course of your study you have time to meet the actual lecturer for practical activities.

Dr Innocent Mugisha, the executive director of Higher Education Council (HEC), says the body recognises online programmes.

He says that HEC processes equivalences for people with documents earned from online education just in the same way as it processes equivalents for those who have earned theirs by studying physically in a foreign university.

“If that course is accredited and is from an accredited institution, then that person will bring the papers and we give that person the equivalence,” says Mugisha.

Asked if people can’t present fake documents to HEC for consideration, Mugisha says: “The fakeness doesn’t necessarily depend on whether the programme is online or face-to-face. If he or she presents a fake document, it is a crime like any other crime. HEC undertakes satisfactory procedures to make sure that the documents are authentic.”