Online Learner Satisfaction and Collaborative Learning: Evidence from Saudi Arabia

Online Learner Satisfaction and Collaborative Learning: Evidence from Saudi Arabia

Salem Alkhalaf (School of Information and Communication Technology, Griffith University, Southport, QLD, Australia), Jeremy Nguyen (Department of Accounting, Finance and Economics, Griffith University, Southport, QLD, Australia), Anne Nguyen (School of Information and Communication Technology, Griffith University, Southport, QLD, Australia) and Steve Drew (Griffith Institute of Higher Education, Griffith University, Southport, QLD, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/jicte.2013040106
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Abstract

Despite the considerable potential for e-learning to improve learning outcomes, particularly for female students and students who need to rely on distance learning, feedback from current users of e-learning systems in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) suggests a relatively low level of satisfaction. This study adopts a mixed-methods approach in investigating the underlying reasons for this situation. Results indicate that students are not unhappy with the information technology infrastructure or with other technical aspects. However, many students report a low level of interaction between them and their fellow students. When interactions do occur, students indicate overwhelmingly that they find such interactions useful. Together, these findings suggest that greater student interaction, which could be fostered through the use of collaborative learning, is likely to be both popular with students and beneficial to their learning outcomes.
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Introduction

According to the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is one of the fastest growing countries in the world in terms of e-learning. CITC data shows an explosive growth in the number of internet users generally, from a mere 200,000 in 2000 to 4.8 million in 2006 (CITC, 2010). The number of students enrolled in institutions of higher education has also increased significantly in recent years. As a result, many of these institutions have turned to e-learning systems as a means to help broaden and enhance access to their courses and subjects (AlSaif, 2005).

Reflecting this trend, a growing number of research studies have been conducted on e-learning in KSA (see below for references to some of these). Many of these studies have focused on identifying the key factors that differentiate online education from face-to-face learning, analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of online courses, investigating factors that facilitate or hinder the adoption of e-learning, or developing strategies to achieve a suitable online learning environment (Alshehri, 2005). To date, however, relatively little attention has been paid to the issue of assessing the e-learning environments that have been set up in the country, especially from the viewpoint of student users.

This paper is part of a research project that has been conducted in response to this gap in the literature. The overall project’s aim is to evaluate existing e-learning environments in KSA on the basis of a range of criteria and dimensions (Alkhalaf, Nguyen, & Drew, 2010). A key purpose of the present paper is to focus more narrowly on student perceptions and feedback regarding these e-learning environments. It turns out that the level of satisfaction among student users is rather low. In the paper, we also investigate some factors which may account for this result. Our findings suggest that one possible method to enhance existing e-learning environments may be to promote greater use of collaborative learning, which has the potential to make e-learning both more popular with the students and more effective in terms of learning outcomes.

This paper is organized as follows. The next section presents some background information on e-learning in KSA and key findings from previous studies. This is followed by an outline of the research methods used in this study, and then a quantitative analysis of the results. In the penultimate section, we discuss the role that Collaborative Learning may play in improving student satisfaction with e-learning. The final section presents a summary of the main points raised in the paper.

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