EdX, a United States-based online education platform, is in talks with several educational institutions in the UAE and the Middle East to host Arabic-language courses.
The courses of the non-profit website, founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in May last year, are freely available online.
“There are a lot of students taking courses on our platform already in this region, so there’s a lot of interest in translating our platform and being able to offer courses in Arabic,” said Anant Agarwal, the chief executive of edX.
Mr Agarwal said an announcement was likely within the next six months, but he declined to say which institutions were likely to participate.
EdX offers 85 online courses from 29 universities on an open source platform that can be hosted by other organisations.
Since its launch, about 1.5 million students from nearly every country have enrolled in edX’s courses, according to Mr Agarwal. He said it planned to offer 1,000 courses over the next three years.
On October 3, edX said the French ministry of higher education would use its platform to launch a national massive open online course (Mooc) and blended learning portal for French-speaking students.
A week later, the foundation said a consortium of Chinese universities had selected its platform to power the country’s largest online learning portal XuetangX.
The adoption of technology by educational institutions had until recently lagged behind their counterparts in other sectors such as media, said Mr Agarwal.
“Textbooks were the last major innovation in the realm of education, but since then not much has happened,” he said. “If you look at media, the delivery of news is nothing like it was 40 years ago. But until recently the delivery of education was nearly identical to what it had been 40 or 100 years ago.”
Educational institutions in the Middle East had a lot to gain by integrating online courses into their curricula, said Mr Agarwal.
“Whether it’s at university level or secondary level, it will really be transformative. Those that are able to adopt it quickly can really get a leg up on those that don’t move fast enough,” he said.
Far from being a threat to traditional universities, online course material could be integrated within existing programmes to improve results, he added.
“It’s not going to displace campus any time soon, there’s a magic on campus. But we’re working with the campuses to augment their learning offering, to make it even better,” he said.
The introduction of online materials via edX at the San Jose State University in California resulted in the pass rate in one course rising to 90 per cent from a previous level of about 60 per cent.
“Using such a blended model, universities can cater to a millennial generation of students that wants to learn in a more flexible and interactive manner,” Mr Agarwal said.
The university lecture hall would eventually become a thing of the past, he said, with students of the future watching lectures almost exclusively online and in their own time.
“Students want to be flexible, they want to do things according to their own schedule. They don’t want to come in to a lecture hall at a set time and sit there for 50 minutes.”