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Arab Women’s Perspective on Distance Education
The paper addresses the problemof Arab women’s challenges that prevent them
frompursuingtheir educationaldegree. Distance education is considered a practical solution to
help nontraditional learners, in general, and women, in particular, achieve their educational goals
(Hopper, 2000). This is a qualitative research using Moore’s TransactionDistance Theory (TDT,
1991)to find out Arab women’s perspective on distanceeducation, and how distanceeducation
increases their independence. This research demonstrated that distance education was very
helpful for Arabwomentosurmount their cultural barriers which prevent them from pursuing their
education and was a good tool that can be used to increase their independence. Leaders and
officials of higher education inthe Arab world canbenefitbyunderstanding that online learning
could be a solution for all students in general and female students in particular.
In the Arab world, wives and mothers have difficulty in taking time away from their
husbands and childrendue to their domestic roles and different family responsibilities (Omar,
2005).I am interested in this topic because I am a woman who belongs to the Arab world and
faced different difficulties to achieve my B.S. degree. I decided to shed light on distance
education and its importance in enabling Arab women to achieve their educational goals.
Moore’s (1991)theory (TDT) for distance education will be used as a theoretical framework in
this study.Thus, distance education provides hope and opportunity for women in the Middle East,
where it is considered a masculine society, to achieve their educational goals.
Purpose of theStudy
The purpose of thispaperis to examine the perspectives of Arab women on distance
education and to find out how distance education can increase the independencyfor Arab women.
The specific questions that I will answer are:
(1)How do Arab women describe their experiences in distance education and their
(2)From Arab women's perspective how do online courses support their individual
Moore’s (1991) Transactional Distance Theory (TDT) was chosen for this study for two
main reasons. First, this theory was developed in response to the learner's individual
requirementswho cannot attend face-to-face or traditional classes. Second, transactional distance
learning takes place in a setting when instructors and learners are physically separated.
Review of Related Literature
Lorenzetti (2007) defined the environment of distance learning as an opportunity which
enables learners to manage geographic distance and time to receive their education and interact
with instructors and learners. Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, &Zvacek, (2009) argued that there
were certain forces which influenced the status of distance education; these forces were changes
in technologies, economics, politics, and society. For Simonson et al. (2009) distance learning is
institution based formal education. Learners are separated but they are connected through
Overview of Distance Education in the Middle East
There are three modes of distance learning:The first mode is Dual Mode. According to
UNSECO (2002), in Dual Mode institutions traditional higher education institutions offer both
face-to-face classes and distance education for learners. The open learning centers in the West
Bank and Gaza Strip (Palestine) serve as examples of Arab institutions that use dual mode in
their distance education approach.The second mode is Single Mode. According to UNSECO
(2002), Single Mode distance education institutions carry out their educational activities
according to the need for distance learning. Al-Quds Open University in Palestine adopts the
single mode in approaching Palestinian students. The third mode is Virtual Mode. According to
Al-Radhi (2008), Virtual refers to local universities that aim to provide world-class education
without boundaries so that students do not have to leave their countries to study abroad.
Distance Education Influences Arab Women’s Education
Aljabre(2012),a researcher focusing on Saudi Arabia,shows that despite the
implementation of distance learning programs in Saudi universities, a void still exists. The
growing number of women joining new programs and the growing number of students denied
admission due to overcrowding show that there is room for growth. Aljabre’s (2012) findings
show that the development of technology has undoubtedly spurred the growth of distance
learning and afforded students who otherwise might not have the opportunity to receive higher
education or continue on to postgraduate degrees the chance to do so. The overall benefits of
distance learning are numerous when implications regarding culture and student-centered
methodologies are fully considered. Educators in Saudi Arabia realize the benefits that
technology brings to learning and thus have implemented it throughout the nation’s universities.
This article is important to my research study because it shows how distance learning in the Arab
world, in general, and in Saudi Arabia, in particular, opens up doors to women that have long
According to Kwapong (2007), there are different research studies which show that
women who obtained higher education levels were able to gain various job opportunities and
more self-confidence, but women with low education levels had limited job opportunities and
less self-confidence. In fact, education paves the way for women to participate, develop, and
improve various conditions and directions in their own communities. Ojo and
Olakulein(2006)stated thateducation increases women's self-confidence to be more creative and
to be decision makers instead of relying on others in their decisions.
There are few studies that cover Arab women’s perspectives regarding online courses.
Therefore, the current study is an attempt to fill the gap in literature by examining how Arab
women’s interaction in distance education can help their learning process and help their career
This study is qualitative in nature.Sample includes four participants from different
countries. The study took place in Northern Illinois University (NIU) in USA. The data were
collected from two sources: face-to-face interviews and artifacts. For data analysis, I used an
analytical memo approach.I used a smaller set of promising ideas and categories to provide the
major categories and themes for the final findings.Memos enabled me to picture my research
topic as an activity purposefully undertaken and enjoyed by my subject. I only began to scratch
the surface on how Arab women find a solution for their situation throughdistance learning.
“Unfortunately …this is my culture:” Online learning and Cultural Barriers
Cultural restrictions which appear in collectivism and masculinity force Arab women to
dig their way towards respect for their individuality and femininity.This study focused on how
the online classes helped Arab women to overcome the obstacles they faced through the
restrictions of their culture.All participants belong to Arab countriesbut each one has a different
nationality and differentobstacles. ParticipantMai, a 30 year old from Saudi Arabia, discussed
with me how the online course was helpfulto overcome the cultural restriction against women's
freedom. She said:“It helps me a lot, especially for the late night classes, and the family wouldn’t
like a girl to come home really late at night.”From Mai's perspective, this is an example of how
online classes helped her to overcome restrictions imposed by her family and culture. Her culture
does not allow single women to leave and come home late and even, sometimes not to leave
home at all. In her culture, this is unacceptable. This is a big problem that often prevents women
from pursuing an academic degree. The other problem she faces in her culture is that girls should
do all home responsibilities, especially if they have older parents such as Mai. All these cultural
obstacles prevent Mai from pursuing her master’s degree. Mai came with her family to the USA
and started taking online classes. She found how online classes were helpful for her to overcome
these cultural issues. Mai said: “Online classes permit me to choose anytime to work on my
assignments and I don’t have to be stuck to a specific time, which really helps me. So I could go
online any time I'm available.”This means that she is able to help her family and stay at home
and at the same time she is able to access her online classes and do her reading and assignments
when she is free.
Yasmeen, another participant from Libya, a single 20 year old, belongs to a large family
and she is the oldest among her siblings. She shared other difficulties regarding how online
classes helped her to solve her problem. She said:“I believe online classes are very helpful for
me to pursue my degree. I feel that they give me the flexibility and I need that.” From participant
Yasmeen’s perspective, online classes gave her the flexibility to help her family because of the
size of herfamily and because her dad has a low income. Online classes helped her to go to her
job in the morning and do her class assignment whenever she is able.Yasmeenmentioned another
issue when she stated, “I live in Rockford and my parents and my culture do not allow me to
travel far distance by myself especially because I am a girl even though I am 20 years
old.”Again, this participant gave me evidence abouthowonlineclasses provided her with a good
opportunity to solve her cultural restrictions regarding her movement.
Participant Amany, from Saudi Arabia, has another story. She is a motherofthree kids and
married to a very conservative and strict husband. She shared her experience about her culture
with me. Women face different restrictions and responsibilities that represent major obstacles for
them to continue their academic degree. Amany found online classes as a solution for her to
pursue a degree. She said: “Online classes are helpful for me because Arab women have lots of
responsibilities so it would be easier for them to attend online classes rather than regular
classes.” This participant from Saudi Arabia, as a cultural behavior, has to achieve all home
responsibilities without any assistance from her husband. She is assigned to do all home
responsibilities. Her husband did not allow her to have a babysitter for her kids while she was in
her classes. He believes that mothersare the only ones who can take care of their kids. This is the
way he was raised in his country. Amany said: “My husband cannot do anything for himself; he
cannot makeeven a cup of tea. It is shameful in our country that men cook or enter the kitchen to
help their wives." He believes too that women cannot go out and leave the kids with their dads.
She cannot go out and leave him alone at home. He might need her to prepare a cup of tea or
food for him. This participant said: "As I am taking evening classes from 6-9 and my daughter
doesn’t take a bottle, I mustfeed her." This is another issue she is facing with her little baby as
the baby needs her mom to be around during the time of the class. In this way she found online
class was the only solution for her.
From Arab women's perspective: Online courses support individual learning
This study focuses on individuals from different nationalities but they belong to the same
culture.The four Arab women from different nationalities concluded that online courses were
very helpful in supporting their individual learning. They have been in the USA for 1-4 years.
They have never experienced online classes in their countries. This has been the first experience
for them to be involved in online environments. For example, participant Amany from Saudi
Arabia has been in the United States for almost three years. She talked about her first experience
with online classes and said: "The teacher was like an instructor, giving us instructions, material,
and assignments to do. Online class helped me to teach myself and encouraged me to seek
information by myself.”Noor, another participant, said that she has been in the USA for one year.
She shares the same opinion as participant Amany. She said the following about the instructor: “I
appreciate how organized my instructor was on providing the material of the class and her fast
feedback regarding any problem that I might have had as beginner toonline classes.” From the
information, I found that participant Amany was satisfied with this type of learning and she was
excited when she was talking to me about how the instructor played the facilitator role and how
she was enjoyingbeingcentral tothe learning process. This type of learning, from her view, is a
good chance to be able to find and search information. Her instructor developed the environment
that can motivate her and her classmates by facilitating the learning for them. I found Noor to be
very happy and satisfied with her first online instructor. She appreciated her efforts to give the
students the guides that helped them to learn. Noor shared with me an example of how her
instructor helped and facilitated the material for her:
She was actually very nice. She gave me CDs of all the slides, so in case I couldn’t go
online, I could just look at them, look at the slides though the CD, and print them out,
print all the slides out … she had the PowerPoint, she was talking, she recordedherself
talking on the PowerPoint, so you watched it on the computer just like you would be
sitting in a classroom, and the professor talking to the PowerPoint. So I printed off my
PowerPoint slides ….and then I read them, so I did that and then my notes…She used
to ask us to find some other sources that can help and motivate us to learn.
Thus, Noor found that the instructor has played an important role infacilitating learning.
Students were able to use the material provided by the instructor. This helped them take notes
and do their assignments. Noor found using CDs and PowerPoint to be helpful sources of
information to listen to and read at any time she liked. When the learner is self-directed, setting
his or her own goals and standards, the instructor becomes a facilitator who reviews learner-set
criteria, timelines, lists of resources, and collaborations. Students in this situation have choices in
their education; they are responsible for their learning. They measure their own achievement, and
they have power in the classroomandcan become more independent.Mai and Yasmeen shared
with me some other experiences related to individual learning. They shared how they started to
be more independent. When I asked Mai about being in the United States and about the most
helpful aspect in online classes she said:
The most helpful aspects from online classes were the individual learning…. For me
individual learning was a new type of learning and I thought it was a good type, and I
liked it. In the past I wasn’t able to find the information that I need because the instructor
should do everything. I even wasn’t spending any time to look or find what I need. I was
thinking is just wasting time to search and find what you need by yourself since it is
When I asked Yasmeen, from Libya, about being in the United States for two years and
about her experience with online classes, she said "I have a good experience with online classes
because it made me more independent and search for information on my own using resources
such as books and other sources." From this information, I can see the effect of online courses on
the two participants, Mai and Yasmeen, regarding their academic life. The most interesting point
was that the participant Mai, in her previous academic life, wasn't having the ability or even the
motivation to search or find the information that she needed. She seemed that she did not know
how to start searchingforinformation, which indicates a lack of initiative and possibly a lack of
opportunity for initiative-taking. On the other side, she was thinking that it was a waste of time.
After her experience with how to be more independent in her learning, she figured out how it
was more helpful for her academic life. The same thing happened with Yasmeen, when she
mentioned, with a smile on her face, about how she became more independent and how she was
able to look for information by herself.This study includes artifacts that show improvement in
Arab women's learning style through distance learning.Thus, it seems that the participants
benefit from online courses not only in terms of content-learning but in tools which helped them
to be more active in their own learning. This type of learning helped them to make their
owndecisions about what and how they will learn, construct new knowledge and skills by
building on current knowledge and skills, and understand expectations. They were encouraged to
use self-assessment measures, monitor their own learning to develop strategies for learning, work
in collaboration with other learners, and produce work that demonstrates authentic learning.
Discussion and Conclusion
This study was conducted as a result of the need to find an appropriate way that may help
Arab women achieve their educational goals by overcoming the obstacles caused by their
government, culture, and the higher education system in their countries. The main findings for
this study show that Arab women found distance education as a solution to improve their
learning style, and to overcome their culturalbarriers.
The limitation of this study is that it requires more participants in order to show more
women's perspectives on distance education to be able to generalize the study in the Middle East
and North Africa where Arab countries are located. A future study on women's perspectives on
distance education is needed with larger sampling in order to form a policy that helps in paving
the way for women to pursue their educational goals. For policymakers, leaders and officials of
higher education are required to understand that online learning could be a solution for all
students in general and female students in particular. This study may be used as a guideline for
higher education leaders in the Arab world. For practice, Arab women can use online learning to
surmount their culturalbarriers. This research is useful in Arab countries because it encourages
higher education leaders to reconsider their approach to online learning, curriculum, and higher
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