E-learning is generally regarded as using information and communications technologies for teaching and learning. These technologies may include, but are not limited to, the following: presentation technologies (e.g., PowerPoint), the Internet, videoconferencing, e-mail, specialist disciplinary software, learning management systems such as WebCT, simulations, and educational games. E-learning may involve such hardware as computers, personal digital assistants, and cell phones. The media used can combine audio, video, images and text in a variety of combinations and using a range of approaches. E-learning should be regarded as a facility or set of tools, not a particular teaching method. Indeed, e-learning may be used to support almost any kind of instructional approach, positive or negative. Examples of using e-learning constructively include approaches which combine more traditional teaching practices with information and communications technologies. For example, an instructor might use the Internet during his or her lecture to access online animations that supplement the class presentation. A course website might contain activities that facilitate active learning. Communications applications such as online discussions groups might be used to enable collaborative problem solving among groups of students who have difficulty scheduling meetings. Instructors of fully online courses typically use little if any face-to-face instruction and depend almost entirely on e-learning.
The degree to which e-learning is used by instructors varies widely due to a number of factors including their personal teaching preferences, the nature of the subject matter, the students involved as well as the availability of technical and instructional design support. Quality instruction remains the paramount goal and e-learning should never be used for its own sake. The E-Learning Committee identified the following factors that contribute to the need to transform teaching and learning in higher education:
evolving nature of "basic skills" required to be competent professionals
the opportunities provided by the increased effectiveness and reduced costs of information and communications technologies;
pervasive use of information technology by students leading to changes in learning preferences;
synergy of teaching and research;
growing demand for alternative learning models to improve learning and increase accessibility;
greater availability of electronic learning resources and scholarly publications.
The combined effects of these five factors make it paramount for the University to reevaluate and update its strategy for e-learning. E-learning enables greater flexibility in terms of where and when students can participate in learning activities. As a result, those involved in discussing the advantages of using e-learning often concentrated on how it reduces barriers to accessing educational programs. However, from a pedagogical point of view, the focus of e-learning is not on access, but on learning. E-learning provides learners with the opportunity to be more active and to take greater responsibility for their own learning. It also gives faculty a wider variety of tools for facilitating participation and collaboration.
The E-Learning exists in the context established by the vision, mission, and goals of the University. Information and communications technologies are praised for their capacity to span distance, connect communities, provide information, and rapidly transmit huge volumes of data. E-learning is an integrated application of these technologies. As such it has the potential to influence how all the academic themes of the University are realized.
Need for Reforms in Tertiary Education to Address New Challenges. Quality assurance can play a key catalytic role in initiating reforms to revitalize weak tertiary education systems. Despite variations in cultural and political preferences, differences in leadership styles within governments as well as varying stages of development, there is emerging consensus that traditional academic controls are inadequate for responding to today's challenges and that more explicit assurances about quality are needed (El-Khawas, DePietro-Jurand, and Holm-Nielsen 1998).
New Methods of Delivery Challenge Traditional Approaches to HE Development. Recent advances in information and communication technologies (ICTs) have prompted changes in the modes of delivery for education. The use of different forms of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) is on the rise, making it possible to teach and learn from anywhere in the world irrespective of one's geographical location relative to the source of delivery. On-line education is growing, even within regular "brick and mortar" institutions. These new methods also render tertiary education "borderless"-students have options for access to higher education beyond their national boundaries and providers of HE can reach students anywhere in the world without having to secure clearance from any local authority. This is a positive development, especially for countries which cannot afford to invest in brick and mortar institutions (for example, small countries, weak economies) to meet the growing social demand. However, in the absence of an effective QA system, consumers lack a reliable basis for choosing between different borderless offers, and governments would not have a mechanism for holding these providers accountable for the quality of their programs.
In Africa this trend is expressed in the growing attention accorded to building capacities for distance education. The region now hosts four open universities, with plans to establish at least two more in the near future. Likewise, the provision of education "at a distance" by traditional universities is steadily expanding. In Tanzania, the Open University of Tanzania (OUT) is now the largest university in the country-only 15 years after its establishment. The African Virtual University which was initially incubated in the World Bank is now a well recognized leader in open and distance e-learning (ODEL) in Africa with a network that spans over 20 English and French-speaking countries. Though some familiarity with quality assurance processes for traditional (print-based) distance learning systems has been acquired on the continent, the new modes of delivery pose a challenge because there neither standards nor expertise are currently available to regulate quality.
1.2 Research Aim and Objectives
The aim of this dissertation is to "To explore the quality assurance in e-learning and its effectiveness in terms of improving the quality of learning, and to recommend strategies for effective quality assurance in e-learning for the colleges and universities.
The objectives in order to achieve this aim are as follows:
Review the developments in quality assurance in e-learning and study the e-learning aspects of quality assurance.
To examine the quality assurance standards in e-learning and their effectiveness.
Study the effectiveness of quality assurance in an e-learning context, and identify the main challenges and the critical success factors.
Develop appropriate strategies for the implementation of effective quality assurance in e-learning.
1.3 Problem Statement
The current study aims to answer the following overall problem. Is there significant difference in the effectiveness of quality assurance in e-learning in the public and private universities in the Kingdom of Bahrain in terms of their curriculum design, course design, and course delivery?
To answer this question, the following sub-problems shall be addressed:
To what extent does effectiveness of quality assurance in e-learning occur in the higher education institutions (HEIs) in terms of curriculum design, course design, and course delivery as perceived by its faculty members, students, and stakeholders?
What are the problems or barriers encountered by the respondents on the quality assurance in e-learning?
What success factors in e-learning perceived by the respondents in the private colleges and universities?
What challenges and strategies in e-learning observed by the respondents on the implementation of the quality assurance in the university?
What possible suggestions/recommendations to improve e-learning in the colleges and universities?
1.4 Research Approach
The primary data collection will be conducted through survey questionnaires and unstructured interviews however, the secondary data collection through extensive literature review taken from books, journals, magazines, and other related reading materials in e-learning. The data collected from both the sources will be integrated and then analysed. Qualitative analysis will be used for the data being collected from both the approaches. However, quantitative analysis will be done by the researcher after collecting the data for analysis and interpretation to know the findings of the study on the quality assurance in e-learning hence, fulfilling the aim of this research.
Moreover, the Primary Data Collection will be taken from the Survey Questionnaires and informal (unstructured) Interviews from the respondents of the selected colleges and universities in the Kingdom of Bahrain. However, the Secondary Data Collection will be taken from the literature review such as books, journals, magazines, internet links, and other related readings on e-learning aspects.
After the data is being collected from the primary and secondary sources, the Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis Approach will be used to analyse the research data. The analysis will be done after the retrieval of the survey questionnaire. However, the data will be analysed and interpreted using textual or tabular presentation based on the results of the statistical analysis. Hence, in the interpretation of data implications is needed and also supported with related literature or studies to strengthen the analysis and interpretation of data which are significant to the findings of the study.
1.5 Outline of the Dissertation
Chapter 1: Introduction and Background. The purpose of this chapter is to introduce the problem on the effectiveness of the quality assurance in e-learning, its challenges and strategies. It also presents the rationale behind the decision of pursuing this research, based on the observations made by the researcher and other authors. It concludes with the delineation of the approach adopted in the structuring of the thesis.
Chapter 2: Review of Related Literature. The purpose of this chapter is to present and examine thoroughly the existing literature in the area of the quality assurance of higher education institutions; e-learning quality assurance; and e-learning success factors; and other related studies on e-learning aspects. Also, a theoretical research model has been proposed and research hypotheses have been developed.
Chapter 3: Research Methodology. The purpose of this chapter is to presents the research design and methodology of the study. It also includes the respondents of the study, validation of research instrument, data collection method, and data analysis.
Chapter 4: Data Analysis and Findings. The purpose of this chapter is to present the analysis and interpretation of the data, and also the discussion on the effectiveness of the quality assurance in e-learning, problems/barriers encountered, success factors, and quality assurance challenges and strategies. However, the descriptive-survey approach will be employed in this study. However, tabular and textual form will be used in presenting the data analysis.
Chapter 5: Summary, Conclusions, and Recommendations. This chapter is a summary of the whole thesis. It provides an assessment of the importance of the research done and it is an outline of possible future research strands.
This chapter provides an introduction to the dissertation along with brief discussion of the background on the concept of e-learning in the Kingdom of Bahrain particularly in the HEIs - Higher Education Institutions. It also presented the Aim and Objectives and briefly discusses the area of research, literature reviews and provides rationale for conducting this study. The research aim and objectives are made clear and the research approach is presented.