The way we communicate and share information is changing education. According to Niki & Avril (2011) the information era and the rise of communication technologies has led to significant changes in education including new pedagogical approaches and redefined the role of the learner and teacher.

Online learning is just one product of this educational evolution. According to the Centre for Educational Development (n.d.) the term online learning is used as an umbrella term to describe any type of learning that is facilitated by technology such as computers and internet. The terms online learning and eLearning are commonly are interchanged and is used synonymously in current research. Under these umbrella terms there are several different ways online learning experiences can be delivered. 

Speak Visually. Create an infographic with Visme

As represented in the image Types of Online Learning, online learning can be defined by the number of learning environments. Virtual classrooms and distance education use one environment with communication generally being asynchronous. Blended and flipped approaches use two environments, online and classroom-based. Both use a combination of synchronous (video, audio) and asynchronous (wikis, blogs) communication and delivery tools (MacDonald, 2008) .

Around the world, online learning are being used to overcome educational barriers. In the United States online learning is being used to afford opportunities for at-risk students (Wicks, 2010) and to reduce the “digital divide” as a result of demographic and socioeconomic challenges. In Australia online learning or distance education is being used to reach students in rural and isolated areas of the country (Barbour, 2014 ). For the United Arab Emirates (UAE) online learning is a relatively new and emerging practice (Kemp, 2013).

It is believed the UAE has a lot to gain from online learning practices including maximising learning time and preparing students for success in a knowledge-based economy.

Pennington (2015) highlights that UAE students are spending less time in school compared to the global average. Furthermore, during the holy month of Ramadan schools are required to adhere to Ministry regulations and close early, reducing in-class learning time by 40 hours (Masudi, 2017). More recently, there was widespread controversy over the Ministry of Education’s (MoE) decision to not postpone exams that were scheduled to fall during Ramadan (Nasir, 2018). Combined with the reduced in-class learning time, it further highlights the need for a shift towards alternate and more flexible learning solutions.

“There is a wide knowledge gap between us and the developed world in the West and in Asia. Our only choice is to bridge this gap as quickly as possible, because our age is defined by knowledge.” (Leyne, 2007)

H. H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum

In addition, the UAE announced in its National 2021 Vision, that the country is working towards establishing a “knowledge-based economy.” With the change in financial climate, the country highlighted the need for renewed commitment to education and human capital. As a result, a secondary priority was established to develop school and universities in the country into “first-rate” education systems preparing student for the “21st century”  (UAE Vision 2021, n.d.).  

[ISETchannel]. (2014, Sep, 15). Knowledge Economy Visualized [Video File]. Retrieved from

This essay will explore the UAE’s journey towards online learning. Whilst considering cultural impacts, the essay will also highlight the challenges being faced by UAE students, educators and leaders as well as providing possible solutions.


Barbour, M. (2014 ). A History of International K-12 Online and Blended Instruction. Sacred Heart University. Retrieved from

Centre for Educational Development. (n.d.). Digital Learning Glossary: Quick Reference Guide for Staff at Queen’s. Retrieved from,668270,en.docx

Hazenberg, C. (2018). Types of Online Learning. Retrieved from

Kemp, L. (2013). Introducing blended learning: An experience of uncertainty for students in the United Arab Emirates. Research in Learning Technology, 21. Retrieved from;jsessionid=0E72E26B4A2C18DB448C63B0CB6BD08F?doi=

Leyne, J (2007, May, 19). Dubai ruler in vast charity gift. BBC News. Retrieved from

MacDonald, J. (2008). Blended learning and online tutoring a good practice guide. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39. 1147-1147.

Masudi, F. (2017, May 22). School hours reduced to five for Ramadan. Gulf News. Retrieved from

Nasir, S. (2018, March, 27). UAE Ministry of Education mulls postponing exam dates, online tests. Khaleej Times. Retrieved from

Niki, D., & Avril, L. (2011). Technology, Pedagogy and Education: Reviewing the landscape of ICT and teacher education over 20 years and looking forward to the future. Technology Pedagogy and Education 20(3), 247-261.

Pennington, R. (2015, March 10). Number of academic days in UAE public schools below average. The National. Retrieved from

UAE Vision. (n.d.). United in Knowledge. Retrieved from

Wicks, M. (2010). A National Primer on K-12 Online Learning. International Association for K-12 Online Learning, 2(1). Retrieved from