Alkasim Abdulkadir: NOUN, E-learning A Ladder Out Of Our Educational Abyss

A silent revolution is going on at the National Open University of Nigeria however it seems several Nigerians are yet to grasp the importance of the National Open University of Nigeria itself or fully understand the alternative role that such an important institution plays in Nigeria.Noteworthy is the fact that the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) has now joined the league of leading global institutions at the forefront of using technology to enhance learning, with its migration to a new e-learning platform – iLEARN. Worthy of note is the fact that iLearn represents the very first time in the history of Nigerian tertiary education that e-learning is being fully integrated by a university with indigenous courses made available online, accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world.  It is important to trace the historic trajectory of the institution and reevaluate its place in Nigeria’s education firmament. The National Open University of Nigeria is an  institution, the first of its kind in the West African sub-region. The university, at present, has 54 Centres spread across the country. It is Nigeria’s largest tertiary institution in terms of student numbers. The National Open University of Nigeria operates from its Administrative Headquarters in Lagos. Nigeria, with Study Centres throughout the country. At take off of the university, pioneer student enrollment stood at 32,400.

The National Open University of Nigeria offers over 50 programmes and 750 courses, from Certificate, Diploma and Degree levels, while maintaining a strong commitment to internalization. She consults with experts, professionals and employers in developing courses. The National Open University of Nigeria brings international programs from universities around the world.
For decades, providing education for all has been a major agenda for the global community. Efforts have continually been ploughed in and thankfully, remarkable milestones have been attained at different levels. One of such milestones is the innovative use of information technology to democratize education.  The recent boom of online learning platforms across the world gives credence to the progress being made in the use of technology to create education solutions. Some of these platforms like Coursera, Lynda.com, Alison, Codeacademy, Udemy and Khan Academy, have already gained wide acclaim even among Nigerian youths. The beauty of these platforms is the easy access they provide to a vast variety of educational resources, networks and fun learning all at the speed of a click.  NOUN is now set to play a bigger role in solving the problem of education deficit in the country as the iLearn platform allows the delivery of quality education to a limitless number of students, thereby introducing unprecedented cost controls. Beyond that, individuals seeking to advance their education (professionals, working class people and yes, mums) can now take advantage of this platform without serious worries over time, space and financial constraints. Arguably, the NOUN iLearn initiative is a major boost to President Jonathan’s policy thrust in education. NOUN is one of the government’s most laudable attempts at providing Nigerians with access to formal tertiary education in a manner suited to their circumstances. NOUN currently has the largest student population amongst all tertiary institutions in Nigeria. The university under the visionary leadership of the current Vice Chancellor, Prof. Vincent Ado Tenebe, has stayed true to its mandate in spite of several mitigating factors. Among such factors is the low level of lecturer to student interaction due to its underlying Open and Distance Learning framework. These issues that affected the students also affected the institution, as the increasing student population became a strain on the institution’s infrastructure and manpower.

But with iLearn, an avenue for real time facilitator-to-student interaction is now provided, in a manner that leverages economies of scale through technology. This is achieved using customized features such as virtual classrooms with class discussion, course forums and the “Ask A Question” functionality. Facilitators will be able to moderate a class session, directly answer student’s questions, and provide additional insight to subject areas. The effect of this is seamless interaction between facilitators and students, and between students and fellow students. Furthermore, by allowing access through various avenues including the internet, mobile phones and even via SMS, iLearn now makes learning truly flexible and convenient. Students no longer need to study in isolation. If they encounter any issue while studying or should they be in need of any information, they can post questions or requests for explanation to thousands of fellow students a click away – be it on a laptop, tablet or mobile phone. Students will obtain first grade and quality facilitation from NOUN lecturers on the NOUN iLearn platform.

In the end, the solutions to the problems bedeviling Nigeria’s educational sector will be solved in part by innovation. However it must be pointed out that innovation cannot in itself survive in a vacuum. It must be driven with passion beyond measure by the drivers of policy, technological thinkers and every individual who cares for a better and progressive Nigeria. Government, teachers and students must learn new skills, make new sacrifices and embrace change! With its evident values, it is safe to admit that iLearn represents one of the noteworthy milestones in climbing out of the abyss that our educational system is currently in.

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Alkasim Abdulkadir is an International Freelance Journalist..

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