Table of Contents  

Khan, Al-Subeiy, Ali, and Khawaja: Shifting from classic learning environment to digital learning environment in Arab culture


It has been widely argued that open educational resources and training may have significant benefits for students, educators and institutions, for example enabling learners to access high-quality teaching materials.1 Users need to take note of the perceptions that society has of digital e-learning and develop and adapt to the new complex systems under this scrutiny. In addition, it is important to develop content and study methods appropriate to e-learning that facilitate the learning process.2 In addition, users need to adopt a new perspective of online resources, one that is focused on the process of learning. In contrast to closed systems, such as in Saudi Arabia, where students are subjected to a classic learning environment at institutions and do not usually experience an open learning environment, and which have only marginal influence on student learning, an open learning system (digital learning) can bring greater benefits and is easier to use. Digital learning aims to construct motivational learning situations and promote the learning processes needed to take advantage of e-learning, which are different from these needed to benefit traditional learning methods.2

It has been extensively reported that people, especially young people, are increasingly using social networks and media-sharing sites.3 Ala-Mutka4 further reported that people of all ages use various blogs and wikis for collaborative projects, which support and develop the knowledge of young people as well as older generations.

According to the European e-Learning Action Plan, digital learning is use of the internet and its related technologies for improvement of the quality of learning by facilitating access to different resources for sharing, exchanging and collaborating.5 SDL is the method of learning in a self-directed manner for acquisition of competencies in knowledge, skills and attitude. However, SDL along with digital learning aims to stimulate learning processes in which students independently construct their own knowledge base.2

Critical reviews, meta-analyses and research have provided evidence that SDL has become the fundamental theme in the education of adults, alongside digital learning.6 In particular, according to Murad et al.,7 SDL plays a vital role in medical students’ learning, as continuous advancement and development in the field of medicine can often lead to them dealing with unique cases. This is further supported by the literature, in that the participation of the students in problem-based learning curricula leads to extensive use of SDL skills.6

For medical students, electronic SDL plays a major role in several areas, such as group discussions, research, problem-based learning and problem-solving. Because students in Arab regions are often not comfortable with using social media for SDL, motivating students in this area can be difficult. Current research segments the understanding and interpretations of SDL for medical students, based on both literature and information collected from the students themselves.6 The aim is for medical students to utilize digital learning to allow them to uncover the existing and upcoming progression of SDL. The results of the present study may aid our understanding of the optimal structure and strategic design to facilitate digital SDL in Saudi Arabia.


This cross-sectional study was conducted between December 2014 and January 2015 at the College of Medicine, King Faisal University, Al Ahsa, Saudi Arabia. All medical students in any year were included in the study. The questionnaire was constructed using the Delphi technique at Google (Google Inc., Mountain View, CA, USA) documents and the link was uploaded to several social media sites. The questionnaire comprised 28 questions, of which some related to demographic features and others focused on the utilization of social media. The data were entered into Statistical Product and Service Solutions (SPSS) version 21 (IBM Corporation, Armonk, NY, USA) and a Pearson chi-squared test was applied for comparison. A P-value of > 0.05 was considered to be significant.


The results showed that the percentage of female and male participants was almost equal, 50.5% and 48.5%, respectively. However, the biggest group of participants (35%) was final-year students. Out of all of the participants, 63% scored a grade-point average (GPA) of 4–5 points during their education at medical college and the mean age of the participants was 22 years (Table 1).


Sociodemographic characteristics of the participants (n = 103)

Characteristic n %
Age (years)
18–21 42 40.7
22–24 55 53.4
> 24 6 5.9
Male 50 48.5
Female 53 51.5
Academic year
Year 1 19 18.4
Year 2 9 8.7
Year 3 15 14.6
Year 4 19 18.4
Year 5 36 35.0
Year 6 3 2.9
Intern 1 1.0
Postgraduate 1 1.0
GPA (points)
3–4 38 36.9
4–5 65 63.1

Almost one-third (33%) of responders utilize social networks for SDL for 2–3 hours daily, and 84 (81%) declared that social media were very helpful during preparation for their examinations. Pearson chi-squared tests showed some of the variables in Table 2 to be significant. Age, sex and number of years in academia have a significant association (P < 0.05) with the use of social media for certain questions.


Association of using social network sites and SDL

Social network sites and SDL Chi-squared value d.f. Asymptotic significance (two-sided)
Information you look in social network sites for SDL 63.107 33 0.001
Use social network sites for SDL 103.655 6 0.000
Time spent on social network sites for SDL 111.270 16 0.000
Information transferred better through social network sites than traditional methods 103.981 4 0.000
More social support provided through social network sites 103.743 4 0.000


Young people are exploring new technologies for day-to-day activities, including learning; however, they find traditional teaching methods more challenging.8 Consequently, students who have grown up in the period of digital technology are confident in the use of e-learning and their ability to benefit from it.9 E-learning and SDL are becoming important elements for medical students as they can be used for enhancing skills for better understanding of medical concepts, e.g. group discussions, research, problem-based learning and problem-solving.

The current study demonstrates that digital learning has the ability to improve SDL in certain ways. However, some variables related to digital learning were found to be insignificant. Variables that were significant included ‘Information you look for in social network sites for SDL’ and ‘Use of social network sites for SDL’. Digital learning predominantly supports the attainment of proficiency by encouraging the use of self-directed processes and increasing reflection processes. Active structuring, as well as destructuring and restructuring of knowledge, is an essential requirement for the attainment of skills. Unlike our study, Barth2 and Ala-Mukta4 found social media sites and wikis to be useful for learning in their population. This shows that there is either a difference in the use of social media between the studies, or that the population differs. However, the qualitative study conducted by Yamani10 also mentioned several obstacles as well as advantages and disadvantages for the application of e-learning in Saudi Arabia, corroborating the findings of the current study. Overall, the current study could not provide generalized results because the population was of limited size and representative of only one ethnicity group, and there had recently been a new curriculum applied to years 1, 2 and 3. However, the majority of the students supported the digital learning environment in terms of SDL, regardless of whether they were undergoing a conventional or problem-based learning curriculum.


This study concludes that the influence of new learning strategies is rapidly affecting the Arab world. Students quickly adopt a digital learning environment and use it for their SDL.



Coughlan T, Perryman L-A. Something for everyone? The different approaches of academic disciplines to Open Educational Resources and the effect on widening participation. Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning 2011; 15:11–27.


Barth M. From e-learning to the Acquirement of Competencies: Wiki-Based Knowledge Management and Complex Problem Solving. In: Bø I, Szücs A (eds). Proceedings of the Seventh EDEN Conference; 2007. URL: (accessed 4/11/2015).


Cachia R. Social Computing: Study on the Use and Impact of Online Social Networking. Seville, Spain: Institute for Prospective Technological Studies/JRC; 2008. URL: (accessed 4/11/2015).


Ala-Mutka K. Social Computing: Study on the Use and Impacts of Collaborative Content. Institute for Prospective Technological Studies Exploratory Research on Social Computing, JRC Scientific and Technical Reports. 2008. URL: (accessed 3/11/2015).


Longo B, London S. The missing business case: rise and fall of an information literacy training programme. URL: (accessed 3/11/2015).


Shokar GS, Shokar NK, Romero CM, Bulik RJ. Self-directed learning: looking at outcomes with medical students. Fam Med 2002; 34:197–200.


Murad MH, Coto-Yglesias F, Varkey P, Prokop LJ, Murad AL. The effectiveness of self-directed learning in health professions education: a systematic review. Med Educ 2010; 44;1057–68.


Green H, Hannon C. Their Space. Education for a Digital Generation. London: Demos; 2007. URL: (accessed 3/11/2015).


Shaffer DW. How Computer Games Help Children Learn. New York: Palgrave Macmillan; 2006.


Yamani HA. E-learning in Saudi Arabia. J Inf Technol Appl Educ 2014; 3:169–72.

Add comment 

Home  Editorial Board  Search  Current Issue  Archive Issues  Announcements  Aims & Scope  About the Journal  How to Submit  Contact Us
Find out how to become a part of the HMJ  |   CLICK HERE >>
© Copyright 2012 - 2013 HMJ - HAMDAN Medical Journal. All Rights Reserved         Website Developed By Cedar Solutions INDIA