Students Staff

04 March 2016

Online learning pioneer wins Education UK Alumni Award

Photo of Dr Abdullah Al Fraidan

Dr Abdullah Al Fraidan with an award from Blackboard

The astonishing impact of linguist Dr Abdullah Al Fraidan has led to him winning the Social Impact category of the Education UK Alumni Awards for Saudi Arabia organised by the British Council.

The award acknowledges his exceptional contribution to online learning in Saudi Arabia and his commitment to creating positive social change and improving the lives of others.

The awards were announced on Tuesday 8 March at a ceremony in Saudi Arabia.

After completing his Masters and PhD focused on applied linguistics, language testing and programme evaluation at Essex, Dr Al Fraidan has gone on to take on key roles developing e-learning at King Faisal University.

These roles include most recently Dean of E-learning and Distance Education. He also became an Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics in January.

Dr Al Fraidan said: “I am now managing nine different BA online courses for more than 144,000 students in Saudi Arabia. Out of these students 80% did not have the chance to do a BA before and had found jobs instead.

“These programmes have re-opened the door for them to achieve something they never thought of before. They have also benefited by getting promotions in their jobs.

“85% of these students are 25 years old and above and we have many students who are over 60 years old and above.”

Offering the courses online means the University has been able to connect with many different sections of Saudi society including those with special needs, prisoners and on low incomes.

Dr Al Fraidan has helped establish 144 testing centres with the programmes attracting more than 100,000 applicants per year. Students are now studying in virtually every country in the world - including many Saudis, or their dependants, working at embassies.

Each year Dr Al Fraidan receives 70,000 emails from students and one of the things he enjoys most is responding to each and every one. He also uses a whole range of social media including Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat to interacts with his students.

He said: “I believe we are making an impact not only on our 144,000 students but also on their families, their jobs and Saudi society.”

Collaboration is central to Dr Al Fraidan’s work and this is something his experiences at Essex really helped develop. While at Essex he was heavily involved in the Saudi Society and this led to him supporting hundreds of students as they got settled at the Colchester Campus. He also saw the important of working positively with research colleagues.

“Collaboration was a virtue planted in my heart and mind which grew until I felt that I needed to help as many as I can,” he said.

The impact of the online programme has been huge. The university has increased its student numbers and many have had the chance to get a degree for the first time, but Dr Al Fraidan feels there are wider impacts including the positive influence on companies where students work and society in general. The programmes have also reached very remote areas of Saudi Arabia where there are no schools let alone universities. Many people working in the army have also been able to take advantage of the courses.

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