Use of Virtual Learning Environment for Sustainable Distance Education in Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects

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Chapter And Authors Information

Fatima Shehu Kabir

Department of Educational Foundations, Faculty of Education, Kaduna State University, Nigeria
Use of Virtual Learning Environment for Sustainable Distance Education in Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects
From the Edited Volume
Edited By:
Dr. Nicoleta Gaciu
Content

Abstract

Advancement in Information and Communications Technology has impacted teaching and learning tremendously such that the traditional emphasis on print in the educational system is gradually giving way to technology-enhanced learning (TEL). Over the years, the use of technology in education globally has advanced both in scale and in its innovativeness. Indeed, this is more apt in terms of Distance Education delivery. In today’s digital age, educational paradigms are embracing more flexible approaches such as online learning, blended learning, and collaborative models of learning. This book chapter provides a theoretical construct of TEL terminologies: E-learning, Blended Learning, and Virtual Learning. It expounds on various E-learning technologies applicable to an open and distance education system. The use of E-learning or virtual learning environment being used in five selected accredited distance learning centres in Nigeria was discussed briefly and challenges to the use of these technologies were highlighted. Recommendations made centered on a balanced use of such technologies to achieve global best practices in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for distance education delivery in Nigeria and more importantly to prepare for a paradigm shift in educational delivery being witnessed during the current Corona Virus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Keywords

Covid-19 pandemic, E-learning, Open and Distance Education, Sustainable Development, Virtual Learning Environment

Introduction

E-learning has played a critical role in preparing a new generation of today’s teachers and students. As well as upgrading the skills of the existing teaching force to use 21st-century tools and pedagogies for learning, e-learning has played an increasingly important role in supporting the economic and educational growth of industrial nations (Oye, Salleh, & Iahad, 2011). However, in Nigeria, every year, about a million students apply for admission into various universities in the country, but less than 20% of them get admitted into the universities through Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (Ofulue, 2011; Anene, Imam, & Odumuh, 2014). It is believed that Virtual learning, as an application of e-Learning will provide a convenient alternative to regular university schooling, i.e on-campus conventional method. The application of e-learning technologies in the Nigerian Educational sphere has not developed due to several factors which as observed, range from, general unawareness, low computer literacy level and high cost of technology deployment. They also identified these factors as critical to the acceptability of e-learning by students and lecturers of Nigerian universities. According to Anene et al (2014), despite the various challenges posed by the use of emerging technologies in teaching and learning in Nigeria, there is increasing awareness of the use of such Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in teaching and learning. This increasing awareness of use of emerging technologies in education, will indeed play a significant role in Nigeria’s sustainable educational development and realizing the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The United Nations Development Programme (1991) describes development as a process that not only improves the quality of life, but also encompasses better education, poverty reduction, higher standards of health and nutrition, a clean environment, greater individual freedom, increased access to and equality of opportunity, and the facilitation of a richer cultural life. Indeed, the right to education for all was enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights over sixty years ago (United Nations, 1948). It is not surprising that globally, countries are making a concerted effort to ensure that their citizens have access to quality education. This effort to provide quality education is in line with the notions of “Education for All (EFA)”, the “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”, and the notion of lifelong learning, all of which emphasize a global commitment to providing quality basic education for all children, youth and adults alike (Kabir, 2016, 1).

Technology-enhanced learning includes distance and online instruction, which are recognized as viable tools necessary for preparing citizens to participate in the technologically driven global environment (Anene et al, 2014). Indeed, the characteristics and expectations of students, have gone through a great transformation in advanced societies. International research has shown that students now spend much of their free time on the Internet engaged in one or another online learning platforms, and exchanging information via social networking (Johnson, Adams-Becker, Cummins, Estrada, Freeman, and Ludgate, 2013). This finding corroborates the theory of “Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants” propounded by Prensky (2001, 2). Prensky (2001, 1) further explained that: “Today’s students ….represent the first generation to grow up with new technology. They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, video games, digital music players, video cameras, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. Today’s average college graduate has spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games (not to mention 20,000 hours watching TV). Computer games, email, the Internet, cell phones and instant messaging are integral parts of their lives”.

Indeed, students of today’s digital age expect to use digital tools for their study, With the availability of computer and telecommunications technologies, every young person can have a quality education regardless of his or her place of birth. This statement is in line with the dream of proponents of the Open Educational Resources (OERs) movement (Devlin & McKay, 2016). For today’s children, whom Prensky (2001) terms the digital natives, education is getting prepared for the future which can be achieved according to Prensky (2001) and Kabir (2018) by beginning with stuff they know from all their connections to the world and its people i.e from television, YouTube, the Internet, IM, chat, social networking, and then allowing them to follow their interests, and learn things that are only useful to them, sharing their views along the way. Digital natives have also been appropriately termed Generation C – learners who are “connected, communicating, content-centric, computerized, community-oriented, and always clicking” (Devlin & McKay, 2016, 93).

Distance Education systems have become so ubiquitous today such that the use of technology in learning cannot be discussed without stating its application to distance education. The United Kingdom has a long tradition of innovation in education; an example of such innovation is her open university, the Open University United Kingdom (OUUK) which has been a model for many other countries. Since the mid-nineties, the United Kingdom had elaborated strategies and action plans to support ICT education (Anene et al, 2014). The Open University Malaysia (OUM) was the first major academic institution in Malaysia that leveraged e-learning to deliver its academic programmes (Anene et al, 2014). Indeed, distance education has come a long way in terms of the use of technologies. Chukwunonso, Ibrahim, Selamat, Idama & Gadzama (2013) described the transition thus: From its humble beginning in 1728, when Caleb Philip taught his students a new method of shorthand through weekly mailed lessons, to Isaac Pitman’s use of correspondence to teach shorthand in Great Britain, to the introduction of technology to education and then online learning programmes at the K-12 level in 2008. Chukwunonso et al, (2013) added that today, the adoption of the Internet and web-based technologies have completely transformed the way we learn, play, and work. It is these same technologies that have become “lifesavers” in the current pandemic period, saving the Educational sector from total collapse, as learning moved online.

The COVID-19 pandemic is indeed a pointer to the enormous advantages of learning at a distance (in this case, learning from home). Ziaul Hoq (2020) stated that the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically influenced our lifestyles and is testing our adaptability and flexibility in response to a major global crisis, which leaves over 1,524,648,768 students barred from attending schools physically. Since the start of the pandemic, alternative methods, like e-learning at home, online learning, etc, have been utilized to ensure undisrupted education. Atayero (2020) observed that universities in Nigeria have adopted online teaching and learning as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic emergency; he further noted that this trend will continue post-Covid-19, as it has opened universities to educational opportunities, which were not hitherto considered.

Literature coming out of Nigeria on E-learning, have mainly concentrated on e-learning in Nigeria, with virtual learning being a new terminology. Even so, these studies have mainly focused on E-learning and distance education (Ajadi, Salawu, & Adeoye, 2008); challenges of e-learning (Ajadi et al, 2008; Anene et al, 2014; Ahmad, 2012); Student’s adoption of e-learning technology (Adewale-Odeshi, 2014); Technology Acceptance Models (Lwoga & Komba, 2014; Maina & Nzuki, 2015). Also, Nicholas-Omoregbe, Azeta, Chiazor, & Omoregbe (2017) posited that there has not been much research on the use of Content Management Systems also called Virtual Learning Environments in Nigeria while Chukwunonso et al, (2013) also emphasized the gap in researching how web technologies have impacted on the collaboration between students and teachers, students and students, and their overall contribution to distance learning. The reality of educational changes being experienced today, makes a paper like this very timely. The current Coronavirus pandemic has aptly demonstrated the criticality of e-Learning in today’s ever-changing world.

Conceptual Clarification

E-learning, Blended Learning, and Virtual Learning

E-learning is defined as the use of electronic devices or technologies such as desktop/laptop computers, smartphones, CD/DVD players, and other modern-day tools, to enhance the traditional face-to-face methods of learning (Nicholas-Omoregbe et al, 2017). E-learning is also seen as the use of computer networks to support knowledge and skills transfer, through processes such as Web-Based Training (WBT), Computer-Based Training (CBT), Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), and digital collaborations (Muhammad & Abdurrahman, 2015). Oye et al (2011) stated that the term e-learning increasingly refers to computer-enhanced training and not necessarily the computer-based training popular in the 1980s. It is usually delivered via a personal computer and transmitted or delivered via other communication technologies. However, Anene et al (2014) explained that e-learning ranges from the way students use e-mail to access an online courseware while attending a campus-based course, to programmes offered entirely online. E-learning allows for efficient dissemination of knowledge anywhere and anytime, and opens up a whole new world of quality learning content, while also empowering learners with information technology competency that is crucial to their success in today’s global knowledge economy. Ahmad (2012) posits that constructivism is the dominant theory used to support e-learning, as it supports the construction of knowledge by individual learners.

E-learning comprises a continuum of integrated educational technologies: starting with applications like PowerPoint, and progressing at the other end of the continuum to the use of virtual learning environments (VLEs), which have a significant impact on learning and teaching strategies. However, the concept of E-learning has advanced to what is popularly termed Blended Learning, which was coined way back in 2000 by Paul Myers of BBC (Kabir and Ibrahim, 2021).

Blended Learning is defined as distributed, hybrid, flexible, or multi-modal learning, and is also described as the combination of classroom instruction with self-paced online materials (Devlin & McKay, 2016). Devlin & McKay (2016) further explained Blended Learning as a hybrid of traditional face-to-face and online learning so that instruction occurs both in the classroom and online, where the online component is seen as a natural extension of traditional classroom learning. Blended Learning allows for higher levels of interaction between learner and content, between learner and instructor, between learner and learner, and between learner and his/her course interface (Cuesta-medina, 2018). Virtual learning is another term that emanates from e-learning. According to Olibie, Ezoem, & Ekene (2014), it is learning which is not confined to the walls of a classroom, but rather expands the possibility of using internet facilities, platforms, or satellite links to access and use data, information, and knowledge in ways which until recently, were almost unimaginable (Olibie et al, 2014). A very popular form of Blended learning is the flipped classroom model which reallocates the time between lectures and classroom discussion. In this form of blended learning, lectures (usually in the form of a YouTube video streaming or a homemade lecture video) become preparatory work for students as homework before they attend the face-to-face class (Lim and Wang, 2016). This has the advantage of giving students the opportunity to read the lecture material or watch a video of the lecture, and prepare for questions, assessments or general discussions during the live lecture.

Historically, the use of technology-enhanced learning (TEL) was claimed to have started at the University of Illinois in 1960, using computer terminals to enable students to access recorded lectures using remote audio or television devices (Wolley, 2019). Early e-learning systems such as Computer-Based Training (CBT) emerged in the 1970s and 1980s while Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) in the 1980s. The introduction of CSCL and soon after, advances in technology from large low processing and expensive computers to today’s mobile computing devices, changed the face of learning and gave birth to the first open university in Britain (OUUK) and the University of British Colombia (Chukwunonso et al, 2013). These advances in technology, and specifically, Web 2.0 technologies (Kabir, 2015) facilitated the use of the Internet to deliver education and further promoted web-based training, online distance learning, and online discussions between students who are at different locations (Chukwunonso et al, 2013). For Chukwunonso et al, (2013), the adoption of the Internet and web-based technologies in education delivery has led to the overthrow of more traditional methods of teaching and learning: from a simple and casual application of ICT to facilitating face-to-face classroom teaching and learning, to the intensive use of ICT for educational purpose as in the case of virtual or online learning.

Having presented a conceptual clarification, for this paper, the two terms virtual learning and e-learning will be used interchangeably. Indeed virtual technologies have transformed our lives in today’s digital age, such that the use of virtual learning in schools has the prospect of equipping distance learners with the necessary skills and knowledge to become independent, creative, and successful lifelong learners, which impacts their overall intellectual development.

New Technologies used in E-learning

E-learning technologies, according to Lwoga & Sanga (2007), encompass a wide variety of technologies and ICT applications for accessing, storing, and exchanging information. Such ICT applications include television and radio; compact discs (CDs) and digital versatile discs (DVDs); video conferencing; mobile technologies; web-based technologies; virtual learning environments (also called electronic learning platforms); Open Educational Resources (OERs) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Indeed technologies develop at a very fast rate. Some important recent additions to the above-listed technologies are hereby discussed:-

  1. Mobile e-learning (simply called ‘m-Learning’) is learning via small, portable computers such as personal digital assistants (PDAs), handheld computers or tablet devices, Internet-enabled cell phones (smartphones), e-readers such as kindle, as well as other handheld devices. These technologies have lots of advantages when used as learning tools and especially when applied to Distance Education. Ally and Tsinakos, (2014) estimated mobile subscriptions at more than 6 billion globally, with at least 75% being in developing countries. About 2.5 billion of the world’s population can access the Internet, a greater proportion using their mobile devices. Fahm (2021) stated that in Nigeria, adults who report owning a mobile phone are 80% of the population with 32% owning a smartphone and 48% a basic phone – as reported by a 2017 Pew Research Centre study. Kabir & Kadage (2017) corroborated this assertion, stating that mobile phones are the most prevalent ICT in the developing world, and the penetration rate is rising rapidly. The basic characteristics of mobile phones such as mobility, personalization and lower cost compared to computers or laptops make it easier for Nigerians to afford them (Adedoja et al, 2013) while the availability of solid mobile infrastructure and the absence of alternatives, has made mobile learning a good choice for Nigerians (Valk et al, 2010). Kabir and Kadage (2017), and Karim, Salim, Kamarudin & Zaidi (2020) described the mobile phone as the most suitable, of all ICTs, for advancing education. Mobile devices specifically smartphones equipped with various collaborative content are extensively used for many purposes (for example, mobile versions of LMSs, various video conferencing apps such as Zoom, Jitsi Meet, OERs, WhatsApp, and thousands of educational apps developed for mobile devices).
  2. Virtual learning platforms (also called Content Management systems (CMS) or E-learning management systems or simply Learning Management Systems (LMS) or Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs)): These are applications used for the facilitation of the learning process and delivery of learning content (Lwoga & Sanga, 2007). These platforms are usually used for administration and teaching within an educational enterprise. LMSs provide users with electronic access and use of learning content and other information, for administrative purposes while also allowing course providers or tutors to share electronic course materials with students for their study and virtual assessments. Activities managed by the LMS include instructor-led classroom training, educational seminars, or Web-based online training.
  3. Open Education Resources (OERs): UNESCO first defined the term “Open Educational Resources” in 2002 as: “teaching, learning, or research materials that are in the public domain or released with an intellectual property license that allows for free use, adaption, and distribution” (UNESCO, 2002, p. 24). Larson (2008) stated that “the ultimate goal of Open Educational Resources is to train educators all over the world to incorporate both up-to-date knowledge and available quality content into their courses, in such a way that their cultural identity is preserved while at the same time providing them with a space where they can add their creative production” (p 40). Wikipedia was launched in 2001 and has evolved into the biggest OER that exists. The Wiki books platform has uploaded numerous open textbooks, web pages, classroom projects and other open-source learning content. Moreover, non-profit organizations such as Openstax, Khan Academy, and the Saylor Academy emerged as leading providers of OERs (Lin, 2019). Lin (2019) further stated that with increasing proliferation in publishing and copyright, Creative Common licensing was initiated to allow authors to decide how they wish to share their work. Such authors could reserve their rights, or adjust the license to make their work more open, accessible for reuse, repurposing, and remixing. Indeed a recent study on OERs stated advantages of using OERs in education as cost-saving, provision of dynamic and plentiful learning material in multimedia format; supporting and enhancing mobile learning; development of OER evaluation skills by users and understanding copyrights, among others (Lin, 2019).
  4. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS): These are online courses that provide a platform for unlimited participation and open access via the web. MOOCs consist of traditional course materials such as recorded lectures, and readings. Several MOOCs also provide interactive user forums to support chat and video-based interactions among students, lecturers, and e-tutors or online facilitators. MOOCs are indeed a recent addition to technologies used in distance education. They were first introduced in 2006 and have now become a very popular mode of learning. Various MOOC platforms and partnerships used worldwide include Coursera, EdX, Open Learn, Future Learn, Khan Academy, etc. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have also been rapidly adopted in Higher Education: The Open Education Consortium, consisting of hundreds of Higher Education institutions and associated organizations worldwide, spearheaded the creation and distribution of a lot of free MOOC courses to attract a global audience in the early 2010s. MOOCs, though still evolving, offer possibilities for promoting lifelong learning, a greater variety of courses, and the use of social learning pedagogies (Lwoga & Sanga, 2007). Indeed, further implications of MOOCs in higher education include increased opportunities for open distance education as against the traditional face-to-face practice and more changes to the funding structure.

Virtual Learning Environment (VLEs) For Successful E-Learning Implementation

Virtual Learning Environment (VLEs) also called eLearning Management Systems (eLMSs) provide tools used in the delivery of instructor-led synchronous and asynchronous online training. These tools are used for authoring content as well as for providing virtual spaces for learner interaction (such as discussion forums and live chat rooms) and for also conducting fully online courses (Nicholas-Omoregbe et al, 2017). According to Olibie et al (2014), Mobile learning, which is the ability to access or diseminate educational content on personal devices that include: PDAs, smartphones and mobile phones, is also a form of virtual learning. Examples of VLEs include Moodle, Blackboard, WebCT, Canvas, Sakai and many more. Moodle (an acronym for modular object-oriented dynamic learning environment) is a well-known Course Management System (CMS) that has become very popular among educators around the world because of its simple user interface and economy (Nicholas-Omoregbe et al, 2017).

The prominent features of an e-LMS or VLE should include:

  • Management of educational content
  • Planning of curriculum,
  • Communication and collaboration,
  • Tutor-based or course-based aannouncements,
  • Testing and assessment and
  • Reports generation (Nicholas-Omoregbe et al, 2017).

An e-LMS for an educational system should be able to do some or all of the following: (i) centralize and automate administration, (ii) integrate training initiatives on a web platform, (iii) support portability and standards, (iv) provide self-service and guided services, (v) be efficient in assembling and delivery of learning content, (vi) personalize content and reuse knowledge (Nicholas-Omoregbe et al, 2017).

Open and Distance Education Institutions in Nigeria

In Nigeria, the body responsible for accrediting and supervising ODE is the National Open universities Commission, via its Department for Open and Distance Education. Since its creation in 2011, the Department has reviewed activities of Nigerian universities already offering Distance Education before its creation. These universities, which have been approved to continue operation include the University of Lagos, Obafemi Awolowo University, University of Ibadan, Modibbo Adamawa University of Technology, Yola, the University of Maiduguri and University of Abuja.

The department of Distance Education has, to date, accredited nine Nigerian universities to run distance Learning programmes. They include: Ahmadu Bello University Zaria and Ladoke Akintola University approved in 2016 and 2015 respectively. The Lagos State University DLC, Joseph Afe Babalola University DLC and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka were all approved in 2018 (NUC, 2019). Others include the Federal University of Technology Minna Centre for Open Distance and e-learning, approved in 2019; Babcock Centre for Open Distance and e-learning, approved in 2021, the University of Ilorin CODeL, approved in 2021 (NUC, 2022).

The above mentioned institutions indicate that the number of universities with distance learning centres, is fourteen. These institutions are all being run as dual-mode D.E Institutions. Nigeria has two single-mode open distance education Institutions: The National Teachers’ Institute, at Kaduna and The National Open University of Nigeria.

The Use of Virtual Learning Environments in ODE Institutions in Nigeria

In Nigeria, recent developments and realization on the part of the government that Information and communication technology (ICT) holds the key to educational advancement, has led to the adoption of e-learning in distance education delivery. It is no wonder that the National Universities Commission (NUC) has termed its model of distance learning as the “ICT enabled Blended learning” model and has provided ICT facilities to all federal universities via the National Universities Network (NUNet) project (Ahmad, 2012). The implementation of e-learning platforms in Nigerian universities is on the increase despite challenges of power, high cost of internet bandwidth and lack of enabling environment.

The use of VLEs in developed countries is well reported in the literature. Chukwunonso et al, (2013) reported that with an increase in online education, some research universities now offer PhD programmes online. Though a number of the massive open online courses (MOOCs) have limitations, research institutions like MIT, Stanford, and Princeton Universities now offer non-credit courses to a wide range of global audiences. University course programmes and a wide variety of courses can be accessed from YouTube. Indeed, universities such as the OOUK have partnered to produce free and paid MOOCs via the Future Learn and Open Learn Initiatives. Anene et al (2014) also reported that the United Kingdom model of ODL has been embraced by many countries for their Open and Distance Learning institutions. The University of Malaysia for example utilizes the blended approach that combines printed learning materials as the main learning resource supplemented by face-to-face interactions at regional centers and online learning through a specially designed Learning Management System (LMS) (Obasi & Akuchie, 2014). A number of studies have also pointed to the embrace of E-learning using VLEs in Nigerian Tertiary Institutions (Chaka & Govender, 2017; Nicholas-Omoregbe et al, 2017; Adewale-Odeshi, (2014); and Anene et al, 2014).

This paper studies the implementation of VLEs in Nigerian ODE Institutions. Indeed numerous DLCs of Nigerian universities use one form of e-learning or the other. However, for this study, five NUC-accredited ODE institutions which have deployed a form of VLE will be reviewed. They include Ahmadu Bello University Distance Learning Centre, University of Ibadan Distance Learning Centre, Obafemi Awolowo Distance Learning Institute, University of Nsukka DLC, and the National Open University of Nigeria. Literature has reported some conventional universities embracing E-learning. University of Lagos (Okiki, 2011); University of Nsukka (Ahmad, 2012); Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, and Anambra State University Uli, where VLEs are used by Year three students in an Empirical study (Olibie, Ezoem, & Ekene, 2014). It is, however, unfortunate to observe that in O.D.E institutions, students and facilitators of distance education have been too slow in responding to the global technological revolution. It is sad to say that distance education practice in Nigeria was, until very recently, dominated by the use of traditional print media, and in some instances, radio broadcasts. The use of television for D.E as practised in other countries such as the China Central Radio and Television University and the Open University United Kingdom has not taken firm root in Nigeria (Kabir, 2016). Numerous literature have pointed to the utilization of some basic ICT infrastructure such as Internet and intranets, computer systems, lectures downloaded to CDs and DVDs, and in some few institutions, course material being uploaded onto institutional websites in O.D.E. Indeed, Ajadi et al (2008) described the prospect of Virtual Learning for NOUN students and Nigerian ODE students in general, some of which are:-

  • Students learn what they need to learn and progress at their own pace.
  • The internet allows students to make choices about the type and direction of their learning and also gain feedback quickly and efficiently.
  • E-learning/virtual learning is expected to provide students with courses 7 days a week and 24 hours a day. This serves as an incentive to attract the working class, students and other individuals, such as housewives.
  • High capacity and internet-ready computer systems assist the management of Institutions to reduce their overhead costs.
  • Virtual learning also provides students a cultural, racial, and gender anonymous medium for communication which in turn gives students more confidence in their studies (Ajadi et al, 2008).

Some other prospects of Virtual Learning enumerated by Ahmad (2012) include:

  • It helps to manage instruction and progress via the learning portal;
  • It allows for easy use of multimedia in practice and assessment according to learners’ abilities;
  • It allows for automated monitoring of users’ progress;
  • It makes learning highly interactive as it engages users and pushes them to progress;
  • It takes care of individual differences in learners’ abilities which is critical in educational philosophy (Ahmad, 2012).
  1. The National Open University of Nigeria

The National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) was first established on 22nd July 1983 by an Act of the National Assembly and later abolished on 25th July 1984. It was resuscitated by the Obasanjo Administration in 2002 and started operation in 2003 (Jegede, 2016). It is at the moment the only single-mode D.E full-fledged University in West Africa (Kabir, 2019a). NOUN offers a total of 101 undergraduate, sub-degree certificates, diplomas and postgraduate (PGD, Masters, and PhD) programmes in Arts and Social Sciences, Business and Human Resource Management, Education, Law, Science and Technology (Jegede, 2016). Teaching and learning in NOUN are carried out through print and electronic media. Printed materials remain a major instructional mode and are supported by other electronic communication technology (Obasi & Akuchi, 2014). Fayomi, Adepoju & Ayo (2015) reported that NOUN relies heavily on print materials and face-to-face tutorial services. NOUN has indeed been very slow in technology adoption. Indeed, NOUN has established its radio station at its headquarters in Lagos. The radio station is also one of the strategies to disseminate NOUN programmes to its student and efforts are being made by the institution’s management towards establishing more radio stations across the country to further assist in transmitting their programmes to other students in the remaining states of the federation (Fayomi, Adepoju & Ayo, 2015). NOUN boasts of the recent improvement in its e-learning adoption with its E-courseware platform, where structured courseware developed as Open Educational Resources (OERs) are uploaded on the NOUN website for students to download (Ahmad, 2012). However, very recently, the institution has started its DE delivery via the use of MOODLE as its LMS (Assessment visit by the researcher to NOUN Study centres, February 2022).

  1. Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife Distance Learning Centre

According to Kabir (2022), the commonest type of e-learning adopted at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) is lecture notes on CD-ROM which can be played and replayed at the learner’s convenience. OAU website further stated that for the distance learning programme, OAU uses multimedia technology that supports e-learning, as well as independent learning or correspondence. The technology permits the transmission and reception of lectures and instructional packages in audio and video formats, viewed online by students in classroom settings at remote receive centers. Its easy-to-use LMS, Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment (MOODLE), allows students to retrieve lectures and assignments, and during the live classes, students have the opportunity for real-time interaction with instructors via video conferencing and chat interfaces. In addition, Instructors occasionally visit the Receive centers to conduct tutorials and examinations (Kabir, 2019a).

  1. Centre For Distance and E-Learning, University of Nigeria Nsukka

The e-learning project in the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) commenced in 2008 and an E-learning Squad was formed to execute the programme. The Learning Management System (LMS) chosen was Moodle due to its interactivity, user-friendliness and opportunity for collaborative learning. NAN (2019) reported that the first e-learning course to be launched was the MITT Course, Management and Information Technology Training. UNN secured accreditation for its Centre for Distance and e-Learning (CDeL) recently in 2018 (NAN, 2019). The UNN CDeL website shows that CDeL uses a student’s learning portal (iLearn) where they access course materials, view assignments, and engage in other learning activities. The CDeL website has a lot of courseware, journals, lecture notes, thesis and dissertations and many other OERs uploaded for students’ use. The director stated that structured course material is normally downloaded on tablets and given to registered MBA students (NAN, 2019).

  1. Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Distance Learning Centre

The Distance Learning Centre, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, uses innovative technologies in its distance education delivery. The centre started with one programme, the Masters in Business Administration, and uses technological innovations such as structured courseware, a Virtual Learning Environment (its LMS), webinars for tutorials and addressing students, and 24/7 user support using technology (Kabir, 2019a). Structured Courseware, in SCORM-compliant formats, is used for course delivery. The ABU model is a Blended delivery that comprises: the provision of hard and electronic copies of coursewares in all the courses offered by the student; weekly uploads of relevant Discussion Forum Questions as well as the provision of an interactive platform for students to review and critique each other’s write-ups; face to face engagement usually transmitted via video conferencing; an optional 2-week on-campus revision session; project defences/seminars and CBT based examinations held at regional/state Examination Centres (Kabir, 2019a). The A.B.U story is a success story with over 3,000 MBA students enrolled on the M.B.A programme. The Centre also runs about sixteen other undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.

  1. Distance Learning Centre, University of Ibadan

The present-day distance learning programme of the University of Ibadan started first as an external degree programme and later changed to the External Studies programme of the Department of Adult Education in 1988 (Kabir, 2019a). The University of Ibadan DLC, which has graduated over 4,000 students, has since 2002 embraced the use of new technologies in its delivery. In an interview, the Director of the Centre reported that the centre uses materials that are in audio and audio-visual formats which are downloadable by students. At the point of entry, learners are attached to Academic Advisors, who engage students online before they start class. Students work on their modules using the course management system, they are later invited for a physical interactive session (which is optional) with various course tutors. Students also do a CBT-based examination. The implication is that learners can work individually and at their own pace (Aremu, 2017). The University of Ibadan has embraced the use of technology in D.E delivery, indeed, a project funded by the Educational Technology Initiative of the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa (PHEA) was reported to have been carried out at the University of Ibadan DLC (Adedoja, Adelore, Egbokhare & Oluleye, 2013). The project popularized the use of mobile phones to support distance learners at the University of Ibadan Distance Learning Centre.

Challenges of E-Learning/Virtual Learning

In Nigeria, although the potential of conventional e-learning has still not been fully tapped, its implementation may not have yielded the desired results because of numerous challenges such as the high cost of computers, internet bandwidth, and poor power supply, among others (Lwoga & Sanga, 2007). One of the critical challenges of e-learning/virtual learning in the Nigerian ODE system had for long been a lack of an appropriate ICT policy (Kabir, 2022). Nigeria was using an obsolete ICT policy, The Nigerian IT Policy (2001), which was revised in 2012 but not enacted into law by the government (Kabir, 2019b). It was only recently in November 2019, that the federal ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, under its honorable minister, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, developed the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (2020-2030) (Kabir, 2022).

Some literature reported on the challenges of e-learning implementation in Nigeria. For instance, Anene et al, (2014) reported some of the challenges in the Malaysian Educational system which apply to Nigeria. This is because of similarities shared by the two countries despite being on different continents: Nigeria in West Africa and Malaysia in South East Asia. Both were erstwhile British colonies and therefore started up with similar educational systems. Both countries are capitalist but operate a mixed economy, with government participation in the economy (Onuah et al, 2017). In addition, literature has shown a similar trend in acceptance of technology in both countries (Kabir & Ibrahim, 2021; Lim & Wang, 2016; Shittu, Gambari & Sule, 2013); their drive toward achieving technological innovation (Mohammed and Isma’il, 2019; Alrawashdeh, Muhairat, & Alqatawnah, 2012). Indeed Ajadi et al (2008) had earlier reported on these constraints as far back as 2008, many of which are still relevant today:-

  1. Awareness: Generally, there is a lack of awareness amongst the Nigerian populace, especially parents, of the imperativeness of e-learning, especially in the 21st century. Ajadi et al (2008) added that students’ attitude is seen as a contributing factor as most of these students are reluctant to take responsibility for their learning, which is an anomaly to the Learner-centred philosophy of E-learning. A recent research (Kabir & Ibrahim, 2021) supports this assertion. This constraint is relevant, especially to the Nigerian situation.
  2. Bandwidth and Internet Connectivity issues: Low bandwidth and connectivity constraints make downloading of learning content very slow, which creates frustration and boredom among learners. Indeed rich and engaging content requires a rich combination of multimedia components, but such multimedia learning content requires higher bandwidth and faster internet connections. This negatively impacts the efficiency of Distance Learning delivery, most especially in Nigeria.
  3. Computer Literacy and Digital Divide: Low computer literacy level has been a critical factor affecting the success of virtual learning by students and teachers in Nigerian Distance learning institutions. This is worsened by the lack of adequate ICT training for facilitators, e-tutors, and courseware developers, which makes it difficult to provide quality digital content for Distance Education students. This happens even where necessary infrastructure is provided. In Nigeria, a large segment of the population lacks the required ICT competence. This is more applicable to learners from rural areas, where there is little or no ICT infrastructure.
  4. Lack of Quality E-Content: Most of the e-learning content used in Nigerian Distance Learning Centres have low interactivity, which results in a moderate impact on learners. This lack of interactivity is a result of a lack of expertise on the part of content developers. Another reason is that the huge financial resources required to develop e-learning content, is not easily available. In most cases, courseware developers in distance learning institutions in Nigeria, as well as in Malaysia (Oye, Salleh & Iahad, 2011), do not go through extensive content development training which results in substandard e-content used by the distant learners.
  5. Poor Technical Infrastructure: Technical infrastructure in developing countries is usually not highly developed. Internet connections for example are unreliable or quite slow due to narrow bandwidth. The coming of 4G and 5G technologies have led to improvement in the speed of the internet. However, most students who do not own smartphones rely on Internet cafes to attend virtual lectures and do assignments. These cafes use shared bandwidth, resulting in very slow Internet connections. The situation is worsened by the lack of adequate power supply, which has been a perennial problem for all sectors of the economy in Nigeria.
  6. Financial restrictions: Anene et al (2014) stated that in developing countries, high cost of ICT equipment, is among a number of factors that impede on the success of e learning delivery. This is very much applicable to Nigeria. Misappropriation of funds meant for Infrastructure, which is a widespread occurrence in Nigeria, further complicates the problem.
  7. Technophobia: Most of the students admitted into O.D.E institutions in Nigeria have never had any Information and Communications Technology (ICT) training hence they are afraid of operating any ICT device. This is true even though Nigerian students all use computers for their JAMB University Tertiary Matriculation Examinations (UTME). Nigerian UTME candidates usually only have access to computers, without the required competency to use these ICT devices optimally. Kabir (2022) has stated that a large number of O.D.E facilitators also have technology phobia. The Technology Acceptance Model (Davis, 1989) supports this assertion. Users only accept a certain technology that they perceive as easy to use (PEOU) (Kabir and Ibrahim, 2021).
  8. Software and License cost: Software used in e-learning are very expensive. Though several LMSs such as Moodle and of recent GOOGLE Classroom, are open source (free), it is not free to customize these learning management systems to the needs of a particular O.D.E institution. Moreover, the administration and maintenance costs can be quite expensive and require some expertise.
  9. Energy related problems: Irregular and erratic power supply has been a perennial problem that affects all aspects of the Nigerian economy. Ajadi et al (2008) observed that this has been a major setback for technological advancement in the country. Indeed this assertion is still valid today. Most rural areas in Nigeria are not connected to the national grid, thus students residing in such areas find it almost impossible to use ICT devices. During the recent COVID 19 Pandemic, attempts to engage students by e-learning were not very successful because many students reside in rural areas with no stable power provision and no internet connectivity (Ifijeh & Yusuf, 2020). In addition, even in urban areas, Internet infrastructure also relies on power to function. The use of alternative power such as solar-powered inverters is still a very expensive alternative. Lack of adequate power hinders lots of live engagement with distance learners, as many cannot afford to use alternative power such as power generating sets, or solar-powered inverters. Such alternatives are highly expensive and are not affordable to most Nigerian students and their e-tutors.
  10. Lack of appropriate policy guidelines on institutional use of ICT. Maina & Nzuki (2015) reported that there were no clearly stated institutional policies on ICT use in tertiary education institutions. This works against the adoption of ICT in these institutions (Kabir, 2019b).

Ziaul Hoq (2020) also reported additional challenges of using Virtual learning environments in e-learning delivery as:- Lack of adequate technical support to learners; absence of face-to-face interaction; and language barriers, as e-learning systems mostly adopt software that is English language-based. These additional challenges, also add to the myriad of problems facing the use of virtual learning environments in Distance Education Institutions in Nigeria.

Conclusion

The survival of tertiary educational institutions in the 21st century will increasingly rely on various forms of electronic delivery systems and available communication facilities that are required to make education more flexible. Technology has been transforming higher education as it increasingly becomes a natural part of the lives of both educators and students especially in developing nations (Devlin & McKay, 2016). Blended learning holds a lot of promise for individuals in developing countries as these countries seek to educate their populace, with affordable educational technologies. Advanced educational technologies available in today’s digital world make virtual learning one of the catalysts that will drive present and future learning, as aptly witnessed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Hence, virtual learning should become an integral part of learning in tertiary institutions. Ifijeh and Yusuf (2020) Stated that the Coronavirus pandemic has redefined the narrative, especially in the educational landscape across the globe, where educational institutions were closed down and traditional teaching methods rendered near useless. Advanced educational technologies, where available, were conveniently used to save the situation. Nigerian institutions of learning were among the worst hit by the pandemic due to the lack of infrastructure to seamlessly migrate to the virtual learning space (Ifijeh and Yusuf, 2020).

At the beginning of this century, literature was awash with researches on the use of technology by those born in the digital generation (Prensky (2011) in (Kabir, 2018); (Prensky, 2001). Indeed, today’s students are members of this generation and can only learn with digital technologies, which they were born with if learning is to be meaningful to them. For virtual learning to be successfully implemented in Nigerian Open and Distance Education Institutions, some critical recommendations are proffered thus:

  1. Adequate funding: The UNESCO recommendation of 26% of the budget to be used in Education should be adhered to (Ofulue, 2011) in (Kabir, 2022). Hence government should invest more funds to provide digital technologies to the universities so that students and faculty are well exposed to virtual learning. This exposure to virtual learning, increases their adoption of VLEs and hence proficiency in the use of such technologies.
  2. The National Universities Commission (NUC) and other accreditation bodies such as the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) should make more progress with the implementation of e-learning in Nigeria’s public tertiary institutions. These bodies, mentioned above should collaborate with appropriate parastatals of the Nigerian government (such as National Information Technlogy Development Agency, NITDA) to provide the much-needed infrastructure, especially power and internet that ICT systems ride on.
  3. Power and other ICT Infrastructure: The Nigerian government should make concerted efforts to improve the power situation, provide highly subsidized broadband internet connectivity and other ICT Infrastructure for use in tertiary Institutions. Universities should then be able to procure or design and create reliable virtual learning platforms or software and tools to interconnect all students and lecturers for virtual learning (Lwoga & Komba, 2014).
  4. ICT literacy for lecturers: Staff (both teaching and non-teaching) of distance education institutions must acquire new digital skills to facilitate online interactions and assess students on VLEs, administer the VLEs, and acquire courseware development proficiency. These skills will also enable such staff to plan or redesign e-learning curriculum that match course objectives and learning outcomes (Cuesta-medina, 2018). In addition, this proficiency is a vital skill required of all tutors and facilitators of ODEs.
  5. Production of highly structured and interactive e-content: Instructional content, processes, and policies must be designed to provide learners with requisite knowledge, skills, and competence to be innovative and competitive (Cuesta-medina, 2018) in today’s digital and highly connected world. This means that all stake holders in Distance Education (learners, facilitators, content developers, media experts, technologists) must be trained and re-trained in order to achieve the required competence to produce the much-needed quality e-content for Distance Education systems.
  6. ODE institutions should intensify ICT training for students: Students must go through training and retraining in ICT proficiency. They should also be exposed to practical tasks on virtual technologies to help them become more aware and motivated for virtual learning. Evidence of ICT proficiency should also be a requirement for admission, in addition to university basic entry requirements.

In addition to the above-mentioned points and most significantly, this paper proposes the use of affordable and balanced e-learning systems to achieve global best practices in technology-enabled Distance Learning delivery in Nigeria. Due to the serious constraints of Infrastructure, especially power and high cost of internet band with, it is proposed that asynchronous systems, which do not require compulsory live interactions between students and their E Tutors, be used. Indeed, virtual learning, if delivered effectively, will help in resolving the perennial problem of lack of access to tertiary education in Nigeria. Indeed the 21st century offers a lot of opportunities through which Nigeria as a developing nation, could use virtual learning as a tool for sustainable educational development to meet the objectives of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. These goals cannot be achieved without serious attention being paid to access and massification of tertiary education. Virtual learning technologies provide a suitable platform for quality and sustainable tertiary distance education delivery that will prepare 21st-century digital learners to participate in a global knowledge economy.

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