Pakistan Journal of Distance & Online Learning
Volume: III, Issue: I, 2017
Exploring the Potential of Virtual Learning in an
Open and Distance Learning (ODL) Environment
Atif Farooq Solangi
*
Moiz Uddin Ahmed
**
Shahid Hussain
***
Mohammad Daud Khattak
****
Abstract
Virtual Learning is an emerging model in a distance mode of
education. Due to advancement in technology, the concept of virtual
learning has also prevailed in the job industry specially in the form of
electronic internship or simply e-internship. It is not only providing
opportunities for employers and employees but there are many challenges
that are arising due to technology competency of interns in a remote
learning environment. The concept is new in the developing countries like
Pakistan and therefore, this research has been conducted with aim to
investigate the basic ICT skills of students of the Allama Iqbal Open
University (AIOU), Pakistan, which is the largest and oldest distant
learning institute of Pakistan and is the most relevant with the concept of
virtual learning environment. A survey was conducted to evaluate
student’s skills on the usage of operating systems, office automation tools,
graphic animation tools and social networking tools. The survey results
show that the students have requisite level of skills to precipitate in
different tasks of virtual learning or e-internship. They are fully capable to
use operating systems, office automation tools and graphic animation
tools. They are also used to participate in group work through social
networking tools. The results are encouraging as the Anova for regression
model is showing significant role of these variables in virtual learning.
Keywords: ODL, Virtual learning, ICT, skills
*
Allam Iqbal Open University, Islamabad, Pakistan.
Email: atifsolangi@aiou.edu.pk
**
Department of Computer Science, Allama Iqbal Open University, Islamabad,
Pakistan. Email:moiz.ahmed@aiou.edu.pk
***
Department of Mass Communication, Allama Iqbal Open University, Islamabad,
Pakistan. Email: shahid.hussain@aiou.edu.pk
****
Regional Director, Allama Iqbal Open University, Peshawar, Pakistan. Email:
daud.khattak@aiou.edu.pk
Atif Farooq Solangi, Moiz Uddin Ahmed, Shahid Hussain, Mohammad Daud Khattak 10
Introduction
Distance education has been around for a long time but has evolved
in a number of ways from postal correspondence to technology based
digitized course instruction (Moore, 2002). The amalgamation of
distance learning i.e. the ability to learn from distance has merged with
the phenomena of Open learning which is the ability for anyone to access
the educational contents anywhere anytime in a virtual learning
environment (Devi, 2006). With the advancement in technology, the
ODL has undergone technological transformations and provided seem-
less interaction between students and teachers (Franks, 2012). These
technological gains have also affected the office environment and
therefore new models of remote working has been introduced all over the
world including the e-internships (Michael, 2003).
Internship is an activity which is performed during the course of
study of a professional degree program (Howard, 2007). The normal
Internship procedure involve placement of students in relevant
companies. They are associated with a professional department where
they sit and work as per their official timing. The professionals train the
internees through guidance, training and assess their work by giving
professional work. The e-internship is a new concept where the interns
do not have to travel to a central place of work (Howard, 2007). They use
Information and Communication technology (ICT) to interact with the
office representative/mentor from remote locations (Anderson, 2009).
The remote location can be from home, or class room, or any other place
except central office. This concept is new in the developing countries
including Pakistan and thus facing many challenges. The use of ICT
skills is one of the important challenges which can be converted into an
opportunity if inhabitants are fluent in these skills (Anderson, 2009).
Pakistan is a developing country struggling to enhance the ICT usage
in different fields including education and training. The technology
mechanism may be used to support and initiate the novel idea of virtual
learning which has yet to be practiced in the country. The study
(Howard, 2007) reveal that promoting online model of remote work
requires investigation of several parameters like ICT skills, attitude and
behavior of learners and organizational set up of employers (Park, 2009).
The basic ICT skills is the most important parameter that needs to be
Exploring the Potential of Virtual Learning in an Open and Distance Learning… 11
investigated in a localized environment. Such innovation requires
investigation of the ICT capacity of local students before promoting this
new idea of internship. This research paper is focused on the evaluation
of basic ICT skills among the students of AIOU which is the most
relevant institute to introduce virtual learning or e-internship due its
philosophy of distance education all over the country.
Literature Review
The term virtual learning is a model where workers can work from
remote areas by using Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
The concept was emerged from the state of California, USA where virtual
working idea was conceptualized at the University of Southern California
(Postma, 2003). Nilles one of earlier Telework Titan (Postma, 2003) gave
a strong idea of getting off people off the road and provide them
opportunity to work from their homes. It will not only reduce the rush on
traffic but will save time and money as well. Following the new idea of
working virtually, big IT companies like AT&T has freed up US$550
million in cash flows by eliminating traditional office sittings and reducing
related overhead costs since 1990’s (Anderson, 2009). Center for work and
family was established in Boston College Carrol school of management by
adapting new concept of virtual working. (Anderson, 2003). The idea was
also conceived by other countries like Brazil, Portugal and Spain where
big IT companies adopted this model (Howard, 2007).A study was
conducted in Singapore that identified many women who can work but are
not in work force as main avenue. It appeared that many women who are
busy with their family commitments cannot go to office five/six days, 40
hours per week. E-internship offers them flexibility (Postma, 2003). A
survey was conducted which showed attitude of Singaporeans female
computer professionals. Out of 459 respondents, 73% were in favor of e-
internship. (Postma 2003).
The concept of virtual Learning is slightly new in developing
countries (Anderson, 2009), however, it can contribute in socio economic
development of the developing countries. Many developing countries in
Asia and Africa are facing economic and infrastructure challenges due to
lack of infrastructure and slow economic growth rate (Aker and Mbiti,
2010). Virtual learning can be used as an alternate way of job
opportunities to local inhabitants at their home and can help to reduce
Atif Farooq Solangi, Moiz Uddin Ahmed, Shahid Hussain, Mohammad Daud Khattak 12
poverty specially in rural areas. But it is important that information and
communication technology infrastructure is available at rural areas of the
developing countries. Working in virtual environment in developed
countries have many advantages, from employee’s perspective, one have
autonomy and flexibility in working over work schedule, reduction of
money in commuting and parking, no office politics which leads to job
satisfaction. With advantages, there were challenges as well, it was
difficult distinguishing between work and home time, there was feeling
of isolation from workplace social network, lack of technical support if
IT equipment is not working. Some advantages from Organizational
perspective are improved employee productivity, increased employee
retention if the jobs assignment is completed on time. However, there are
challenges as well like difficulty in employee performance monitoring,
also difficulty in evaluating the employee productivity (Postma2003).
The developing countries have high intensity of technology in their
society. A teleworker in a developed country can participate in virtual
working without worrying about the technology availability. Virtual
working replaces old way of traditional concept of Internship where
employee travels and works for 8 hours/week plus 5 days a week. Virtual
commuters must be able to use the software and hardware required to
effectively connect to the company's server. (Anderson, 2009).
Pakistan is a developing country and it is progressing day by day in
the field of Information Technology (IT). Due to technological
advancements in the recent years, students living in far flung areas are
also interested in learning the new ICT tools available in the market.
However in the developing countries the technology infrastructure is not
as advanced as in developed countries. Some countries are also facing
power failures and lack of ICT literacy. This has a great concern not only
for employees but also for the employers. Only selected organizations
offer virtual learning in selected areas, where facilities are available
(Gordon, 2001).
This research study has focused the Computer Science students of
the AIOU living in the urban/semi urban/ rural areas who don’t have this
new concept of working through virtual mode. The objective of the study
is to investigate the skills towards using following tools which are
required to participate in virtual learning:
1. Operating system.
Exploring the Potential of Virtual Learning in an Open and Distance Learning… 13
2. MS Office.
3. Social networking.
4. Graphics/animation.
Research Question
Virtual learning is a new concept that needs to be implemented in a
localized environment to meet the international standards. The traditional
way of offering internship needs to be replaced with this newer concept
of internship and therefore moving towards online is the need of today’s
era of technology.
Do students have skills of using following tools in order to
participate in Virtual Learning:
1. Operating system.
2. MS Office.
3. Social networking.
4. Graphics/animation.
Limitation of the Study
As virtual learning and e-internships are new concepts, therefore,
the ICT skill investigation was initially focused on the students of
computer science domain. The researchers collected data from the
students of BS Computer Science program of Allama Iqbal Open
University, Islamabad studying at five different cities including two
remote locations of the country.
Theoretical Framework
A remote worker working through virtual learning model has to
communicate with the firm from the remote location. There are
geographical distances which have to be covered through the use of
Information and Communication Technology. The ICT skills are very
important for effective and objective to and for communication and can
lead to the success of the concept of e-internship. Due to importance of
these parameters, the conceptual framework is proposed to investigate
four essential ICT skills on the use of operating systems, Microsoft
Atif Farooq Solangi, Moiz Uddin Ahmed, Shahid Hussain, Mohammad Daud Khattak 14
office, social networking tool and graphics/ animation tool skill. The
conceptual framework is focused on the evaluation of these skills as
shown in the figure.
Fig 1. Theoretical Framework
The information about operating system is the basic requirement to
use the computers at home, office or any other remote location. The
intern should have the knowledge of latest operating system in order to
sustain in the virtual environment. Depending on the requirements, some
companies prefer to work on windows software and some other would go
for Linux and some other may require apple. The other important
expertise is the use of office automation tools. These tools are used in a
variety of organization varying from business to education. The
productivity of interns can be increased if they have strong secretarial
and communication skills. Having such skills, the interns can prepare
letters, compile reports, prepare budgets and program basic database
applications.
The social networking tools are another area of expertise which let
the users to participate in group. The work that the student complete can
be called as social networking between him and the companies’
representatives, for instance if student uses Google hangouts or drop box
for completing such activity. They help to maintain close coordination
with the company and relevant professionals. They also help to maintain
good relationship with the immediate boss sitting at the remote location.
The intern can get immediate feedback and response from the bosses and
Graphics/Animations
Operating System
Microsoft Office
Virtual learning
Social Networking
Exploring the Potential of Virtual Learning in an Open and Distance Learning… 15
if they have strong skills of using social networking it will add in their
performance. The expertise on graphic and animation tools is another
important skill specially for IT students. Such skills can be used to
manage proposals from typesetting to design styles. It can also help to
develop graphics and styles for business products, logos and web pages.
Research Methodology:
The survey research methodology was followed to study on potential
of Virtual Learning in an Open and Distance Learning environment. In
order to investigate the basic ICT skills a questionnaire was developed
with the consultation of technology and education experts. The basic ICT
skills were chalked out in order to measure the strength of students for
virtual learning environment. The changes suggested by experts were
incorporated in the final questionnaire for distribution among students.
The questionnaire was distributed among the students at five cities. The
total questionnaires distributed were 120, out of which, we received
feedback from 101 students. The questionnaire designed for the study
were closed ended and structured to check the whether the students of
computer science program have the required ICT skills.
Content Validity
Content validity was conducted to check that the items selected for
the study are true and can support the respective variables. After
checking the reliability with the variables, content validity was also
checked individually with every variable to check that whether it needs
to be changed for the accuracy or the same content will be sufficient,
after clear examining, it was proved sufficient.
Sample Selection
The students of computer science program studying in different
semesters were targeted and identified where they have the required ICT
skill to meet the virtual learning need. Samples were selected from five
AIOU regions where BS computer science students are enrolled
including two remote locations.
Atif Farooq Solangi, Moiz Uddin Ahmed, Shahid Hussain, Mohammad Daud Khattak 16
Analysis and Results:
Demographics
The demographic results are shown in the table 1. 58.42% of the
respondents were male and 41.58% of the respondents were females,
which means female has a substantial proportion. 44.55 % of the students
who responded were less than 21 years of age, 31.68% were between the
age of 21 and 30, while 15.85% were found in age of 31 and 40 and only
7.92% were over the age of 40.
From geographical point of view, 53.46% of the respondents were
from urban areas of the country, 32.67% from semi-urban areas and
13.87% from rural areas showing good percentage of students living in
rural area who have the access to ICT devices.
Table 1
Demographic results of the population
Variable
Percentage
Gender
Male
58.42
Female
41.58
Total
100
Age Group
Less than 21
44.55
21 – 30
31.68
31 – 40
15.85
More than 40
7.92
Total
100
Location
Urban
53.46
Semi-urban
32.67
Rural
13.87
Total
100
Exploring the Potential of Virtual Learning in an Open and Distance Learning… 17
SPSS version 16 was used for the analysis of data. The analysis
started from finding the correlation, regression and Anova. The
significant independent variables were found in office automation,
graphics & animations and social networking tools. The significant value
as found are 0.05 for MicrosoftWord,0.04 for Microsoft Power Point,
0.02 for Dreamweaver, 0.02 for Adobe Flash and0.01 for Social
Networking as shown in table. The change in response regarding the
virtual learning are 0.32 for Microsoft Word, 0.23for Microsoft
PowerPoint, 0.20 for Dream weaver, 0.43 for Adobe flash and 0.29for
social networking. In mostly cases, the standard error value is less than 1
shows that there is less variation in the responses of the respondents and
there is consistency in the response.
Atif Farooq Solangi, Moiz Uddin Ahmed, Shahid Hussain, Mohammad Daud Khattak 18
Table 2
Information and Communication technology (ICT) skills of the
respondents
Unstandardized
Coefficients
Std.
Error
Standardized
Coefficients
(beta)
T
Sig.
(Constant)
2.52
0.81
3.10
0.003
Skills (OS: Windows
XP)
0.12
0.11
0.15
1.06
0.29
Skills (OS: Windows 7)
0.05
0.11
0.05
0.42
0.68
Skills (OS: Windows 8)
0.13
0.30
0.05
0.45
0.66
Social Networking &
Communication tools
(Skype)
0.15
0.16
0.10
0.96
0.34
Social Networking &
Communication tools
(Google Hangout)
0.30
0.20
0.18
1.52
0.13
Social Networking &
Communication tools
(Facebook)
0.09
0.15
0.08
0.65
0.52
Social Networking &
Communication tools
(Dropbox)
0.07
0.24
0.03
0.29
0.77
Social Networking &
Communication tools
(Twitter)
0.19
0.21
0.13
0.92
0.36
Social Networking &
Communication tools
(Other)
0.45
0.17
0.25
2.66
0.01
Software (MS Office:
Words)
0.32
0.16
0.26
1.98
0.05
Unstandardized
Coefficients
Std.
Error
Standardized
Coefficients
(beta)
T
Sig.
Software (MS Office:
Excel)
0.17
0.17
0.11
1.00
0.32
Software (MS Office:
Power Point)
0.23
0.11
0.28
2.05
0.04
Software (Graphics:
Dream Weaver)
0.20
0.09
0.22
2.38
0.02
Software (Graphics:
Adobe Photoshop)
0.20
0.21
0.09
0.94
0.35
Software (Graphics:
Corel Draw)
0.11
0.45
0.03
0.26
0.80
Software (Animaions:
Adobe Flash)
0.43
0.19
0.31
2.31
0.02
Software (Networking)
0.29
0.12
0.29
2.42
0.02
Dependent variable: Virtual learning
Exploring the Potential of Virtual Learning in an Open and Distance Learning… 19
The R square value is 0.37 as shown in table which explains the
variation in the model is 37% due to Independent variables while R is
0.61 that shows that suitable and appropriate relationship exists between
the variables of model. Standard error estimate values are low which
reveal that parameters. The p values for Anova regression model is 0.001
which shows overall significance of the variables as shown in table 4.
Model Summary
Table 3
Model summary of variation in the model
Table 4
ANOVA Regression Model
ANOVA
Model
Sum of
squares
Df
Mean
square
F
Sig
Regression
11.66
17
0.69
2.91
0.001
residual
19.56
83
0.24
Total
31.23
100
Dependent variable: Virtual learning
Conclusion
This paper has explored the potential of virtual learning in an ODL
environment. Virtual learning is a new concept in the developing
countries especially Pakistan. Introducing such innovative idea requires
analysis of students in using basic Information and Communication
technology tools. A questionnaire was prepared to investigate ICT skills
among students of AIOU. The skill level was divided into four classes:
Operating System, MS Office, Social Networking and Graphics/
Model Summary
R
R Square
Adjusted
R Square
Std. Error of the
Estimate
Model
0.61
0.37
0.25
0.49
Atif Farooq Solangi, Moiz Uddin Ahmed, Shahid Hussain, Mohammad Daud Khattak 20
Animation tools. The 21
st
century students must have these skills before
applying virtual learning for remote working.
The survey was conducted from the students of Computer Science
studying at the AIOU, which is country’s largest ODL institute and,
therefore, the most relevant for introducing virtual learning model. The
computer science was selected as sample as e-internship is going to be
introduced for computer science students first time as a pilot project.
The result shows that students have sufficient ICT skills to
participate in virtual learning environment. The students belonging to
remote areas of the country also have the ICT competency including both
male and female students. The Information and communication
technology is penetrating in the country at a fast pace. The youth is fully
capable to learn new tools and techniques. They can be trained for virtual
learning where they can earn money and improve their livelihoods and
help in uplifting the socio economic condition of the country.
Exploring the Potential of Virtual Learning in an Open and Distance Learning… 21
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Citation of this Article:
Solangi, A.F. (2017). Exploring the potential of virtual learning in an
open and distance learning (ODL) environment. Pakistan Journal of
Distance and Online Learning, 3(1), 09-22.

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