Distance education has become widely popular in the last 10 years. As estimated in 2011, approximately 6.1 million students were enrolled in at least one online course each semester in business schools in Abu Dhabi and Business Schools in Dubai. 

Considering that more and more students are pursuing their online bachelor courses and online masters courses, the virtual education market is growing rapidly.

Today's learners want flexibility and convenient access to their course material and attain a degree valued at the same level as a full time students. Students on these programs are also entitled to  complete access to the student support programs availed by on-campus students. As the number of students who are enrolling in online programs increases, the international business schools also tend to expand their existing services that meet the needs of these students.

With the requirement for improved services for distance learning, UK colleges and universities have invested their time and monies to increase their distance learning presence, they have evaluated their institutional websites as well as their online learning portals feasibility or the “virtual face” that is used by their potential and existing students. Since the students of today are no longer bounded by their locations and local universities, it is necessary for the institute’s virtual face to offer excellent web-based services on two fronts: the website and the online learning portal. 

The Website:

A survey conducted by Noel-Levitz in 2007 questioned around 1000 students about their expectations from their preferred universities website. The study concluded that most students wanted the institute’s website to offer information on the courses as well as financial info in any form of electronic media (web or email). It has also been shown that 50 % of students eliminated the university based on its website while approximately 55 % mentioned difficulty with site navigation.

The above research shows how important the website of the institution is, now one can only image how vital the online learning portal is for students currently enrolled onto the university's programs.

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The Online Learning Portal:

These portals should provide the students with all the support they could possibly need at a click of a button and more importantly, the relevant support that is required to make a informed decisions while undertaking distance learning in Saudi Arabia.

The virtual face of the institutes should allow easy access to courses material as well as the additional services such as an online library, mentors, guidance counsellors that would only traditionally be available for physically present / full time students.

Of course, the virtual face of distance learning universities has changed over the time but they further need to maximize the technologies available today to serve the needs of distance learners. With time the improvement of the virtual face of such universities will indicate that they value their distance learners as well as recognize their unique support needs. 

Technology has taken over our lives and with distance education programs offering various courses including online bachelor courses – has changed the way students are being educated as well.

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