Workplace eLearning in Saudi Arabia: First Impressions

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I just concluded a week-long trip to Saudi Arabia – my first to the middle-east region. Apart from a delayed immigration & customs clearance at Riyadh (which I am told is a norm at Riyadh) the experience was wonderful. Saudi Arabia is like any other developed country – you can see wide roads, big cars (GMC trucks abound), tall swanky buildings, malls with all the expensive brand names. The usual transnationals – McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks, and Dunkin Donuts all make their presence felt. I also found some great Indian food too.

I was there to meet an existing client and some new prospects about their needs around custom eLearning development. Our partner in Saudi Arabia has been present there for quite some time selling catalog courses. With them I had an opportunity to meet clients in varied domains – Banking, Utilities, Energy, Healthcare & Telecom. I must say I am pleasantly surprised at the potential for workplace eLearning in Saudi Arabia.

Some take away from my trip:

  1. Most large companies have budgets for eLearning. Many are already doing eLearning and some of them like Saudi Aramco (here’s a 2006 presentation from Mr. Ken Huffman Coordinator,  Corporate Integrated Learning Services, Saudi Aramco)  have been doing this for a long time. Most others have experience with some authoring tool or catalog courses.
  2. The top management is well informed about eLearning and its possibilities. They are looking for ways to enhance their initiatives with the latest that’s available in the world.
  3. The average age of workforce is low. Most senior people I met are actually very young.
  4. Use of mobile phones is widespread. Most people carry two phones. However, data access is costly.
  5. Arabic language development is a key requirement in most of the companies. Very few are comfortable with just English language courses.
  6. There is significant American and British presence in senior managements in some companies, makes for a different cultural mix to handle.
  7. Hierarchy is to be respected and things may move slowly when it comes to decision making.
  8. Business is based on relationships. Pretty much like anywhere else in the world.

The Saudi eLearning market was projected to reach $125 million by 2008 growing at 33% in the previous 5 years. I’m not sure if that has really happened – I couldn’t find any current reports about the current market size. Earlier this month I had mentioned an Ambient Insight report, which projected growth rates in various regions for the period 2009-2014. That report pegs the growth rate in whole of Middle East at just 8% making it one of the slower growth regions.  I assume the Saudi is one of the fastest growing within the whole of Middle East. The education market there seems to have taken a lead over the workplace eLearning market helped along primarily by the huge amount of government funding. Here’s a great post from Tony Bates on eLearning in education sector in Saudi Arabia. It also gives a good peep into the male female ‘divide’ one would find in the Saudi society.

Teaching through the wall
Teaching through the wall
Source: e-learning and distance education resources by Tony Bates

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