It is a game-changing concept that will see learners in huge numbers across borders having access to higher education.
THE Internet has obliterated national borders, and online learning is one of the obvious beneficiaries.
Take for example, the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), that is taking the world by storm by offering a new learning concept that disregards one’s geographical location.
Put simply, MOOCs are quality online programmes targeted at large-scale participation via the Internet.
Launched in Malaysia in 2014, MOOCs have gained much traction among the tech-savvy generation here.
To facilitate those seeking to expand their knowledge, MOOC platform provider, OpenLearning Global (M) Sdn Bhd, encourages students to be actively involved in gaining knowledge. OpenLearning was appointed by the Higher Education Ministry as the national MOOC platform for public universities in Malaysia.
Its co-founder and chief executive officer Adam Brimo said transformational learning happens when students are interested and motivated by a genuine love for learning, and not by a need to outdo others in terms of grades.
“Empowering student experiences in the education space helps them improve their learning capabilities, and revolutionises online learning by making meaningful education possible,” he said.
MOOC creates a very visual and exciting environment that also enhances teachers’ passion and capabilities in teaching as well.
Brimo said OpenLearning’s goal is to make it as easy as possible for anyone around the world to build a high quality and effective learning experience for their students.
“We want to increase the quality of education around the world and make it more open as education should not be limited only to certain people.
“When you have a platform like this, a motivated teacher in any of the institutions can build a course and share it with the world,” he said.
In the Malaysian context, teachers are known to spoon feed information to their students. However, with the programme, the educator will no longer be the source of information.
“Students will be the ones producing the content (information), but the role of the teacher will be to curate that information, structure the course appropriately, and design activities that enables students to understand, comprehend and apply the knowledge they’ve gained,” explained Brimo.
Describing the classroom as a “secret garden”, Brimo said nobody would know the quality of the course that’s delivered in an institution. But through MOOCs, it will be more visible as students and the public can judge the quality of the course delivery at any institution.
This creates pressure and positive competition among universities to build better courses, knowing that the world is going to see and evaluate them, he added.
Through the MOOCs, students are also able to interact with learners from other universities, even from those outside the country.
He added that the programme is not only limited to youth, but to anyone interested in taking up a course.
The Higher Education Ministry has already set up the Malaysia MOOC Working Committee to help lead the Malaysia MOOC initiative for the local public universities that are on board.
Scoring a first
Though MOOCs can be found worldwide, Malaysia is the first country in the world that has a national strategy on how to increase access to and quality of education through MOOCs.
It is also the first country to create a platform to award credit recognition and transfer for MOOCs, said Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh.
The programme transforms the traditional teaching method, enabling active learning.
“It also improves the quality and standards of learning and teaching using Internet-based technology,” he said, adding that everyone now has access to quality education which is free, achieving the objective of “education for all”.
Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Centre for Development of Academic Excellence and Student Development director and Malaysia MOOC Working Committee co-chairman Prof Abd Karim Alias believes that the programme is a game changer in higher education.
“It can leverage global connections, and empower interested learners who lack access to traditional higher education.
“Students can access all the open (free) online courses available on MOOC platforms via the Internet with ease,” he said, adding that MOOCs learning is not limited to just the teachers in their classroom.
“For example, if a student takes the subject Chemistry 101, he can learn from other universities offering the same subject. MOOC grants them access to many expert teachers from across the world,” he explained.
The programme allows students to learn on demand which means they will be able to get immediate access to materials and information.
“This enforces the Higher Education Ministry’s agenda of flexible learning,” Prof Abd Karim pointed out.
Apart from the curriculum, another important aspect in successful education is how a course is conducted.
“Teachers are no longer confined to the physical boundaries of the classroom as they can now offer a MOOC which can be accessed by students globally,” he said.
Though MOOCs was officially launched in the country in 2014, the movement towards online learning started earlier. Credit goes to Taylor’s University strategy pro vice-chancellor Prof Mushtak Al-Atabi for being the first person to introduce the programme here.
He said those who see themselves teaching from the videos posted on MOOC platforms will be able to critique themselves and have that “out of body experience”.
Prof Mushtak also pointed out that traditional understanding is that if a class has a smaller number of students, then a more meaningful, powerful and impactful lesson can be delivered.
“This is not the case. If you have a huge number of students, and if you are able to build a community of learners, then the impact is even more powerful than a smaller student- to-lecturer ratio,” he said, adding that the learning community is extremely powerful when students start to help each other and enhance the learning experience for each other.
“Learning across borders in huge numbers is not only possible, but could be so different and impactful than doing it even while in the classroom,” he said.
Taylor’s University Content Development and e-Learning Academy lead specialist Enna Ayub is a trainer who coaches lecturers on methods of conducting classes using MOOCs.
She said trainers are first required to enrol in the “Into the Future with MOOC” workshop.
“This will get everyone on the same page in their knowledge of the training before they are ready to develop their own courses,” she said.
Those who are serious about teaching will have to attend a ‘MOOC Me’ programme which is a face-to-face session to help the lecturer plan, understand and manage their MOOC effectively, before going onto the ‘Power Up Session’, the final stage of training.
Enna said MOOCs can be used as a teaching and learning tool that can reach out to participants from all over the world.
“It bridges the gap of educational inequality by offering higher learning opportunities to anyone who has the interest to learn,” she said, adding that the MOOC platform is set up in a way that makes it possible for anyone to take up a course easily.
“Perhaps some may question the credibility of the courses and their instructors, but as long as someone effectively engages learners during the course using relevant media and activities prepared in the schedule, I believe they are qualified to teach a MOOC,” she said.
Making It Better
However, there is still room for improvement for MOOCs in Malaysia.
“The Internet speed which supports OpenLearning can be improved as online learners may not have the patience to wait for the learning content to load up,” pointed out Enna.
Research has shown that Internet users will abandon a site if the video does not start up within two seconds, she added.
MOOCs, being relatively new to Malaysia, also causes some people, including teachers, to be apprehensive towards it.
Enna said MOOC teachers were wary of the idea of their class being “borderless” as they feel exposed and vulnerable, but over time, they have changed their mindset.
“They recognise and appreciate the effort that academics have put into training them,” she said.
Postgraduate student Yvonne Lim, 26, said the programme had opened her up to “a whole new world of learning” giving her a different perspective.
“I could learn anything from emotional intelligence, to cyber security, to entrepreneurship from all over the world without leaving the country,” said the former student of Prof Mushtak’s Entrepreneurship course.
“I could take charge of my own learning and have positive dialogue with my online coursemates, on the subject. It also provides a social media feel because I am connecting with my peers. I can even quit if I don’t like the subject,” she added.
Lim pointed out that learning through MOOCs had given her a “priceless experience”.
“I appreciate the learning opportunities and it has taught me that learning from the collective experiences of others is sometimes more valuable then just reading from a textbook or listening to a lecturer,” she shared.
Fellow student Michael Ooi, 26, hopes that the programme will be the eventual norm of how classes will be taught in future.
“With technology advancing at an exponential rate and speedy Internet connections, the programme will pave the way to truly international classrooms where students from around the world can share experiences with each other.
“MOOCs has also allowed me to learn and review the knowledge I have gained at my own leisure. I can test myself immediately with a quiz and have instant feedback on how I did,” he said.
Ooi added that seeing his overall progress clearly displayed on the screen also served as a great motivating factor for him to do well.
He said that the programme was not only beneficial to students, but to educators as well.
“MOOCs provide opportunities for academicians to use their imagination and creativity on how they can use online resources and courses as part of the overall planning for their course. It also allows teachers to use collaborative teaching and effort, while students who are located anywhere in the world can work together on a project.”