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Growing from strength to strength


The Malaysia MOOCs initiative is a unique success story on using technology to deliver quality education

“IN my Genetics and Nutrition MOOCs, instead of handing in essays that sounded exactly the same, we started collaborating and thinking differently.”

Lee Kuan Yong, a nutritional sciences undergraduate from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), is one of the Malaysian students who have or are currently taking an online course as part of the Malaysia Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) initiative.

Participating in MOOCs is not a new phenomenon for Malaysian students.

Since 2015, Malaysian public universities have partnered up with OpenLearning, an Australian education technology company with 1.5 million students from around the world, to pilot and implement the Malaysia MOOCs initiative.

Their first foray into Malaysia happened in 2014, having built one of the nation’s first MOOCs with Taylor’s University, namely, a course on “Global Entrepreneurship”.

Having set up its regional headquarters in Kuala Lumpur in 2015, OpenLearning has worked together with educators from public and private education institutions to build online courses. These range from MOOCs to fully online master’s and micro-credentials in both the arts and science fields. Among the most popular courses are “Unity and Ethnic Relations” in Malaysia and “Cyber-Security Engineering” in Australia.

In total, over 880 courses have been created by Malaysian educators with more underway in 2018. There are 760,000 enrolments in Malaysia MOOCs. And in total, 900,000 people in Malaysia enrolled in MOOCs on OpenLearning (Malaysia MOOCs and others’ MOOCs).

Brimo says that MOOCs enable transparency in quality of teaching and learning.
Brimo says that MOOCs enable transparency in quality of teaching and learning.

Unlike other online education initiatives, the localisation and customisation of education content sets Malaysia MOOCs apart because educators themselves are empowered to create and run their own courses on the platform.

Four years on, the Malaysia MOOCs initiative continues to grow with an 80% year-on-year increase in the number of enrolments, spurred by demand from students for a more flexible approach to education.

Ahead of the curve

Malaysia is the first country in the world to initiate a nationally coordinated online learning initiative. This strategy is in line with Shift Nine of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) on “Globalised Online Learning”.

According to Adam Brimo, founder and CEO of OpenLearning: “Everywhere around the world, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, scaling quality education using technology is a great challenge.”

“More students want access to higher education but finances are limited and costs rising. “Online education gives them that opportunity.”

Malaysia MOOCs recognises the changing profile of today’s students who are more technologically engaged, have a global outlook, and are excited to learn from their peers around the world.

“The Gen-Z of today are adept with the Internet, active learners, love instant education and knowledge, and are likely to share what they learn via social media if meaningful to them,” echoes Prof Datuk Dr Mohamed Amin Embi, director of UKM’s Centre for Teaching and Learning Technologies and creator of the award-winning MOOC “Rethinking Learning, Redesigning Teaching”, continuing, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”

Undoubtedly, Malaysia MOOCs has placed it ahead of the education technology curve. Students can take MOOCs from a variety of public or private university on the platform, supporting cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional learning. The social learning experience enables students to develop hard and soft skills through collaborative and project-based activities.

Marsha Izhak, a law undergraduate who took a MOOC on entrepreneurship said: “It’s like Facebook, if you don’t understand, you can always chat with your lecturers and peers. We don’t just use it for studying because that’s boring.”

In 2016, the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) launched the MOOCs Credit Transfer Guidelines, which enable students to convert completed MOOCs into credits towards their university degree programmes, leading to savings on tuition fees and shorter study periods.

“OpenLearning’s experience working with top Australian universities has led to valuable knowledge and technology transfer into the Malaysian education ecosystem. Our learning designers provide training and pedagogical support to Malaysian educators while our growth team helps them market and brand their courses,” adds Brimo, who graduated with degrees in software engineering and arts from the University of New South Wales and is a Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient in 2016.  

Empowering TVET

Malaysian polytechnics have also adopted MOOCs to empower the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) sector.

Leveraging on their experience working with one of Australia’s foremost TVET providers (known as TAFE NSW), OpenLearning and Malaysian polytechnics have together built 92 TVET MOOCs with over 102,000 students enrolled.

Recognising the need to have hands-on practical experience, a number of the TVET MOOCs adopt a “blended learning” approach, which combines online learning with traditional face-to-face education.

The most popular TVET course currently is “English for TVET: Product Description” with over 56,000 students enrolled. This is reflective of the importance of English to the emerging TVET landscape. Students are increasingly seeking online learning opportunities.

According to a report, “The University of the Future” by Ernst & Young (EY), student demand is outpacing supply for open online courses and “prospective students see online learning as flexible and convenient” as well as the preference of 42% of future students.

At the same time, new trends will redefine the education space. According to Holon IQ, a global education research organisation, by 2030 mobile-first and mobile-only students will shape learning models, online social learning will define the education experience, and students from Asia and Africa will drive education demand.

For future graduates, a university degree is no longer a prerequisite to apply for jobs. The degree-requirement has been done away with by companies such as Apple, Google, and EY. Future employees are more interested about portfolios of courses and skills. OpenLearning, for instance, has developed an automated portfolio system, which will enable its students to showcase learning outcomes and evidence of skills attainment on its platform.  

For mid-career executives, gig-economy workers, and adults, with the 4th Industrial Revolution disrupting industries and Artificial Intelligence and automation leading to the loss of jobs, online learning will spur lifelong learning, enabling them to up-skill or re-skill for future jobs.

In a strong position

Ultimately, Malaysia MOOCs have placed its higher education institutions on a strong footing to take advantage of the disruptions happening within the education ecosystem. The platform enables educators to cater not just to students but also executives by providing short courses, micro-credentials and certification.

The enculturation of education technology has put Malaysian educators ahead of their regional counterparts. According to OpenLearning, thousands of educators have been trained through online and face-to-face workshops to build online courses using the latest learning design and pedagogical techniques.

Brimo says that MOOCs enable transparency in quality of teaching and learning and “will be the impetus for universities to increase quality to ensure their courses attract talent from around the world.”

By 2025, Malaysia aims to become an international education hub by attracting 250,000 international students. There are currently over 100,800 overseas students enrolled in MOOCs developed by Malaysians.

The initiative will not only continue contributing towards attracting international students, but also make Malaysia a hub for learning design and education technology.

Done right, Malaysia will continue to lead this space and can define the regional education technology landscape in time to come.

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