Open Learning: Igniting the passion for learning online
By Chong Jinn Xiung March 24, 2017
- Offers 10,000 private courses run by public and private institutes of higher learning.
- Takes on a student-centred approach while enabling educators with its social elements
TECHNOLOGY has not been a huge disruption in the education sector as it has been traditionally slow to adapt to new changes, according to OpenLearning founder and chief executive officer Adam Brimo (pic above).
“Education today is probably at the stage that the print industry was in during the late 1990s, slowly accepting and experimenting with the new possibilities offered by the Internet,” he says.
That’s where online learning platform OpenLearning, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platform, hopes to ease the process of online learning for students and teachers in institutes of higher learning.
Headquartered in Sydney, Australia, OpenLearning’s online platform was first deployed in 2012 to facilitate a blended learning course, that combined online learning with traditional classroom lessons at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).
In 2014, OpenLearning spread its wings to Malaysia and became part of the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education’s Education Blueprint for 2015-2025 acting as the MOOC platform for 20 public universities in the country, initiating 60 blended courses to over 100,000 students.
The truth is that the economy is growing faster than the higher education sector is able to produce students to fuel the knowledge economy. However, building new universities is expensive and finding qualified academics is a challenge.
“The number of students entering tertiary education is expected to increase significantly within the next decade as it is estimated by there will be 2.5 million students entering public and private universities in Malaysia,” Brimo says, citing estimates in the Malaysian Education Blueprint .
To date, OpenLearning has over 3,000 public courses that anyone can set up and join. They also have 10,000 private courses run by public and private institutes of higher learning.
Even the courses are shared across all universities so students from other universities are able to participate with peers from across the country.
“Basically, a university does not have to build 20 versions of the same course and apply it to all their campuses. They can just deploy it once and focus on it,” he says.
But it is not just students who are interested in online learning, working professionals are also looking to upskill themselves.
OpenLearning said it is working to create an Early Childhood Education Diploma with the Sultan Idris Education University (UPSI) due to the prerequisite that all childcare providers hold this qualification by 2020.
“This means that nationwide, even those with 20-30 years of experience in the field would have to go back to school in order to continue in this line of work. Many (we hope) will choose to enrol in an online version as it is more convenient and flexible,” says Brimo.
A student-centred approach
Online learning in the past used to consist of passively watching videos and reading materials. Occasionally students would be tested with tests and quizzes to gauge their understanding of the subject.
OpenLearning, on the other hand, looks to utilise a full spectrum of online learning activities that can engage and inspire students by introducing more active content and peer activities.
Putting the power of choice in the hands of students is part of the approach OpenLearning is taking which is different from previous forms of online education. Students are able to explore and discover the subject on their own at their own pace.
The platform also looks to follow a social media workflow that resonates strongly with generation Z students who have grown up with the Internet, mobile phones, video-on-demand and instant messaging.
Much in the same way as people are constantly connected over Facebook, students in OpenLearning can stay connected with their coursemates and facilitator, able to comment on each other’s work or submitting new ideas to discuss.
As OpenLearning is cloud-hosted it is accessible both from the web as well as on mobile devices, offering support for iPad, iPhone and Android devices.
“Mobile accessibility is a trend that we expect to be on the rise as nearly 40% to 45% of our students engage with our content on their mobile devices. It really is a great platform as we see students actively participating in discussions, replying to comments while they are commuting,” says Brimo.
“In traditional learning, students lack empowerment because the power is in the hands of the teacher and information is dispensed. In contrast, personalised learning has a more experimental flow where students can experience, discover and express themselves.”
Brimo is of the opinion that teachers are there to support the learning process rather than take control of it. They should guide a student’s discovery and curiosity by utilising engaging content through videos and easy-to-digest lessons complemented by interactive activities that encourage participation.
At the same time, the platform is also out to assist teachers in facilitating classes of any size be it 10, 50 or even over a hundred students.
Much of what makes a MOOC course great has to do with the course design and for that OpenLearning has its own team of dedicated designers that look at how to make offline classroom material suited for online learning.
A learning designer reviews the course outline and discusses it with a content developer to arrange the appropriate content for the course. Later a designer uses the guidelines to decide on the layout of the learning page.
The content is then reviewed and feedback is given to ensure that the material is accurate for the course before it is finally published for students to interact with.
One such example of an engaging course was when Taylor’s University decided to use MOOC to run its entrepreneurship course. It had 100 students participating in the course at its campus while another 3,000 students joined from around the world.
Activities required students to be grouped in teams and even though they may not meet each other physically, the various learning widgets and social elements still allowed the students to engage in deeper discussions and learn from one another.
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