A successful learning experience in an online learning environment

Passion, says Professor Dr Abtar Kaur, Professor of E-Learning at Open University Malaysia (OUM), is an integral part of a successful classroom. Combined with enthusiasm and understanding, it allows the classroom to fulfil its greatest potential in the pursuit of knowledge and creates an environment in which learning occurs almost spontaneously.

The Master of Instructional Design and Technology (MIDT) at OUM taps directly into this ideal, creating aspects of curriculum, teaching and learning that would result in an optimised classroom experience. Teaching environments nowadays, whether it be classrooms, lecture halls or meeting rooms, have a high technological component intended to form a holistic learning experience, allowing an increase in student interaction, understanding and potential for knowledge expansion.

"Our students from all over the world are practicing what they have learned from us," Professor Abtar says. "We are glad that we have managed to create a ripple effect in terms of handing down generations of good teaching and learning practices."

Among Professor Abtar and MIDT's success stories are students from India and Bangladesh, both of whom are lecturers at local institutions of higher learning in their respective countries. Both play a significant role in the human resource departments of their university where they implement what they have learned during their MIDT studies through the training of other staff members in teaching and learning successfully.

The purpose of MIDT is to enrich the teaching experience, allowing those taught to graduate with usable, practicable skills. A resounding example of taught skill is the country of Singapore, whose main, and possibly only, natural resource is its people. They have managed to capitalise on this by creating a work force so well-trained and efficient that they are sought after worldwide.

Necessity of instructional design:

"One of the main challenges faced by educators is that their students are often more technologically savvy than they are," laments Professor Abtar. "The only way around this is to go for training that would up their skill level in this area and the MIDT is one route that educators can think about in enhancing their technology skills."

Certainly Professor Abtar would know of the issues that drive MIDT most intimately, having won half a dozen awards for excellence in teaching and creating e-content for use in educating. As MIDT is a fully online programme, Professor Abtar's expertise in this area was a driving force when it was first laid out.

"The difference between content in digital form (e-content) and text books is that book writing is linear and static, while e-content has the potential for constant evolution," Professor Abtar explains. "Using e-content for the MIDT programme also affords a lot of flexibility to make learning personalised to the individual learner."

The Open Distance Learning concept of education is highly dependent on instructional design and technology, as it relies upon its digital content to guide and educate students.

"Instructional design is a systematic process of planning learning," Professor Abtar continues, mentioning the ADDIE (analysis, design, development, implementation, evaluation) system that is commonly implemented in ID. "We anticipate that through our MIDT programme, students can learn and also see an existing ODL example incorporating IDT that is successful."

Creating a needed programme:

Professor Abtar was first invited to OUM to set up the Centre for Instructional Design and Technology (CIDT). As one of the few experts in the region, Professor Abtar realised the dearth in IDT experts did not bode well for sustainable education. With this in mind, she suggested that a programme based on ID be actualised, and together with several IDT experts from all over the globe who formed the Board of Studies (BOS ), presented a working version of the MIDT that was eventually launched by OUM.

"I like to think that our main components are enthusiasm and knowledge," Professor Abtar says cheerfully. "Thus far we have had very keen feedback from the students, something most people would not expect from a fully online course, where one might feel there is less interaction. To circumvent this we utilise Skype and encourage intercommunication through email and forums. The positive evaluations are proof that with good implementation of IDT, you do not have to physically face the learner in the classroom to deliver an impactful lesson."

The MIDT programme has no prerequisite requirements for its potential students aside from a proficiency in English. Several students have entered the programme through OUM's noteworthy flexible entry system since its first run in 2004. Since then, MIDT has produced 11 graduates, and a doctorate in the subject has also been launched.

The subjects in the programme are MQA approved and it is endorsed by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL). The latter offers a scholarship to pursue the MIDT at OUM to five students from throughout the Commonwealth every year.

An essential master's:

The programme at OUM consists of 14 courses, some of which are taught by outside specialists of whom a few are former MIDT students. To ensure that the quality of the programme is maintained throughout, there is intensive interaction between the facilitators and Professor Abtar, and every course outline, and accompanying learning materials as well as assessment items are vetted exhaustively before being uploaded for students.

The essential nature of IDT and the unique situation of the master's course offered at OUM - a course that is both necessary but scarce, and also completely online which allows a great amount of accessibility not found elsewhere - has aroused interest overseas.

"We have two institutions that are interested in hosting the MIDT programme," shares Professor Abtar. "One is the Esterhazy Karoly University in Hungary, and the other is the Daffodil International University in Bangladesh."

The good news is that an MoU has already been signed with these universities, and if all goes well, the programme will be launched internationally in either May or September, depending on whether the proposed international programme structure stands up to OUM and Professor Abtar's stringent scrutiny.

With an award-winning expert spearheading the programme, a successful tried and tested ODL system and an online university that offers flexibility, students will find a master's designed to create enthusiasm about learning while fulfilling their educational needs.

OUM's MIDT students speak

I can clearly see the positive impact the master's has had on my attitude, knowledge and skills. The programme is balanced and well-sequenced.

Karen Ferreira-Myers, Swaziland

Through the MIDT programme, I have actually gained new insights on instructional design which I have been able to transfer straight into the programme development.

Marko Teras, Finland

OUM is an established university with a clear vision & mission in delivering courses internationally. I am also impressed with the method of using the best lecturers in different subjects from different parts of the world.

Wynand Diergaardt, Namibia

ID, I believe, is an evergreen discipline. ID education is all about making instructions more efficient. I am now more concerned about my training quality, learning outcomes, needs of trainees, and many other things that I have learnt in MIDT classes.

Muhammad Arifur Rahman, Bangladesh/UK