Dr. Raja Maznah Raja Hussain
University of Malaya
Malaysia has taken massive strides in creating ICT infrastructure for its Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the recent years, but a lot more is needed for capitalising on these investments, according to a study of top institutions in this Southeast Asian country
Preparing and managing e-Learning is a complex process that needs a radical shift from change management to strategic planning, argues Raja Maznah Raja Hussain from Department of Curriculum and Instructional Technology , Faculty of Education , University of Malaya , Kuala Lumpur.
This article that emerged from the study carried out in six higher education institutions (HEIs) earlier was a graduation-level project on strategic planning by students in the Masters of Instructional Technology Programme.
The basic methodology used for this study involved visits to selected institutions, discussions with the individuals responsible for e-Learning, analysis of policy documents and inferences from the institutions’ websites and learning management systems (LMS).
The initial phase of pursuit of e-Learning project for most of HEIs by the way of acquisition of adequate ICT infrastructure to offer a good e-Learning platform to students, has seen massive investment in the past five years. Millions have been spent to not only develop IT infrastructure but also e-Learning delivery and management systems in HEIs.
The second phase of e-Learning development in Malaysia by the way of integration of ICT with the teaching and learning processes saw focus on following elements:
The institution’s strategic plan for ICT use in teaching and learning.
The specialised centre that translates the plans into reality and coordinates the strategies for e-Learning success.
The right combination of human resources balancing the academic know how with technology savvy.
Sufficient infrastructure to enable the e-Learning platform.
Staff development plans and strategies to encourage the adoption of IT for teaching and learning.
Most public universities in Malaysia have had ideas for ICT integration back in the year 2000 itself.
These included e-Learning, online learning, web-based learning to be implemented either through a specific centre or department and a specific plan related to e-Learning.
The study, however, revealed that the current status of planning for e-Learning has found that most institutions have yet to draw a strategic plan specifically for use of ICT in teaching and learning as per Institute of Higher Education Policy (IHEP) benchmarks laid out in the year 2000 .
These benchmarks include institutional support, course development, teaching/learning, course structure, student support, faculty support, evaluation and assessment.
Using the benchmarks and
Kaufman’s Organisational Elements Model (OEM) it was found that though most HEIs have adequate e-Learning infrastructure there were major shortcomings related to planning and implementation of the teaching and learning component of e-Learning.
Lack of a strategic plan for e-Learning
Though most of the HEIs covered in the study do have plan documents reflecting ICT planning, but these are mainly related to acquisition of ICT infrastructure. However, plans for ICT teaching and learning, course development, course structure and assessment are not articulated. In fact, some of the plans are still in the minds of people in charge of managing the e-Learning. In other words, at best the plan seemed to be still on the drawing board.
The plans that were seen with these institutions talked on the decisions on what percentage of the course would be delivered online or what trainings the lecturers/teachers would have to go through to convert the content for online delivery.
Approach to e-Learning is sporadic
The institutions covered under the study gave an impression that the decision on the use of e-Learning was taken by the management, mainly because everyone else is doing it. It is believed that in order to compete with other HEIs, individual institutions were forced to offer e-Learning as an alternative or as an add-on to their present face-to-face delivery mode.
Since the infrastructure and the learning management systems (LMS) are readily available the more ready the HEI to embark on e-Learning. Several approaches were observed on how HEIs went about doing e-Learning.
e-Learning is still driven by the IT industry. Initially in some HEIs (the early adopters), the approach was to convert the face-to-face lecture materials to digital content, where the lecturers suddenly found themselves forced to be involved in the writing of lecture notes to be digitised for online access without the help of experienced instructional designers.
Most of the materials that were posted were not pedagogically sound. They were merely information which can be considered as content. The institutions were quick to realise that e-Learning is about students learning. Instructional Designers (ID) were then brought into the picture about three years ago. Instructional Design for e-Learning, as a field is still new in the country.
The IDs were hired to train the content developers on the importance of designing instructions to help learners learn. The Multimedia University (MMU) in the year 2000 formed an ID team to be the bridge between the content experts and IT experts while developing an in-house LMS. MMU has now established a dedicated center to take care of the Internet based programmes.
Similarly, the Open University Malaysia (OUM), when it was established in year 2001, started with plans for e-Learning and a special outfit the Center for Instructional Design and Technology was established, to enable the development of both digital and print based contents. Similarly, the country’s first Virtual University (UNITAR) when it was established in 1996, also set up a content development department to develop digital contents.
Nascent e-Learning leadership
Although, Malaysia has a Virtual University, a Multimedia University, and an Open University, best practices are yet to be established by them. In the 2004 Asia Cooperation Dialogue: Workshop on e-Education held in Kuala Lumpur, the need for a regional e-Learning body was discussed. This body would play the role of the leader in e-Learning research, drawing up guidelines for accreditation of e-Learning programmes, and strategies for e-Learning implementation in the region. Accreditation of the e-Learning programme is a hot issue which was debated at great lengths.
Although the interest in e-Learning especially in the informal education is prevalent, however, the public is still unsure of the worth of the certificate obtained through e-Learning.
The problem of communication was also found to exist at the organisation level, whereby strategic intention of the senior management is not made clear to the eLearning project members. In most cases e-Learning responsibility is given to the IT experts who are responsible to set up the infrastructure and to purchase or build an LMS. Education experts are often not consulted at the initial decision making stage.
Thus, the approach to e-Learning tends to be technocentric. This is still happening in many HEIs where the person in charge of e-Learning is an IT expert, not an Instructional Technologist. But that practice is being changed where Instructional Technologists are now involved in the decision making, either as an instructional designer or a trainer in the e-Learning projects or heading a center for e-Learning development.
Some institutions have invested substantially on e-Learning, results of which are yet to be seen. The investments have largely been in the infrastructure and the purchase or development of the LMS. While other institutions have to work with a limited budget allocated for the development of teaching and learning materials, outsourcing of e-Learning content development and training of lecturers to use e-Learning.
Lack of skilled and experienced faculty
Outsourcing e-Learning content development can be very expensive. In most HEIs training and supports are usually provided in house for the lecturers to develop the content and to use the new e-Learning facilities. Involvement of academic staff in the development of e-Learning vary from one institution to another.
Developing courses by lecturers for on-line delivery is still an option in most institutions. Lecturers are often reluctant to embark on the development project themselves, due to time constraints and lack of expertise in courseware authoring (Raja Maznah, 2000a). eLearning content development in most HEIs institutions is a duty required over and above other regular duties to be carried out by the lecturers often with technical support provided by the institutions. The technical support may come from specialised centers dedicated to content development or from IT departments. The specialised centre’s hire IT experts, Instructional Designers, Web specialists and graphic and visual artists.
Although e-Learning is here to stay, quality e-Learning requires teamwork at all levels in the organisation and individuals involved. Adopting quality e-Learning is a further step towards realising the vision of technology, ie, to serve lifelong learning and a knowledge based society. By incorporating the online feature to a university’s conventional mode of teaching, e-Learning has the potential to create powerful learning environment that enriches the traditional teaching and learning.