Feature: Modules Worldwide

By Dr Thirumeni T. Subramaniam

A learning module is a package of selected information which focuses on a specifi c subject that has been appropriately designed to provide the learner with an educational opportunity in a self-directed learning format. Experience has shown that diverse audiences are highly receptive to obtaining information through learning modules.

What is the rationale for most open universities in spending time and money on preparing course material in modular form when course materials in suitable formats are readily available in vast number in the form of textbooks? Focus and a self-directed learning format are the two module elements that are often missing in a textbook.

The quality of the learning environment is dependent on the soundness of both the content and instruction contained in the learning materials, not merely technology. Advancement in technology, however, changes the way courses are developed and delivered. The module remains an important element in the teaching and learning process of the open and distance education system in the face of changing technology and learning culture.

The Open University in United Kingdom (OUUK), one of the top-ranking universities in the world, is recognised for having an excellent teaching record. The university, which was started with the idea of combining broadcast lectures with correspondence text, still provides modules as printed materials, thus keeping true to its mission to be open in its method of delivery. It has increased its methods of delivery to include web-based materials and has created a campus in Second Life (this is a free 3D virtual world where users can socialise, connect and create using free voice and text chat). The purpose of the campus is to enable the varied and widely dispersed student body to meet, work and live together in a virtual community.

Elsewhere, the Athabasca University, a leading open university in Canada, offers print modules also. It employs a broad spectrum of distance learning methods and relies on a variety of information technologies to deliver course materials and instruction to students. The study structure is designed to allow individualised study using course materials in print or online form. The option to study in groups is also available. Similar to OUUK, it also offers additional formats of learning material such as multimedia, web, Internet, CD-ROM, computer software, audio/video tapes, TV and radio.

The Indira Gandhi National Open University in India, which has a large number of students from diverse locations, also uses modules in print form. The learning environment at this university is supported by the use of audio-video production to suit the needs of its student population.

A slightly different learning environment is offered at the Korea National Open University, where textbooks are provided along with workbooks instead of modules. The textbooks are partly written by the teaching members of the university. The workbooks contain summarised core items, supplementary learning materials and exercises for self-evaluation; these are designed to promote learning. Supplementary learning materials using a wide range of technologies are provided as in other open universities.

Closer to home, both Universitas Terbuka Indonesia and University of the Philippines Open University also use modules as teaching materials.

What types of learning materials are used depends on the setting of the open university as well as the diversity and learning culture of its students. In order to produce highly effective modules, a university must have academic manpower support, suffi cient experience in open and distance learning and understanding of its students' learning needs.

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In my opinion, the most important factor in producing quality OUM graduates is:

Tutors who are capable and motivated
Quality learning materials
A syllabus which integrates both theoretical and practical aspects of a subject
All of the above
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