Feature: Towards The Next 10 Years:Quality and Deep Learning at OUM

Towards The Next 10 Years: Quality And Deep Learning At Oum

Interview by Dr David CL Lim (david@oum.edu.my) with Prof Dr Mansor Fadzil, Senior Vice President of OUM

Dr. David: OUM has been working on enhancing the quality of its delivery of education, especially the quality of its learning materials and assessment papers. Implicit in this pursuit of quality is the facilitation of deep learning, which has its obvious benefits. Can you share the concrete steps OUM is taking or will be taking to facilitate deep learning?

Prof Mansor: OUM has worked hard to ensure that its learners acquire more than just knowledge in a touch-and-go manner, and that they are able to fathom and integrate concepts into their mental web of knowledge so that these can be deployed later in life or work. This approach is embedded in our learning materials, blended pedagogy, as well as assessment. Sample questions in modules, assignment questions, and final exams, for instance, are designed to help learners connect theory and application. Similarly, we train and always encourage our tutors and facilitators to bring lessons to life through real-life examples and case-studies so that learners can draw connections between content, experience, and application. Having said that, we are also working continuously to improve the way we do things to ensure that deep learning goes deeper, ensuring that all our stakeholders - from internal academics, external tutors and subject-matter experts - are on the same page where promoting deep learning is concerned.

Dr. David: How do you think deep learning ought to be measured? How, in other words, do you think we can ascertain with confidence that, at the end of the day, learners have indeed done the desired deep learning?

Prof Mansor: We can see evidence of deep learning in the quality of the assignments submitted by learners and in the answers they provide in their final exams. The ultimate measure, however, is how they perform at work after graduating. The tracer studies we have done reveal that the overwhelming majority of employers we surveyed view OUM graduates as uniquely capable. We should not rest on our laurels, though. We should work towards ensuring that the quality of our graduates surpasses even that of graduates from conventional universities.

Dr. David: Most would agree that deep learning requires learners to dedicate large blocks of time to digest learning materials, to think and complete learning tasks, to engage in critical discussions with peers and tutors, and to reflect on their learning. Stealing five minutes here and half an hour there to learn does not seem sufficient to facilitate deep learning. Would you agree to an extent that the open and distance learning (ODL) mode of learning does not easily lend itself to deep learning, considering that many ODL learners are part-timers lacking the amount of time full-time learners spend in learning and learning deeply?

Prof Mansor: Certainly we would need to research and examine how deep learning could be applied more widely in the ODL context. We need to arm ourselves with knowledge on what works and what doesn't, so that we are able to adopt and adapt the best practices for our purposes. For now, we want to continue to leverage on myVLE, our virtual learning platform, as we've found it to be extremely useful in encouraging collaborative learning, which, in significant ways, also promotes the kind of learning that goes beyond memorising and regurgitation.

Dr. David: To facilitate deep learning, it is imperative that the academics, both internal staff and external tutors, doing the facilitation are themselves equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills. What effort has OUM made to ensure that its academics are up to the task?

Prof Mansor: Having laid the operational foundation for the past 10 years, OUM is now embarking on enhancement programmes to strengthen the teaching-learning experience we offer. Programmes are being firmed up as we speak; they involve raising awareness about the centrality of quality in the educational services we offer, as well as research and training. We will be doing this in stages, eventually across the nation.

Dr. David: We have oftentimes heard employers complaining about learners who, having undergone their respective programmes, graduate without being able to actually perform since they only managed to scrape through with shallow learning, namely by memorising and regurgitating. In your view, how severe is the problem? How do you think the problem should be fixed?

Prof Mansor: As I mentioned earlier, our tracer studies have shown that employers find OUM graduates to be as good, if not better, than graduates from conventional universities. OUM graduates tend to do relatively better at the workplace because, as mature learners, they would have brought with them a wealth of experience to their studies. This in turn enabled them to master new ideas and concepts quicker, and to apply them in real life situations while studying, thus deepening their learning. To ensure that OUM graduates do even better, we are introducing four broad-based courses to OUM learners across disciplines. This means that all OUM learners will have the opportunity to learn and acquire such basic but crucial skills in Management, Communication, IT, and Thinking Skills and Problem Solving.

Dr. David: Do you have any advice to our tutors and facilitators in relation to OUM's promotion of deep learning?

Prof Mansor: It would be good if our tutors and facilitators could think of their learners as their family members; as their sons and daughters, or uncles and aunties. If they think of their learners as such, they?d do the right thing and give them the best that they could. Also, I would advise our tutors and facilitators to be engaging, whether during face-to-face meets or online. Be passionate about your role as mentors, too. If you do your best, your learners can only succeed in their educational journey.

Dr. David: Thank you for your time, Prof.

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