More institutions of higher learning offer open distance learning programmes. FILE PIC

AS a Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA) auditor who audited most of the open distance learning programmes in Malaysian private and public universities, I would like to share my thoughts on what makes an effective Learning Management System (LMS) for institutions of higher learning.

But first, let me quote two personalities, one a poet and the other a businessman, on what they think education is all about.

William Butler Yeats said: “Education is not about filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.”

Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba Group, said education must begin with a change in teaching. “If we do not change the way we teach, 30 years from now, we’re going to be in trouble,” said the billionaire from China.

To him, the knowledge-based approach of 200 years ago would fail our kids because they will never be able to compete with machines.

We have seen four revolutions. We have moved from water and steam of the first revolution, through electricity of the second to IT and electronics of the
third, to Internet of Things of the 4IR.

These revolutions have influenced and changed the scenario of education, from Education 1.0 to Education 4.0.

Now with the Education 4.0, learning can take place anywhere anytime.

Universiti Sains Malaysia was the first public university to offer distance learning programmes, or pendidikan jarak jauh, in 1971.

Lectures in 1971 were taught through video conferencing and printed modules sent to the students at their nearest learning centres.

Other institutions have followed USM’s lead.

With the number of institutions offering ODL programmes increasing, MQA has come up with a Code of Practice for Open and Distance Learning.

Most ODL programmes are conducted using blended learning approach, that is, face to face and online using LMS platforms.

Some institutions make it compulsory to attend lectures on campus at least three times per semester for two hours each meeting.

There are many types of LMS, such as Open Source (Tutor, Canvas and Moodle) SAAS/Cloud (Google Classroom), proprietary (Blackboard, Edmodo and Schoology) and historical (JoomlaLMS, WizIQ and WebCT).

But what are the features or criteria of a virtual classroom? There are a dozen:

EASE of use and friendly user- interface features.

LMS should be effective, efficient, engaging, error tolerant and easy to learn;

INTEGRATION. Ability to share data across organisation. Features such as Backchannel Chat (live chat), BigBlueButton (real-time sharing of audio, video, slides, chat, and screen), Fishtree (enables personalised learning) and gamifikator (integrating player-type features);

CONTENT management. Can it support the basic multimedia features with SCORM or Tin Can?

Can it import image galleries, videos, audio, simulations and illustrations?

SUPPORTS mobile learning. Can be uploaded to students’ mobile phones and learning takes place anywhere, anytime;

SUPPORTS blended learning. Learning takes place before, during and after class. Instructors will ask students to read or prepare themselves before class, and during class discussions;

SUPPORT gamification features such as, points, badges, levels, progress boards, leaderboards, rewards and encourage learners’ interaction. The leadearboards can convert the points to XP (experience points), AP (action points) or deduct their points, HP (health points);

TESTING and assessment. It should have a formative evaluation that can embed Web 2.0 tools, such as Kahoota and Socrative;

REPORTING and tracking. Data Analytics is useful here.

There should be a tracking system that can track student activities and performance.

The learning analytics features that can analyse the learners, data, dashboards and interventions;

SECURITY and plagiarism. Ensure security.

All data should be stored institutionally to ensure confidentiality and security. Turnitin features should be embedded into LMS to see the percentage of similarities.

For now, 30 per cent of similarities are acceptable;

CUSTOMISATION and branding. Customise fonts, colours and image to maintain the branding of institutions;

E-COMMERCE. LMS provides sophisticated business transaction functionality, such as e-payment, shopping cart, e-training, open course catalogue browsing and customer analytics capabilities; and,

MAINTAIN quality and sustainability. Instructors must address the quality of the online experience and benefits to society.

With all the above features embeded into LMS, instructors should show up and teach and not guide by side. Instructors should monitor assignment submissions, and communicate and remind students of missed and upcoming deadlines.

Rozinah Jamaludin

Lecturer, Centre for Instructional Technology and Multimedia,

Universiti Sains Malaysia

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