At this moment, a working professional in Singapore is completing an online course in data management from Charles Sturt University in Sydney. A student in Surabaya is learning about sea turtle conservation with Universiti Malaysia Terengganu. An executive in Perth is developing their leadership skills with a course from Taylor’s University in Kuala Lumpur.

Around the world, school students through to working professionals and senior executives are enrolling in short, tightly focused online courses by studying:

  • off-campus,
  • at their own pace, and
  • at manageable costs.

How? And more importantly, why?

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Rapid changes in society, jobs and technology are spurring demand for a new wave of educational offerings – many working professionals want to learn specific skills or retrain themselves for new jobs but, due to their busy schedules, they are only able to study part-time for a few weeks or months.

At the same time, universities that have historically focused on multi-year bachelor and master degree programs, are now starting to unbundle, redesign and repackage those degrees to a new audience. In particular, “single subject” short courses and graduate certificates are becoming more popular with both students and universities.

The role of online learning

By going online, universities can offer programs which are aligned with the needs of industry, at a more reasonable price, without being bound by time zones or geography.

“84% of prospective, current and past students believe it is necessary for people to continuously upskill or retrain themselves to remain competitive in the workplace.”
— Ernst & Young’s recent University of the Future Report 2030 has identified a trend towards industry training and pointed to the demand for skills-focused courses.

This way, online learning bridges the gap between:

  • students looking to gain new skills, and
  • universities that want to capitalise on the opportunity.

Connecting the dots for students and universities

To date, we have seen more than 1.5 million students enrol in courses on OpenLearning that are being offered by over 70 higher education providers in Australia, Malaysia and around the world.

There are three components to the OpenLearning solution:

  • First, we provide a social learning platform designed for authoring and delivering online or blended courses.
  • Second, our learning services team collaborates with the university’s subject matter experts to design high-quality short courses, massive open online courses (MOOCs) or graduate certificates.
  • Third, we provide a global marketplace where universities can promote their courses and attract new students.

While we have designed OpenLearning as a do-it-yourself platform that enables any educator to create their own courses without any technical skills, it is vital that our team of expert learning designers are also available to work with universities to create high-quality courses.

Learning designers: what do they do?

Developing or adapting a course for online use involves a collaborative process, where a learning designer works with the academic to repurpose their course content and learning outcomes, keeping in mind who the learners are.

Academics have often taught these courses in a face-to-face environment, where there are opportunities to have discussions, share ideas and work in groups. Recreating that experience online requires more than uploading lecture notes or slides along with lecture videos.

In an online course, the academic should take on the role of a facilitator – encouraging, supporting and engaging participants, rather than taking a teacher-centred, one-directional approach. It is quite a departure from the traditional role and our learning design team supports the academic through this transition.

The resulting courses promote thriving learning communities which benefit from peer-to-peer discussion, feedback, collaboration, active engagement and interactions.

An imperative for change

High-quality online courses are better business for universities. There is an opportunity for institutions to develop courses that deliver real learning outcomes to students without requiring them to travel or take time off from their careers.

This approach is more aligned to what people are looking for today – helping students and professionals develop capabilities, think critically and solve problems by applying their skills to a particular domain, according to individual needs.

Higher education providers that take this approach will eventually take the lead globally and develop a new business in the process.

Posted by Adam Brimo

Adam holds Bachelor of Engineering (Software) and a Bachelor Arts (Politics) degrees from UNSW (University of New South Wales), is the 2011 Choice Magazine Consumer Activist of the Year and is a recipient of the 2011 UNSW Alumni Graduand Award. Adam completed his honours thesis at UNSW in partnership with National ICT Australia (NICTA). Adam previously worked at Macquarie Bank as a Software Engineer in the Fixed Income, Currencies and Commodities Group and at Westpac Institutional Bank as a Senior Software Engineer. In 2010-2011, Adam led the successful Vodafail consumer activist campaign, which resulted in nationwide media coverage, an ACMA inquiry and a $1bn network upgrade for Vodafone's Australian business. In 2012, Adam joined world renowned UNSW Prof Richard Buckland and David Collien to found OpenLearning.com, a social learning platform. Over one million students have joined courses, including the first massive open online courses (MOOCs) from Australia and Malaysia, where it is the national MOOC platform for public universities and polytechnics. OpenLearning now employs 65 people and is headquartered in Sydney with its Southeast Asia head office in Kuala Lumpur. In recognition of the impact OpenLearning has had on the education sector in Asia, Adam was named one of the Forbes 30 under 30 Asia in the Consumer Technology category in early 2017.

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