Mobile Learning at Open University Malaysia

By Zoraini Wati Abas
Sept 18, 2011

Zoraini Wati Abas, Ed.D.
Faculty of Education and Languages
Open University Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Mobile learning (m-learning) at the Open University Malaysia (OUM) started in 2008 when the m-learning team comprising 16 academic staff from various faculties was formed. The objective of the team was to formulate how best to introduce m-learning to the learners. Being an open and distance learning institution, OUM makes continuous efforts to leverage on some of the latest learning technologies. Mobile devices such as phones, MP3 and MP4 players were seen to be the next set of devices to be considered, primarily because they were in the hands of many and not only were the mobile devices becoming increasingly affordable, they were also being packed with more powerful features. In addition, it was getting cheaper to subscribe to mobile and Internet services.

When the m-learning group was first formed, it was felt that we needed assurance that OUM learners were indeed ready for m-learning. We needed to know that not only did they have the mobile devices, but they were also subscribers to the Internet and ready for yet another mode of learning. A readiness study of learners at the OUM was conducted in late 2008 via a questionnaire to determine the ownership of the devices, access to the Internet, their computer and online habits but more importantly, their perception of using m-learning as part of their learning at OUM in the near future.

The survey was carried out in more than 40 OUM learning centers throughout the nation with close to 3,000 respondents. Survey questionnaires were mailed and collected via mail over a period of 4-6 weeks. When the data were analyzed, it was found that 82.8 percent of the respondents said they would be ready for m-learning. Based on the survey, it may be generalized that 99 percent of OUM learners have mobile phones. Almost all were using the Internet on a regular basis. The findings of the survey were presented to all Deans and Heads of Schools as well as the OUM general management committee. Subsequently, the group was given the approval to conceptualize and plan for a new m-learning project for learners. The concept and plan were again presented to the groups for their buy-in and support and to obtain the necessary financial resources for the 2009.

With this, OUM piloted a series of ten-minute podcasts in January 2009 but due to technical challenges, production of the podcasts had to be stopped. However, in view of the popularity of short message system (SMS) among Malaysians, the use of SMS was next considered. A workshop inviting OUM faculty members, tutors and students was held in April 2009 to discuss the idea for m-learning via SMS, obtain their opinions and feedback and to plan for the next pilot using SMS. The feedback received from learners at the workshop was not overly positive. Nevertheless, the learners were asked to provide the circumstances for what would be acceptable in terms of when and how frequent the SMSes should be. Subsequently, a matrix or template to help with the preparation of the entire SMS text was developed by the author and her team. The matrix defines the category of SMS, the specific text, and the timing of SMS to be sent. The implementation plan and activities for the next semester, that is, for the next phase of m-learning at OUM was tried out during the May 2009 semester. It was implemented with a course titled, “Learning Skills for Open and Distance Learners,” a first semester course for OUM learners. About 2,000 students enrolled in the May semester received a total of about 30 SMSes over a period of about 14 weeks. The responses from students were positive. They recommended that it be continued in future semesters and in the other courses they took. The project has continued every semester since then with the addition of more courses.

Based on the evaluation of the project, learners have expressed, via focus groups and surveys, that the SMSes helped them focus on the course, reminded them of important things to do such as reading the module prior to attending their tutorials, participating in the online discussions and preparing for the examination. In addition, some of the SMSes helped them stay motivated, made them realize the more important content and that the SMSes helped them to pace themselves better. The SMSes also reminded them that they were students. Generally, the m-learning project made them more engaged with the content and activities of the course. Hence, m-learning was very well-received. Learners expressed that they wanted them in their other courses. Since May 2009, more than 22,000 OUM learners have benefited. It has been introduced in more than 10 courses. However, to contain cost, OUM recently decided that m-learning would be confined to two courses, the Learning Skills course and the other, Malaysian Studies, a required course for all OUM learners.

Today, with the proliferation of tablet computers such as the iPad and Galaxy Tab, OUM is considering using them as a learning device on OUM course modules can be easily downloaded into. Still at the planning stage, the idea of using tablet computers makes sense as through these devices, not only will course information and learning materials be more easily accessible, the learner will also benefit from other useful applications supported by such devices. In addition, with wi-fi facilities available in most, if not all classrooms in the OUM learning centers, the learners will be better engaged with OUM as a whole and with their facilitators in particular. It will be seamless and ubiquitous learning at its best.

OUM’s experience with m-learning will be shared with the MOOC participants. Links to three articles written on the project are provided and participants are encouraged to read them to gain a better understanding of the project. Participants may also read a chapter on the m-learning project at OUM, published in a book edited by Kitchenham (2011). Titled, “Unleashing the potential of mobile learning through SMS for open and distance learners,” the chapter provides a more comprehensive description of the project. The book may already be available in the library of the participant’s institution.

A set of slides will also be shared during the live session with the facilitator, on Wednesday, 21 September, 2011. It will provide an overview of m-learning at OUM, some of the issues and challenges faced during the implementation and ideas for the future.


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