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GBSN Fellow: Zen Lessons On Online Learning from OU

GBSN Member, The Open University Business School is hosting four faculty fellowships from Lagos Business School. The fellows are Ogechi Adeola, Yetunde Anibaba, Nubi Achebo and Obinna Muogboh. The four of them are staying with at the university for 6 weeks during November and December of 2016. This is the fourth and final guest blog from fellow Nubi Achebo.


Dr. Nubi Achebo is the Director for Instructional Design and Technology at Lagos Business School. Nubi is passionate about providing impactful learning and development solutions to organizations. He has extensive leadership and management development experience working at Lagos Business School and other organizations worldwide. He is actively involved in the design and delivery of custom Executive Education programs for Lagos Business School clients.

Dr. Achebo has over 21 years technology and management consulting experience working with Andersen Worldwide and Arthur Andersen. He taught as an Adjunct Professor of Training and Development (MBA programme) for 6 years at Graham School of Management, Saint Xavier University, Chicago. His areas of teaching and research interests include training and development, learning design, business process analysis, performance management, stakeholder engagement, sustainability conflicts, and corporate sustainability.

Dr. Achebo received his PhD in Instructional Technology from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. He is an alumnus of the LBS Advanced Management Programme (AMP) and has an MBA in Leadership and Sustainability from the University of Cumbria, UK.

Core Interests: Deepening skills in business management course development strategies, implementation of online learning programs, and providing support for faculty who are just beginning to explore online course development.

Zen Lessons On Online Learning from OU

By Dr. Nubi Achebo

When I applied for The Open University Business School (OUBS) fellowship, one objective was foremost in my mind Ð understudying the structures and systems in place for online course design and delivery at The Open University (OU), Milton Keynes, UK. Lagos Business School (LBS) is an AACSB and AMBA accredited B-school with strong roots in instructor-led programs but like other B-schools worldwide, we are exploring other channels for the delivery of some program offerings. As a first step towards this direction, LBS created a new business unit Ð Instructional Design and Technology unit with a Director as the substantive head. The unit provides leadership and policy direction for technology adoption and diffusion in the institution.

One challenge for effective take off towards our online learning quest was the need for upskilling for faculty so as to gain traction with technology initiatives. Initial steps focused on providing the platform for faculty upskilling through a variety of workshops, seminars, and personal consulting on course development, classroom management, and assessment. The rate of technology adoption and diffusion was relatively slow but there has been an uptake in online learning ideas. We have so far reconfigured the online portion of the Modular Executive MBA program (MEMBA), offered several MOOCs, embarked on instructional video creation projects, and offered our first Executive Education blended program to a client. However, there is a need for Lagos Business School to build a critical mass in online learning course development and this opportunity for the group of four to be fellows at The Open University Business School came at the appropriate time. Our engagements included several meetings with top university officials, course design teams, Module Team brainstorming, tour of facilities, delivery of a webinar, and exploration of online resources as part of our fellowship. These experiences provided unique insights for our collective reflections. There are inherent lessons:

Lesson 1: A good vision is important
It is important to have clear goal and strategy for your online program because this will help in operationalizing and delivering your value proposition to learners. For Open University (OU), it is about being open to places, methods, and ideas and in doing this the institution strives to reach students with life-changing learning that meets their needs and enriches society. This means there is no typical student at the University; this presents a unique challenge in course development and delivery. Accounting for the wide spectrum of students in course design and providing student satisfaction in online learning is an affirmation of OU’s openness and this is commendable.

Lesson 2: Strong Structure Critical
Learning and teaching innovation receives strong recognition in the OU system. A Pro Vice-Chancellor (PVC) for Teaching and Learning heads the structure. This portfolio is charged with making policy and providing support for curriculum development and delivering online learning. Under the PVC are various units that provide support for course development and delivery – Learning and Teaching Centre, Learning and Teaching Solutions (LTS), Library Services, the Open Media Unit, Institute of Educational Technology (IET), and the Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnerships (CICP). There is a strong sense of community and collaboration among all parties in the university to deliver value to students. Having a good structure is pivotal for delivering world class programs.

Lesson 3: Course development better with a team
Fulfilling student’s learning needs requires structures, especially concerning course development. In traditional institutions, faculty members are used to solo effort in course design and development with some oversight from the department heads or a curriculum committee. While this sole effort in course design is useful, there are other units on campus that can enrich the course development process. This makes the Module Team approach to course design in OU unique Ð it taps into several critical units for the design of a course. Each participant in the module team meetings brings a unique perspective to the design process. A typical module team comprises faculty, curriculum team, instructional designers, multimedia staff, digital librarian, and technology enhancement staff among others. Team discussions and collaboration are critical for identifying areas of agreement and divergence toward achieving course coherence and outcomes.

Lesson 4: Faculty preparation for performance

You need a strong faculty to deliver online programs because of the uniqueness of teaching online Ð you never get to see your students and all interactions are online. Faculty and course designers have to anticipate in advance what participants need to know, required activities to drive home the learning points, and how to assess their learning. This is quite different when teaching an instructor-led course. So how do you prepare to teach online? Not all faculty members hired by OU come with online teaching skills. Enter the special program for faculty onboarding to teach online. An online module provides the knowledge and nuances of teaching online while new faculty work in close collaboration with other faculty members. Participation in Module Team meetings is also a good avenue for imbibing online course development and teaching skills. Faculty members also require consistent up-skilling because of new technologies and pedagogical methods. This is where the role of research becomes critical for institutions especially in learning science, trending learning technologies, and applications to learning.

Lesson 5: Tools and facilities are important

The web is the focal point of most online learning delivery today because of the ubiquity of the tool. Moodle Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is the preferred choice of online delivery platform for OU. With its wealth of knowledge in delivery online learning, the University is one of the top contributors to innovative features for Moodle. The version of Moodle deployed for teaching and learning in OU is slick and seductive. Student satisfaction is tied to the look and feel, ease of use, and usefulness of technologies and OU devotes time to the refinement of the learning platform. Apart from the VLE, OU has several technologies designed to assist faculty, designers, and learners. Tools like the Learning Design Toolkit provides structure and streamlines the design process. There are also tools to help learner interactions and learning.

Lesson 6: Provide support to online learners
Student support is a focal point for OU because the attrition rate for online learning worldwide is high. Since OU is a wholly online institution, making sure students stay on task and program is very important; support starts from the design of courses where the module team brainstorms on possible support needs for learners. The design attempts to address these potential concerns. Adequate support is provided for program participants scattered around the world through associate lecturers and practice tutors who have close contacts with students to ensure quality in the teaching and learning process. They provide guidance to students through regular module contact, marking, feedback on assignments, clarification on module materials, and helping them prepare for an examination or end of module assessment.

Lesson 7: Research and Analytics
Research is a core part of OU instructional system. The institution engages in research on teaching and learning through the faculty and the Institute of Educational Technology. Research results are applied to their processes for continuous improvement initiatives. Data gathering through the VLE is thoroughly mined and applied to design and delivery of courses. Project MINERVA was created as an alternative way to course design and development using new technologies. The project reflects the innovative environment where the institution is focused on looking for better ways of providing students with quality instruction. Effective student learning was the primary focus of this strategic process improvement project. As part of the innovative strategy, it adopted an agile and collaborative approach for direct authoring of content thus fast-tracking and shortening the normal duration for course design and development.

On behalf of my colleagues, Dr. Yetunde Anibaba, Dr. Ogechi Adeola, and Dr. Obinna Muogboh, I would like to express our appreciation to the faculty and staff of the Open University Business School and other business units, especially Professor Rebecca Taylor, Professor Mark Fenton-O’Creevy, Dr. Devendra Kodwani, Patricia Taylor, and Janet Barker for the opportunity and warm reception throughout our stay in Milton Keynes. We have made professional and personal connections and we look forward to strengthening these ties.[/cs_text][/cs_column][/cs_row][/cs_section][/cs_content]