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Theme & Sub-themes


Open, Online and Flexible Learning: The Key to Sustainable Development


  • Quality and Equity in Learning (Quality Assurance Frameworks, Accreditation, Certification, Benchmarking, Ranking)

  • Access and Inclusion (e-Learning, Massive Open Online Courses(MOOCs) Public-Private Partnership, Equitable Educational Opportunities, Policies)

  • Efficiency and Effectiveness (Business Models, Comparative Studies)

  • Technology and Innovation (Teaching and Learning, Mobile Learning, Collaborative Learning, MOOCs, Open Educational Resources (OER).

Quality and Equity in Learning

COL Theme Leaders: Dr Godson Gatsha & Dr. Johannes Hendrikz
OUM Theme Leaders: Prof Dr Siti Aishah Hashim & Assoc Prof Dr Safiah Md Yusof

Education is critical to achieving the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 4: to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Realising Goal 4 requires concerted effort by policy-makers and practitioners to create inclusive and accessible quality learning opportunities. The quality and credibility of open and distance learning is of concern to many, including learners, employers and quality assurance regulators.

The key questions of focus in this sub-theme are:

  • How do key ODL stakeholders including policy makers, practitioners, employers and learners define and unpack quality and equity in teaching and learning?

  • What are the criteria for quality and equity in ODL institutions?

  • How do we promote equitable access, yet affordable and ensure quality learning opportunities for all at all levels of education?

  • How does quality and equity in learning contribute to, and impact on, sustainable livelihoods?

This sub-theme focuses on improving quality of educational opportunities at all levels and sectors and covers ODL/ODeL programme development and services, OER and MOOCs. The will be a specific focus on the quality aspects related to OER’s and MOOC’s and how it impacts on equity in learning. It invites reflections and insights into quality assurance frameworks and qualifications which enable ODL institutions achieve quality learning for sustainable livelihoods. Further, it examines issues related to accreditation, certification and benchmarking to encourage the achievement of comparable recognition of qualifications. It also explores quality models and examples; learning achievements and outcomes and other related aspects as measures of quality.

Access and Inclusion

COL Theme Leaders: Mr John Lesperance & Dr Alison Mead Richardson
OUM Theme Leaders: Prof Dr Widad Othman & Prof Dr Ghazali Mohayidin

Open, online and flexible online education have been adopted by governments, institutions and organisations to strengthen and enhance education and training. A major objective has been to overcome barriers to enrolment in education and access to learning opportunities because of a lack of teachers and physical facilities and a range of geographic, economic and social challenges.

The UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2015, found that access to education is still a worldwide problem, due to the complex nature of inequalities associated with gender, ethnicity, wealth and location. Whilst there has been some progress made many organisations and institutions in the Commonwealth are still grappling with issues of how to improve access and provide learning opportunities for those who are disadvantaged and marginalised. Open, flexible and online learning approaches have been used to alleviate these challenges of access and inclusion and there are interesting case studies, research and success stories in the Commonwealth today.

In addition, persons who are differently abled face particular challenges when seeking educational opportunities because they require additional support. Assistive technologies are an important part of providing quality learning opportunities for persons with disabilities. How have these technologies been utilized to address greater inclusion in both formal and non-formal education and learning?

The sub-theme will explore the following issues in access and inclusion in ODL:

  • Good practices for increasing access to formal and non-formal learning opportunities using:

    • Open educational resources

    • Open and distance learning

    • Online learning

    • Massive Open Online Courses

  • One of the three pillars of sustainable development in social inclusion – how does ODL make a contribution to this aspect of the SDGs?

  • Innovation in programme design and marketing to address issues of gender balance in traditionally male and female dominated careers

  • Integration of assistive technologies

  • How can ODL and technology contribute to increase access on teacher training and other programmes?

Efficiency and Effectiveness

COL Theme Leaders: Dr K Balasubramanian & Dr Jessica Aguti
OUM Theme Leaders: Prof Dr Zakaria Ismail & Assoc Prof Dr Abdul Wahab Abdul Ghani

Open and distance learning (ODL) has grown over the years because of its promise and appeal to increase access, address equity, provide flexible opportunities for study, and provide more cost-effective alternatives to conventional education. However, there have remained debates about the efficiency and effectiveness of ODL in providing quality education and contributing to sustainable development. So, how effectively and efficiently is ODL increasing access to quality education and reaching the unreached? How can drop-out rates be reduced and higher retention rates, pass rates and completion rates be achieved in ODL? How can quality and sustainability be achieved in ODL? How does ODL help countries and institutions to achieve positive learning outcomes? What are the most cost-efficient and cost-effective models of ODL (delivery models, funding models, business models, management models, others)? Is there a new business model for institutions using open, online and flexible learning for skill development?

Open and distance learning has grown over the years because of its promise and appeal to increase access, address equity, provide flexible opportunities for study, and provide more cost effective alternatives to conventional education. However, there have remained debates about the efficiency and effectiveness of open and distance learning in providing quality education and contributing to sustainable development. This sub-theme is therefore expected to give conference participants opportunity to discuss and debate these issues, share experiences and build networks for further collaboration and partnerships.

An education system is judged to be efficient if it produces the most output using the least amount of inputs or resources. Efficiency often seeks to determine whether more outputs could have been achieved using the same inputs or resources; and these include material and non-material inputs, the pedagogical/andragogical/ heutagogical practices, organizational structures in place and teacher/instructor time and abilities. On the other hand, education is deemed to be effective if the stated education objectives are achieved and contribute to sustainable development. In particular, effectiveness in education concerns itself with how far the education offered motivates learners to learn; helps them cultivate thinking skills; prepares them for lifelong learning and responsible citizenship; the employability of the learners and the contribution of education to economic growth, social inclusion and environmental conservation.

The conference should therefore explore the following issues in efficiency and effectiveness of ODL:

  • Accessibility of ODL programmes; dropout rates, retention rates, pass rates and completion rates

  • Quality in ODL as it relates to effectiveness

  • Delivery models

  • Learner satisfaction with ODL programmes and services

  • Cost effective models of ODL (funding models, business models, management models …)

  • Learner outcomes in ODL

  • Employability and entrepreneurship of graduates

  • Social and economic impact of ODL programmes

Participants will be free to present papers, posters, run workshops, or participate in panel discussions. However, these presentations should go beyond hypothetical analyses and showcase examples that demonstrate and increase in efficiency and effectiveness.

Technology and Innovation

COL Theme Leaders: Dr Sanjaya Mishra & Ms Rosanne Wong
OUM Theme Leaders: Assoc Prof Dr Nantha Kumar Subramaniam & Prof Dr Lim Tick Meng

This sub-them focuses on: the use of appropriate technology and innovations in teaching and learning, including new developments such as flipped classrooms, learning analytics, mobile learning and massive open online courses (MOOCs); research and development of new applications for improving open, online and flexible learning environments; examples of successes and pitfalls in the use of technology for learning – what works, where, why and how; and student and faculty use of media and technology, including open educational resources (OER).

Within the broad spirit of the theme – Open, Online and Flexible Learning: the Key to Sustainable Development – the sub-theme, Technology and Innovation will provide a platform for PCF8 participants to build networks, share best practices, and rethink sustainable development through innovation and use of technology to promote learning. We suggest that participants could report on research and development related to innovations in teaching and learning, implementation of innovative practices and challenges, use of both low-end and high-end technologies for improving learning in classroom as well as online, student and faculty use of media and technology; descriptive and analytical accounts of case studies in specific institutions and communities about use of technologies for learning and development; reflective as well as causal-analysis of predicting at-risk learners using big data; sharing problems and challenges in implementing technology in developing countries; and reporting ethical and environmental concerns of technology use of learning.

Some of the topics that we suggest participants could cover, include:

  • Asynchronous Learning

  • Building E-Learning Architectures

  • Collaborative Learning

  • Community Building in online environments

  • Constructivist Perspectives and technology

  • Cultural attitudes and technology acceptance

  • Design of Distance Learning Systems

  • Developing an Organizational e-Learning Strategy

  • Development of Open Educational Resources

  • Evaluation/Performance Measurement & Assessment of technology

  • Indigenous Peoples & Technology

  • Innovative Curriculum in E-Learning

  • Instructional Design for Online Learning, including MOOCs

  • Interactive Learning Environments

  • Internet of Things and possibilities for learning applications

  • Knowledge Management in E-Learning

  • Learning Analytics

  • Management of Learning Resources

  • Massive Open Online Courses

  • Micro-blogging in education

  • Multimedia support of language & culture

  • New Roles for Teachers/Learners

  • Open Educational Resources