FUNiX Way – a new approach to online learning with MOOC. Phan Phương Đạt, FUNiX Online University – member of FPT Education. A paper for Int’l Conference on Online Education (ICOE 2019), HCM City Open University, HCM City, 14-15 Mar 2019.
There are two problems in online learning with MOOC. First, learners have to wait for teacher’s help when they have questions, it may last days or even weeks, and therefore reduce learners’ motivation. Second, learners may have other difficulties during the course and drop out. FUNiX Way aims to address these issues by introducing instant mentoring and a model for academic and relational support for learners. In FUNiX Online University (a member of FPT Education), we have been using FUNiX Way for 3 years in Software Engineer Undergraduate program with some interesting results.
From 2012 up to now, MOOC movement keeps growing and attracts more and more learners and institutions. By end of 2018, they have more than 100 million students, 900 universities with 11,000+ courses available. In 2018, more than 20 million new students started learning, and 2000 new courses added. Many degree courses are being offered by universities through MOOC providers such as coursera, edX, FutureLearn, etc.
In Viet Nam, online (distance) university degrees are provided through their own e-learning centers. Topica is the only MOOC-based degree provider, in cooperation with some universities. There is belief among students and society that online degree has lower quality in comparison with traditional one, and suitable only for those who cannot go to campus.
From the beginning, FUNiX’s objective is to provide high quality education (equal or higher than traditional in-campus education) with affordable, local price. It is possible due to the following reasons:
- Increasing speed and quality of connection. ICT enjoys rapid development in Vietnam, with 60% of population using internet. Watching video and communicating online – the most important activities of online education – became easy and convenient.
- World class courseware became available and affordable. Each year, about 2000 new courses appear in MOOC platforms such as coursera, edX, etc. With localization and online translation service, Vietnamese learners can consume the course and at the same time practice their English skills.
- Professional community is connected online and ready to help the leaners. Traditionally, it’s problematic to get IT experts to come and teach in universities because they cannot arrange time for a whole course. With online and social technology, they now can join anytime, from anywhere and provide academic support for the leaners in discrete amount of time, let say 30 or even 15 minutes, to answer a question.
With the vision of pioneering in Vietnam online education with world class quality and local price, starting with IT degree program, FUNiX has migrated the FPT University’s in-campus Software Engineering program into online platform, and developed a proprietary approach which we called “FUNiX Way”. Our point of view is that technology alone cannot solve the problems, we have to create a new model that utilizes the available technology and fits into specific local conditions. FUNiX Way affects all the aspects of education, started from enrolment and last until the learner finish the course, with re-enrolment for the next cycle. In short, FUNiX Way aims to help learners to develop the competency of learning online. As Malcolm Knowles said, “Most of us only know how to be taught, we haven’t learned how to learn”, once a learner masters the competency of learning online, he/she can learn almost everything with minimal expense and amount of time. FUNiX Way is best described by statement “Better asking than attending class, motivating than teaching” (học không bằng hỏi, dạy không bằng dỗ).
The biggest challenge for online education is completion rate. Low completion rate is due to low motivation, because learners are lack of teacher’s and peer’s daily pressure and support when learning online. For example, while watching video, a question may come up and if learner cannot have it resolved promptly, he/she can get bored. Or, with self-paced learning, one can constantly postpone quizzes and assignments for tomorrow and failed to complete a subject on time. FUNiX has built its own way of tackling these problems, via instant mentoring and FARS (FUNiX academic and relational support).
For its Software Engineering undergraduate program, FUNiX has built a community of more than 600 mentors with 2300 mentor-courses. Mentors are either lecturers or engineers from IT companies from all over Vietnam and some other countries. According to expertise, they answer questions from learners, review assignments, and conduct oral exams. Mentoring is done via an app on facebook, because all mentors and leaners are using facebook. The connection time is less than 3 minutes, and Q&A session is divided into 10-minute blocks of chat. Learners can add more block if they want to continue the conversation. Sometimes the parties switch to voice call and screen sharing softwares (for debugging).
The mentors are encouraged to provide their own point of view to learner’s problem, based on their own knowledge and experience. Although it may seem confusing for learners to get answers that can be different from the textbook, it actually creats a context of real work environment, while a software engineer get advices from coworkers. The learners also have opportunity to build relationships with future employers from the day one, and many of them did find job or apprenticeship in mentor’s organizations.
Figure 1. Number of mentors who can mentoring a course, and number of mentors who actually engaged (December 2018)
Besides interacting with mentors on learning content, learners can get support during the course via a single contact point called Hannah, a FUNiX’s learner support staff. Hannah conducts onboarding and look after the learners until he/she finish the course (either complete or drop out). FARS is the framework for supporting learners, developed from PARS which is based on situational leadership model.
Figure 2. FARS model
Let’s take an example to see FARS in action. The Software Engineer Undergraduate program is divided into 8 Certificates, each of them has 4-5 courses. Certificate 1 has 4 courses with the duration of 26 weeks. This duration is divided into 4-week stages, and Hannah should conduct an online review with learner at the end of every stage. By that time, the learner’s progress (measured in XP, every task is assigned a certain amount of XP so that a course is equivalent to 100 XP) is compared with the Norm, and the review is carried on based on that comparison. If the progress is less than the Norm, Hannah will talk with learners to determine whether the Skills and Motivation is low or high, what are the obstacles and what actions should be done to remove the barriers. The Hannah’s work is very much like a doctor’s one, when he/she set appointment with patient, examine him, define the prescription and make sure the patient will follow. The whole cycle repeats every 4 weeks.
Figure 3. Completion Rate for Certificate 1 learners by month (April to June 2018)
Data in Fig.3 show the result of FARS for Certificate 1 learners that enrolled in April, May and June 2018. The completion rate is 22%, 39% and 16% accordingly.
Results and challenges
FUNiX started with first batch of 50 learners in December 2015, now it has 700+ concurrent learners. In parallel with SE program, FUNiX started to build and launch xSeries microcredential programs, targeted to high tech 6-month courses on Automotive, AI, Big Data, Fintech, etc. Because of shortage of textbook and teachers, these courses are difficult to implement in traditional campuses, but possible if made with FUNiX Way, where mentors come from industry.
Still, there are some big challenges to be addressed:
- For many people especially the old generation, online higher education is considered as low quality alternative. It will take more years to prove the quality when learners graduate and succeed in their careers
- Completion rate is low and varied. FARS should help Hannahs to early detect problems with learners and support them more effectively.
- Online assessment is more difficult. The assessment, both formative and summative, needs improvement.
 Stephen D. Lowe. Responding to Learner Needs in Distance Education: Providing Academic and Relational Support (PARS). Making Distance Education Work: Understanding Learning And Learners At A Distance. 2011.