Mi-Chelle Leong: Laying the Foundations for Engaging Online Courses


Just as an architect meticulously designs a home, a learning designer carefully crafts an online course, laying the foundations of knowledge and building an engaging and effective learning experience. OpenLearning Ambassador Mi-Chelle Leong knows first-hand the benefits of using universal design principles to create online courses that students will love.

We sat down with Mi-Chelle, who is currently the Acting Head Of School at UOW Malaysia KDU, to find out more about her approach to learning design, drawing on her experiences as an online course creator whose micro-credential courses have been successfully listed on the OpenLearning Marketplace.

The journey so far

Mi-Chelle’s journey into training and education started with her first role as an English lecturer at a local college in Malaysia. 

“As my academic qualification was not exactly in pedagogy, I struggled a lot in my early years of teaching,” she says, recalling how she ultimately learned the ropes through a mix of observation, books, workshops, courses, and trial and error.

In her endeavour to become a better teacher, she realised that many of her academic colleagues were going through the same challenge: they were content experts, but not pedagogically trained. 

When the opportunity came up to become an in-house trainer at the college, Mi-Chelle volunteered. “I wanted to help my fellow colleagues by sharing my experience and tips with them,” she explains, marking her entrance into her current role as an educator trainer.

Mi-Chelle also began developing online courses for her students. “I had to learn how to create engaging online courses,” she tells us, adding that her interest in online learning grew when she saw how IR4.0 was changing education.

“When I chanced upon the OpenLearning Ambassador Program, I thought it was the complete program for me as I got to learn the basics: from planning, to developing, and then facilitating an online course.” 

The OpenLearning Ambassador Program is a 5-course series that guides users through the basics of course design, assessments, and facilitation. Learners can earn badges to become certified as an OpenLearning Ambassador and access more opportunities in online learning design.

Was the training and professional development worth it? Mi-Chelle shares, “I think my proudest achievement so far is having one of our courses listed as an OpenCred,” adding that she has learnt a lot from the experience.“ One of the most significant lessons is to keep trying and to embrace every single challenge that comes my way. Each one is a lesson for me to learn and an opportunity for me to be creative at finding a solution.”

The learning design process

To Mi-Chelle, building an online course is similar to managing a housing development project:

“It all starts with acquiring the land permit and having a great understanding of the soil or the land where the building will be constructed. In other words, the land is the platform that will be used for hosting the online course. Having a clear understanding of the features of the platform, its strengths and weaknesses, will be helpful to the course designer or developer when considering the feasibility of the activities or tasks for the learners of the course.

Secondly, as in any building construction, a comprehensive blueprint is a must. In my opinion, this document is very important as it outlines everything in the course from layout to tasks and assessments. Once the blueprint is ready, we can start creating videos, infographics, texts, visuals, and activities in the pages.

After completing the development of the pages, it’s time for some testing. Apart from enrolling myself as a learner in the course to check that all the pages and widgets are working well, I’d also suggest having a colleague to enrol into the course to experience it as a learner so that they can provide you with feedback on the clarity and flow of the pages in the course.

So, building an online course is really very much like construction work. It can be rather challenging at times, but seeing the fruits of my labour is all worth it. Personally, working in a team of 2 to 3 course designers keeps us motivated as we help each other work through any technical issues and overcome the challenges. The peer support is a great motivating factor.”

Using the Online Engagement Framework to engage with learners

Mi-Chelle also uses the five key elements in the Online Engagement Framework to engage with her learners. They are social engagement, cognitive engagement, behavioural engagement, collaborative engagement, and emotional engagement, as she explains below:

Online Engagement Framework Overview

Source: Redmond, P., Heffernan, A., Abawi, L., Brown, A., & Henderson, R. (2018). An online engagement framework for higher education. Online Learning, 22(1), 183-204. doi:10.24059/olj.v22i1.1175

#1 Social Engagement:

To build relationships with my learners, I create a video introduction of myself and share some fun facts about me. Additionally, I write each learner a personal welcoming letter explaining my approach to teaching and learning, my responsibilities vs their responsibilities and also assuring them that I am there with them throughout their learning journey.

#2 Cognitive Engagement:

To promote ‘do and think’ in a learner’s journey, I often pose reflective questions to encourage them to relate the concept learnt to their real world. Also, I ensure that my videos are bite-sized so that they are more easily digested and give them a ‘stop and think more about…’ moment.

#3 Behavioural Engagement:

To nurture behavioural engagement, I often encourage learners to support and provide feedback to each other. In a forum discussion, my instruction usually includes asking them to provide a response to at least two other persons’ comments in addition to giving their opinion.

#4 Collaborative Engagement:

Collaborative engagement is associated with building supportive learning networks. For this, I use Jigsaw (a cooperative learning strategy) that allows learners to get into small groups (expert groups) to work on a particular area of a topic, and then regather into their home groups to share their discoveries or learnings. This way, they are able to help each other to develop and grow their knowledge and skills.

#5 Emotional Engagement:

I believe that emotional engagement can be strengthened when teachers manage learner expectations and recognise their motivations. In every topic introduction, I usually begin with a video of me providing a strong rationale of the content or topic that is being addressed in that module. This helps to set the scene and also highlights the importance of the topic, thus giving the learner a valid reason to complete the module with me.

These methods have helped enhance my learners’ engagement in the online environment, and subsequently improved their achievement of the learning outcomes.”

Future projects and advice for other educators

Mi-Chelle’s team is currently preparing to launch more micro-credential courses. At the same time, they are developing courses for a new diploma programme that will be offered in the ODL (Open and Distance Learning) mode of study. “In the coming months, I’d see myself conducting more training on designing and developing online courses, and working more on projects in future education and flexible learning.”

“Educators should have knowledge of mobile learning and micro-learning,” Mi-Chelle advises, adding that educators would benefit greatly from building their skills in video-based learning,  game-based learning, gamification, social-emotional learning (SEL), and learning analytics to make their courses meaningful, interactive, and effective.

If you would like to explore more online learning ideas and collaborate with Mi-Chelle, reach out below or join her in the OpenLearning Ambassador Program:

Join Mi-Chelle in becoming OpenLearning Certified: register for the OpenLearning Ambassador Certification Program.


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