The online learning phenomenon has become more widespread in recent years with many learning institutions adapting ways of incorporating modern technology into learning skills and objectives to facilitate students learning.
Online Learning is becoming an ever-increasing way of facilitating education to students who are unable to attend a traditional on-campus university as well as supporting on-campus teaching. The most common systems used by educational establishments are asynchronous learning systems (online learning systems) (Lewis, Snow, Farris, & Levin, 1999).
Online learning does not just denote how learning is conducted but is "an educational philosophy for designing interactive, responsive and valid information and learning opportunities to be delivered to learners at a time, place and in appropriate forms convenient to the learners" (Boettcher, 2004) or, even more simplistically put, learning conducted using the web and a personal computer (Petrova, 2004).
Clark (1991) suggested that teaching and studying at a distance can be as effective as traditional instruction provided: (a) the methods and technologies used are appropriate to the instructional tasks, (b) there is student-to-student interaction, and (c) there is timely teacher-to-student feedback.
After a review of relevant educational literature it was found that there is no one specific method for the analysis of online teaching and learning systems. Also often the strategies presented are not student driven, hence the requirement of an alternate student focused method.
Background to SSM
SSM (Soft Systems Methodology) is a method that has been used by many and applied in different aspects of business and beyond (Checkland, 1981, 1988, 2000). It is often not referred to as a methodology but a problem solving tool, which makes it suitable for a variety of situations.
Checkland's SSM focuses on organisational problems by considering the organisation as a whole, not just looking at one particular problem and not attempting to make an early decision on a solution to a problem (Checkland, 1998; Checkland & Scholes, 2000). SSM works through a number of stages that are illustrated in Figure 1. There are a total of seven stages in the standard SSM methodology.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Gencoglu, Altmann, Smith, & Mackay (2002) applied SSM to the study of supply chain management (SCM) on the premise that SCM is affected by cultural, political, and social issues and that SSM would be an effective tool to deal with these "soft" problems. The research centred on workshops where the participants in the SCM made use of the techniques of SSM (rich pictures, conceptual models, etc). It was concluded that the use of SSM gave the participants a greater understanding of the problem situation, and they could identify issues and conflicts more effectively. This research highlights the effectiveness of SSM to be used in many situations and be useful in situations without easy solutions.
SSM was used by Patel (1995) to analyse the teaching and learning process in a higher education institution. The standard stages of SSM were followed and the "area of concern" was wide ranging. The results produced fifteen recommendations, some of which were previously unrecognised by the lecturers.
Development of MEAD
It was decided to use SSM as a basis for the method for the analysis and design of online teaching and learning systems for a number of reasons:
** SSM is a well known, internationally used methodology and has been used in a variety of settings since its development in the early 1980s;
** SSM allows for flexibility in its application to suit the discipline and area under investigation;
** SSM encourages ownership of the problem situation by involving stakeholders in the process;
** The organisational aspects of the situation can be addressed. …