Education plays a vital role in the quest of developing human capital and knowledge workers. Most countries are giving a lot emphasis to their tertiary education as they need graduates who are creative, innovative and knowledgeable. These are the ingredients required to make the economy and the country into a high income and developed nation. Countries therefore have invested large amounts of money in their education system to realise this objective.
Traditional instruction, such as the typical lecture-based session, developed before textbooks were mass-produced, often involves delivering as much information as quickly as possible. The lecture method was one of the most effective and efficient ways to disseminate information and has often been used for this end. Because some faculty members may be poor lecturers, and because students are often poor participants in the lecture, this type of instruction has often allowed students to be passive in the classroom. Students, not knowing how to be active participants in the lecture, have relied on transcription, memorising and repetition for learning.
In recent decades, however, we have learned a great deal from cognitive science research about the nature of learning. Students construct knowledge; they do not take it in as it is disseminated, but rather they build on knowledge they have gained previously (Cross, 1998). They benefit from working together and they may learn best from teaching each other. Research also suggests that students learn best in the context of a compelling problem (Ewell, 1997); they learn through experience.
This relatively new information suggests that teaching is a complex activity and it necessitates the emergence and development of approaches to instruction that are consistent with what we know about the way learning happens (Ewell, 1997). This new understanding has given rise to the notion of a paradigm shiftin higher education, one from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning (Barr and Tagg, 1995).
In Malaysia, the Quality Assurance Division, Ministry of Higher Education, had realised the need for an outcome-based approach for continual improvement in education. This is because there was an alarming increase of unemployed graduates in Malaysia. According to The Sun (Ram, 2006), 70 per cent of graduates from public universities and institutes of higher learning fall under the unemployed category as at year 2006. Based on a survey carried out by the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) of the Prime Ministers Department, it showed that in 2005 nearly 60,000 Malaysian graduates were unemployed (New Straits Times, 2005). This number had increased to 80,000 in 2008. The project, which was carried out to gauge the extent of the unemployment problem among graduates, highlighted many problems in the education system as well as among the graduates. Those surveyed cited the lack of job experience, poor command of the English language, with inadequate communication skills and the possession of qualifications that are not relevant to the job market as reasons for not being able to find suitable employment.
The results have led to some introspection. The higher education institutions started to respond to a growing concern for the adequacy of students' professional and career preparation by specifying the outcomes or abilities that were demanded in the market. Such outcomes are programmed to focus on assessing performance as well as knowledge, bridging the gap between university and career world. The Malaysian Qualification Agency was established to uphold the responsibility of quality assurance practices of higher education for both public and the private sectors (MQA website). One of the salient points of the MQA is to address the learning outcome for all programmes which are offered in the higher institutions in the country. This approach is important and corresponds with the global education concept of outcome-based education (OBE) rather than the traditional pedagogical teaching. …