15 Jan, 2020
Digital technologies have matured rapidly in recent years. The implication to education is significant in that access to knowledge has expanded tremendously. For institutions like the Islamic Research and Training Institute (IRTI), the opportunity to make impact is huge. As a premier research and training institute dedicated to knowledge creation and dissemination in Islamic Economics, IRTI has been delivering training courses in this field for nearly four decades since its establishment in 1981. In the first three decades, most of the courses were delivered through face-to-face training while some were conducted through the traditional distance learning mode. These trainings have been pioneering successes in the field of Islamic Economics and Finance. However, with technology advancing fast, the opportunity has been growing to utilize newer technologies to reach wider audiences and achieve much bigger impact.
As the Islamic finance industry expanded and developed over the past years, IRTI considered it necessary to find innovative ways of spreading knowledge and capacity development for industry stakeholders. Taking up the challenge, IRTI first started with an e-learning program in 2010. The main purpose for the e-learning concept was to deploy digital technologies as a cost-effective tool to enhance educational outreach. This program helped brought down some of the barriers that face-to-face training come with.
In 2015, IRTI took yet another a pioneering step to transform access to knowledge and education in Islamic Finance. This time, IRTI introduced the Online Learning Program (OLP) to take advantage of the advancing technologies to make Islamic Finance education accessible worldwide. The OLP was founded to deliver massive open online courses (MOOCs) in Islamic Economics, Banking and Finance, through the leading online learning platform edX. EdX was founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, and is used by leading universities and other education institutions worldwide to deliver courses online. The central purpose of IRTI’s OLP is to enhance dissemination of knowledge in Islamic Finance to a global audience, with a focus on contributing to efforts to mainstream Islamic Finance.
“IRTI considers its partnership with edX as a great achievement, as it enabled IRTI to be on the same platform with some of the leading institutions like MIT and Harvard University,” says Dr. Khalifa Mohamed Ali, Senior Economist at IRTI, who was part of the team that established the Online Learning Program. “This is also significant for Islamic Finance, as for the first time ever, knowledge and education in Islamic Finance is freely available to be accessed from all corners of the globe, so long as internet connection is available.”
The success of IRTI’s courses on the edX platform has been remarkable. When the program took off in February 2016, IRTI launched six massive open online courses within two series, namely Islamic Finance and Banking, and Islamic Financial and Capital Markets. Two other courses on Islamic Insurance and Islamic Banking were also provided on the platform, making a total of eight courses to date. Within the span of three years since the program started, more than 50,000 learners had enrolled in the courses from around 180 countries. Dr. Khalifa Mohamed Ali explains: “The enrollment in OLP compared to traditional training methods has been tremendous. The program has had students from all over the world, including Latin America, North America, Russia, Poland and many others. Although the initial challenge was the cost of establishing the program and creating the content, with the support of the IsDB management, IRTI successfully achieved its mission to launch the program.”
The first series of IRTI MOOCs, i.e. Islamic Finance and Banking series, provides an overview of the core principles and the fundamental concepts of the Islamic financial system; explains the various Islamic contracts and their impact on the Islamic financial system; and distinguishes between the Islamic and conventional financial systems. The second, Islamic Financial and Capital Markets series, covers the principles and practices of Islamic financial and capital markets; advanced Islamic financial instruments; challenges in the development of Islamic financial markets; and the trading operations of various markets in the Islamic financial system. Content in the series has been developed in a flexible manner that allows for multi-uses, easy updates and readiness to incorporate other languages such as Arabic and French. Some unique features of the series are that all the courses are digitized and developed in modern textbooks style with clear learning objectives and assessments.
Dr. Khalifa Mohamed Ali explains further: “Since its inception, IRTI, with its highly experienced teams of vibrant and diverse scholars and experts, has been delivering cutting-edge research, capacity building, advisory and information services in Islamic Economics and Finance. But with a vision to be the global knowledge center for Islamic Economics and Finance, IRTI collaborated with edX on a bigger platform to create the massive open online courses and expand the delivery of high-quality courses not only to people from Muslim countries but to lifelong learners from around the world.”
Following the success recorded so far, IRTI OLP aims to deliver additional massive open online courses to cover various other aspects of Islamic Economics and Finance. Future courses will include topics related to poverty alleviation, trade finance, investment and trade insurance from the Islamic perspective. The OLP will make these MOOCs available to be customized for financial and academic institutions in IsDB member countries and beyond as accredited courses leading to the award of degrees. The ultimate objective is to create a platform to expand awareness on Islamic Finance and help mainstream the sector. The program will continue to help facilitate deeper and more widespread understanding of the potential of Islamic Finance to contribute to sustainable development.