Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University (HBMSU) is the first accredited online university in the Arab world. It was the ambitious drive of the leadership of the Emirate of Dubai to set a new path for its young generation to become knowledge ambassadors, innovators, scientists, entrepreneurs, and leaders of the future that led to the establishment of HBMSU in 2002, true to the vision of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Rather than starting as a conventional university that provides a few online courses, HBMSU was born as an online university. Since its inception, HBMSU has adopted a clear vision to lead the smart learning innovation for re-engineering the future of education to benefit individuals, organizations, and society. With the full support and supervision of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, President of the university, the University is committed to spreading a culture of excellence, innovation, entrepreneurship, and research through smart learning in the Arab world.
HBMSU’s pioneering vision stimulated the MoE to initiate standards for accreditation of e- learning institutions in the UAE as an essential pillar for re-engineering the higher education system. HBMSU created a vision and mission to support online learning that ensured the pedagogies, and instructional technologies resulted in a smart learning eco-system. This system comprised of many integrated and interlinked components, including online curriculum design and delivery, life-long learning, faculty development, research and innovation, knowledge transfer, state of the art technological infrastructure, and global networks. HBMSU learners are at the center of all components, resulting in a learner-centric environment. Learners are provided with full support from the day they start their learning journey at HBMSU until they graduate. This includes but is not limited to pre-enrolment and admission support, learning resources, career planning and placement services, access to the latest educational technologies, and continuous academic and ICT support.
Mark of quality and excellence
HBMSU is known for keeping quality and excellence at the forefront of its efforts which has earned it the title the ‘House of Quality and Excellence’. It focuses on total quality management (TQM) as one of the most important learning tracks that can help learners espouse a mindset and skills that do not settle for anything less than the highest quality and standards. HBMSU initiated the first academic program in quality management in UAE, that is the Bachelor of Business and Quality Management in 2006, followed by the Master of Science in Organizational Excellence in 2007. Both programs showed HBMSU’s commitment to spreading the culture of quality as the backbone for economic development in the region.
With a wider agenda of transforming society, HBMSU has been engaged in large pioneering educational projects including the Middle East e-Learning Quality Framework (MeLQ). The Middle East e-Learning Quality Framework was jointly developed by HBMSU and SCIL, a well-recognized Swiss think tank that provides consulting services to a wide range of educational institutions in Europe and worldwide. MeLQ offers a framework for quality in e-Learning which builds on a solid theoretical basis informed by research on technology-enhanced learning. At the same time, MeLQ is designed to meet the expectations and demands of practitioners, placing a strong emphasis on issues like sustainability and economic feasibility of e-Learning arrangements.
In 2019, HBMSU launched an international consortium for ‘Benchmarking Framework for Online, Open, Smart, and Technology-Enhanced Higher Education,’ an alliance of prominent universities, associations, and quality assurance experts. The initiative helps online and open universities in their continuous move to improve their education systems by developing and implementing an evaluation framework that fully reflects the quality of the work of flexible, open, and online institutions and facilitates sharing of best world practices.
HBMSU has gained global recognition from leading organizations such as Pearson Global for fostering this culture using technologies and smart learning tools. Furthermore, it has become the first university in the Middle East and North Africa to obtain ISO 22301 Business Continuity Management System certification.
Moreover, HBMSU is an active member of many reputed international organizations and institutions: the International Council for Open and Distance Education, European Learning Industry Group, British Quality Foundation, European Foundation for Quality Management, International Federation of Information Processing, etc.
HBMSU’s Lifelong Learning Model
Lifelong learning continuously builds individuals’ knowledge and skills throughout their lifetime. It is not limited to specific degrees or courses but can take any form of training, tutoring, mentoring or life experience. Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University’s lifelong learning model provides opportunities to the community from the age of 6 to 99 to gain knowledge and skills and to contribute to the growth of the economy. The model encompasses different formal education opportunities such as academic degrees and informal ones such as short courses. HBMSU portfolio of academic programs spread from undergraduate diplomas to doctoral degrees. The non-academic courses include skill-based certificates and short courses as well as professional development programs. These programs provide certification routes to participants in several fields such as excellence and business management, public health, environmental management, and smart learning. The lifelong learning model of the University allows learners to progressively move from one segment of learning to the higher one. Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is at the center of this model and HBMSU has specific policies and procedures that govern the progression pathway.
The adoption of a lifelong learning vision as an integral part of HBMSU set a great example for other higher education institutions in the MENA region. Lifelong learning should be at the core of the planning and implementation processes to ensure prompt response to changing market needs and strengthen the impact of higher education institutions.
Learning for future skills
The institution believes that innovative pedagogy and approaches combined with modern technology are crucial to achieving its goals and are key to stimulating the interest of the youth of today to unleash their creativity. HBMSU’s programmes and courses are designed to be highly interactive, engaging, and should offer the convenience that would advance the learners’ capabilities to acquire the essential skills of XXI century. One of its key features is learning on ‘cloud’ which provides learners with multiple flexible opportunities to learn new skills at any time at any place.
HBMSU’s Cloud Campus online platform offers an innovative means to acquiring skills for all, including professional development programmes and free online short courses that provide certification. The learning techniques and approaches are highly interactive which are supported by multimedia formats including videos as part of what it calls a microlearning method to optimize knowledge retention. The Cloud Campus disseminates knowledge through various techniques including videos; some of which are as short as 60-90 seconds, using the micro-learning method for maximum knowledge retention. Furthermore, learners can rely on round-the-clock support from a team of experts and enjoy the benefits of being part of an online learning community of academics, fellow learners, private companies, and government organizations.
Cloud Campus has an interactive learning style. Its training programs address knowledge and skills with an interactive approach using self-paced learning. They also use a combination of self-learning and synchronous learning, which includes online training workshops. With such approaches, knowledge recipients would reach their maximum potentials.
Another approach that has made HBMSU notable across the education world is its leading application of gamification in the learning process. Gamification is a proactive initiative for turning learning into an enjoyable journey by making it more ‘interesting,’ challenging’ and ‘exclusive’. HBMSU’s initiative to apply game theory to the learning process, aims to advance learning, improve the academic performance of learners, enhance the research environment, promote good behaviors, and encourage social cooperation. It simulates gaming concepts to motivate learners to earn points through various activities such as visiting the library and volunteer work, among others that will qualify them for points, badges, rewards, incentives, and enter the Leader Board. The EduGame education concept uses gaming elements to create a highly engaging learning environment and motivate learners to participate in community activities, interactive discussions, and even in volunteering opportunities.
A helping hand to the world
The Covid-19 pandemic imposed unprecedented challenges on education systems worldwide. According to UNICEF report about education during Covid-19 pandemic, more than a billion children have been left behind because of school closures during the pandemic. There is a need to make a radical change in the educational system to make it more resilient when faced with future uncertainties. Furthermore, radical changes in the global education system cannot be done without concerted efforts to strengthen teachers in their leading role as they are the backbone that ensure the continuity of education when challenges emerge such as the global spread of Covid-19. Teachers need to become fully prepared and ready to provide distance learning using advanced technology while being able to manage and operate online classrooms in an effective and efficient manner.
Once the outbreak of Covid-19 started spreading from one country to the next in early 2020, HBMSU came to the forefront with purpose-built online-learning crash courses to assist teachers in moving to online learning in the context of emergency closures of schools and universities. HBMSU developed several courses to equip teachers with essential knowledge and skills in online pedagogy and technology. The courses “Be an online tutor in 24 hours” and “Design an online course in 24 Hours” were available in March 2020 and hundreds of thousands of educators joined them. The Arabic version of the courses was developed in partnership with the Ministry of Education in UAE while the Russian version was developed in partnership with UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education (IITE).
HBMSU was the first and only Arab university invited to join The Global Education Coalition is a UNESCO initiative to respond to COVID-19 challenges and reduce inequalities in educational levels worldwide. It involves more than 150 members and provides an interactive and dedicated platform to support the educational needs of countries. It aims at joining forces of multiple stakeholders from private sectors, universities, non-profit organizations, and others to capitalize on the power of technology in helping stressed educational systems during Covid-19. According to HBMSU Chancellor, His Excellency Dr. Mansoor Al Awar, “Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University is committed to supporting UNESCO’s endeavors to improve teachers’ efficiency and ability to adapt to the latest educational methods and best practices using information and communications technology to improve the quality of education all over the world. Therefore, we accentuate our commitment to continuously share our leading experiences in transforming the role of educators from teachers and instructors to facilitators of learning and knowledge ambassadors. This is in the core of our strategic objective for engaging learners as partners in the educational process and not as usual recipients; we aim to create a new generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, decision-makers and future builders.”