The Graduate School of Instructional Systems (GSIS) was established in 2006 as an independent master’s degree program of the Graduate School of Social and Cultural Sciences, with 15 full-time and 22 part-time students. This year marks the eighth anniversary of the program. Since its establishment, GSIS has conducted systematic educational research to foster highly educated professionals who can develop, implement, and evaluate effective, efficient, and attractive e-learning courses. The aim of the doctoral program is to deepen the education gained in the master’s program and to provide opportunities for advance academic research in order to meet the social and academic need for instructional systems, while also training professionals, including educational researchers, who can take the initiative in further developing and promoting this growing field.

For the master’s program, the faculty and staff first defined the competencies that program graduates should gain, and then publicized these as our academic objectives before developing practical curriculums to help students achieve these competencies. GSIS works together with the nonprofit organization e-learning Consortium Japan (eLC) to train professionals to work in the e-learning market, and has been recognized as an outstanding educational institute by the eLC for its e-Learning Professional (eLP) certification program. Many of our past students have graduated as e-learning specialists with multiple eLP certificates.

GSIS was selected by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) for its “Support Program for Improving Graduate School Education 2007”, in which 126 programs were selected from among 355 applications. In addition, our three-year-long Education Innovator Development Program for training e-learning professionals who can take the initiative in developing global human resources in the IT era, was recognized by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science as “Satisfactory” in the post evaluation. This prestigious rating was awarded to only 7 programs out of 53 in the Human-Social Science Area. A portion of this program’s findings were published in “Theory and practice of story-centered curriculum: Challenges and the behind-the-scenes of an online graduate school”, edited by Nemoto, J. and Suzuki, K. (2014, Toshindo). This paper is the follow up to F. Omori (Ed.)’s “Strategies of training educational professionals in the IT era: Challenges of Japan’s first online graduate school for e-learning professionals” (2008, Toshindo), which describes the beginnings of GSIS.

We are constantly revising our curriculum. In FY 2007-2010, we received international students from developing countries with the support of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). A new course, “e-learning in International Cooperation”, was created then, and all required courses in the master’s program were made available in English. This effort can be seen in the “Open Courses” section of our web site, where the full contents of four of our courses can be browsed free of charge. In 2013, in response to the growing need for e-learning among healthcare professionals, we began offering a new elective course entitled “e-learning in Healthcare Education,” which is taught by one of our own graduates. Our alumni have been active in getting academic positions at universities, starting their own small businesses, taking leadership roles in related academic and public organizations, and even starting their own new incorporated foundations. However, the happiest occasion for us at GSIS is when our graduates come back to our program as faculty to help us educate the next generation of instructional system professionals.

Since FY 2014, we have been engaged in the “Diffusion center of instructional systems research: Package development and dissemination for training adult educators to support recurrent learning” project. This project is sponsored by MEXT and Kumamoto University, and seeks to spread our design methods for online learning environments to other graduate schools. Its main goal is to provide future college instructors the opportunity to experience and master our methodology; one which requires no lectures or final examinations. We believe it should be effective in helping adults learn, not only at universities, but also in human resource development settings at other organizations. We hope to contribute to the creation of learning environments that are better suited to adults by breaking old traditions of college teaching and offering training for professionals who can design and facilitate learning by adults utilizing ICT.

We hope to utilize the above results to advance educational research. We admit not only degree-seeking students, but also part-time and research students to our master’s and doctoral programs. Meanwhile, for degree-seeking students, we offer flexible enrollment options such as an extension program in which a student can enroll for three years but only pay two years of tuition, as well as an accelerated course that shortens the study period required to earn a degree. The range of our activities is gradually expanding, from joint research with e-learning-related companies to the organization of academic conferences and study groups.

We believe that academic foundations and specialists are essential for e-learning and for the future of human resource development in Japan. We look forward to welcoming GSIS students who share this sentiment, and we look forward to learning together with them.

Katsuaki Suzuki, Ph.D.
Shigeki Tsuzuku, M.D., Ph.D.
Professors and Chairmen (Master’s and Doctoral Programs, respectively),
Graduate School of Instructional Systems
Kumamoto University