eLearning modules: Disposable or Recyclable?

RecyclableWe think of an eLearning module traditionally as formal learning.  Several of the projects that I am working on are creating eLearning modules. The modules will be used once by someone and then they are “thrown” away by that person.  With the amount of time and resources that go into creating them, it makes me sad that they are disposable.

eLearning Modules Are Dead… They Just Don’t Know It asked this question: “Have you ever, in your life, used an eLearning module as a just-in-time resource? Have you ever voluntarily gone back to do an eLearning module just to reinforce its learning?

In addition to being disposable, modules are now dead, too?  That made me even sadder. It got me thinking about the content itself in the module.  There is great information in these modules.  An amazing resource.  What the subject matter experts put into them is really useful.

How can we recycle the module to support learning and performance?  We turn wind into power, we take two or more things from different sources and create a mash-up, we reinvent ourselves.  I don’t mean just sharing it as an Open Educational Resource for others to reuse.  In this case, how can we extend a module from formal instruction into a useful resource to refer to?

In one project that is creating eLearning modules, support and mentoring are part of the project. (YEAH!  Real people.)  Mentors will be identified at the district level and visit facilities on a regular basis.  The eLearning part is to reinforce a topic and/or introduce updated guidelines.

The objective is to complete that training.  Tick.  The formal education is done.  Good-bye module. Sadness.

The eLearning module is only formal education.  But I even know that module has important facts about dosage and recognition of symptoms.  Can we create the module in such a way that it will both provide framework and necessary information in the formal module and also be used for reference?    The information is there.

I think that it is possible to design and create a eLearning module with that end in mind. I don’t think it would take much change in the actual development.  It is “simply” organizing the information into the micro chunks that could either easily be found in the module or pulled out and put into a different format such as a job aid to access that same information.  Of course, everything is easier said than done.

Perhaps it is asking too much.  But considering the great need for resources and how much money is spent on creating a module, let’s not make eLearning modules disposable and recycle them.

Is it a Learning Activity or Teaching Methodology?

elearning isI participated in a workshop recently with subject matter experts. The workshop was on how to create an eLearning module.

eLearning module may only be two words, but it caused a lot of confusion. For our project, we explained that we will use these modules as supplementary material. We said it a few times. Then at the end of the day, when we asked people to write down questions that they had, they posted responses like:
• Is eLearning mainly for procedures?
• Can eLearning be used like a library reference?
• eLearning is a supplement to traditional learning

eLearning is not one thing
People can get stuck in their heads that something is about one thing. We told them that the eLearning module was for supplementary material in this case, and that is all that they took away. However, we certainly did not want them to walk away from the training that eLearning is only for one thing. We explained to them that it could be many things: a lesson, a course, reference materials, simulation, review or study aid.  It not one thing.

Ah-ha. They got that eLearning can be many things. They understood now that it is only in this project that we were using eLearning to create supplementary material.

Module? What’s that?
Module stumped a few people. Confusion stemmed from their understanding of a module is the main topic with sub-topics under the module. In our case, a module is equivalent to a lesson. It is lesson under one of the sub-topics. If we were to creating eLearning for the topic, we would have many eLearning modules.

Ah-ha. Different uses of the same word.

Two words: eLearning module. So many questions stemmed from two words.

Learning Activity or Teaching Methodology?
Another one was the word to describe the pedagogical methods using in teaching the lessons. We were using training and learning activities. Huh? Blank stares.

Eventually someone asked, “Is that different from teaching methodologies?”
“No, it isn’t.”
Teaching methodologies is what they use when they create their lesson plans.

We were working with subject matter experts. Most of them are educators. They understood completely the definitions and use of language in this scenario once we explained it. They made associations with what they already use. You could literally notice that thoughts and ideas processing in their minds happening throughout the week.

Language is Culture
We always talk about knowing our audience. Start with what they know. Language is culture. When teaching about eLearning, you need first to understand how they teach. What does their lesson plan template look like?

Even if the group that you are working with are not educators, they were students once. Everyone can remember what a lesson was like in a classroom. The base is there.

Think Different
I had everyone stand up in the classroom and asked them to cross their arms across their chests. Then I asked them to cross their arms across their chest the other way around. They had to think about which arm was under the other that they do out of habit. Can you do it? It’s uncomfortable. You have to think about it.

That is what eLearning is about. Educators have a habitual way of teaching based on the way that they assume students learn in the classroom. Now they have tweak their thinking of how their students learn in order to create eLearning modules.

To help them do that, define the terms and concepts you are using in eLearning in a way that they can associate it, add to or tweak what they already know. Maybe one day they will not to have to think so hard about how to reverse crossing their arms across their chest.

Visioning a Learning Process and System

Learning Process and VisionI think about learning.  A lot. I look at learning as a process.  I think about the system that is needed to be in place to make learning happen.  The sketchnote is my attempt to visualize how I am currently thinking about learning. (Yes, I drew it.)

All the pieces of the vision exist not a holistic system.  Let me explain.  I look at the process and system in three main areas: content, system and data.

Nos. 1 and 2 are about content.
Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 are about the system.
Nos. 7, 8, 9 about data.

CONTENT 1, 2
1. Creating content for all devices
People have access to desktops, laptops, smartphones tablets or feature phones.  Although we know how fast the use of smartphones is growing, the majority of people that we work with and need the most access to information have feature phones.  As we develop learning materials and adapt print and face to face materials, we have to adapt them to use on multiple devices.  It is a tremendous amount of work, but if we want to reach the greatest population at this point in time, we have to do that.

Content is developed and adapted for different devices and then…

2. Loading content onto the system
Learning platforms to disseminate materials exist for each device. But is there one system that connects all of them?  If you are working with the same group that have different devices, wouldn’t it be great to load the content and disseminate the course to everyone even if they are accessing it on different devices?

Content is loaded onto a Learning Management System and then…

SYSTEM 3, 4, 5, 6
A system is needed to manage the content and track learnings.  It is what a Learning Management System (LMS) does.  I am calling it a LMS  because it is common terminology.  It may be another type of system.  It doesn’t really matter what it is called.

3. Accessing the content
The content is disseminated through one platform.  Learners receive the content and access activities through the different devices as described in No. 1.

The learner accesses and does activities and then…

4. Tracking the learner
We want to capture the experiences of the learner for a number of reasons. We first want to see how people are doing, if people are doing anything, where there are stumbling blocks, where people need help.  Second, on the learners’ side people love to see what they got right.  Third, everyone else besides the educators and learners these days wants to track learning.

How do you track if learning is happening? An assessment, yes.   It can also be in gathering information, interacting on social media, watching a video, achieving milestones in games and simulations, performed work tasks and outputs, participating.  Tracking these experiences that are part of learning adds more value in looking at how learning is taking place.

The system has the capability of tracking learning experiences and then…

5.  Storing learner’s experiences: Learning Record Store
The learner performed an action.  “I did this.”  An event took place.  These events can be as simple as “accessed a resource”, “watched a movie”, “played a game”, “passed a test” or “visited a location”.   These actions are collected into a Learning Record Store (LRS).  A LRS is essentially a database where each learner’s experiences.  It provides an overview about what and how people have developed their knowledge, skills and competences.

The system captures and stores the learning experiences and then…

6. Awarding open badges
Once the learner completes the course, the LMS has a record of completing the course. Certificates are important.  We know that. What can digitally represent those pieces of paper?  They are called open badges.  They recognize the skills, knowledge and competencies that the learner has achieved.

Badge has been issued, then…

Data
7.  Interacting with other health data systems
We now would like to tell other health systems that the health worker has received a badge for meeting certain competencies or other job-related tasks that they have done.  It can be the national association or ministry, for example, who gives licensure for health workers.  We want to inform them that the health worker has completed the training.

The LMS will inform other health systems…

8. Sending data: Health Interoperability Layer
How does that institution receive that information?  Think of a badge now as data.  Data can be transferred and exchanged from one system to another.  Open HIE is the architecture which data is exchanged between health systems.  Each system has to build a layer, the health interoperability layer, within in their own system that allows the system to then exchange data with other systems.

The LMS has a layer built into the system to share and exchange data with other health systems and then…

9.  Receiving learning data
Each country has a different system that registers health workers and/or keeps track of in-service training and/or provides licensure or certification.  It may be the health worker registry or a ministry or a national association.  If the Health Worker Registry, for example, had a field for education, it would be shared with the Health Worker Registry.  Under education, the badge would indicate that health worker has the necessary competencies.

The health worker has completed their learning, and it has been recorded at the national health system level.

And that’s my vision of a learning system and process.

Staying on the main road or taking another path may still lead to the same place

roadI have tried many times to begin a new journey and diverge from education technology in Africa.  Yet whatever path I go on, it leads me right back to the main road of working with teachers in Africa.

I trained teachers in Mombasa from 2010-2013 on using technology in education.  I read an article this week entitled  “285 Mombasa Teachers Trained on ICT.” I even tweeted the article.

I was hoping that “our” teachers were the trainers for the roll-out of that program.  I knew that these teachers had at one point been working MOE in becoming master trainers, but that was quite awhile ago.

I received this from a teacher at a primary school in Mombasa that same day I sent the tweet:
“Hi Jodi, hope all is well. Right now we are training teachers on integration because the government is soon rolling out the laptop project here in Kenya. We miss those days you trained us. We wish you’d come back.”

It says it all why I do what I do.  I may veer off on different paths to explore options for using new tools and techniques.  However, I always end up back to that main road where it takes me home to work with teachers in Africa.

What is black and white and “red” all over?

Remember this joke as a kid?  It was a silly one.  The answer is a newspaper.  ‘Red’ is  ‘read’ said in the past tense.  A newspaper is black and white.  That is the “correct” answer.  In the past week I had two interactions where people wanted to know what the correct answer was.  In both cases there was no correct answer, but they kept pressing for one.  Is everything black and white?

A friend who recently started to become involved in international development wrote me an email and referred to the third world.  I replied to his email and told him that if he ever referred to countries as third world, I would “shoot” him.  I explained that the terms, first, second and third worlds, have not been used for years to describe the differences in levels of income and development among countries.  It is politically incorrect and insulting.  Many people use developing and developed worlds.

NPR’s ‘Goats and Soda’ did a nice post recently entitled ”If you shouldn’t call it the third world, then what should you call it?”. They went through a list of terms: developing/developed, global south, majority world, low and lower-middle-income countries, fat/lean.  For each term, as you think, there are those people who accept and use them and those who vehemently disagree.

NPR says it tries their “…best to use the right terms for the right stories” and “aim for specificity…” in their stories.  Fair enough.

My friend’s response:  What term do you use?  That is the point. Use the term most appropriate in the context that you are describing.  It is not black and white.  The world constantly shifts.

What do you use?

In the second interaction, I was again asked what is the correct answer.  I shared a poll taken by Jane Hart asking “what is blended learning?” with my colleagues.  The poll had three possibilities and a space for other.

750 people responded. They choose out of the three possibilities which they thought best defined blended learning:
  • 49% chose “A training programme containing a mix of face-to-face-and e-learning.”
  • 21%  chose “A training activity containing a range of formats and media.”
  • 23% chose “A strategic L&D approach to supporting a wide range of learning initiatives”
  • 7% wrote their own definitions.

My colleague replied to my email asking what is the correct answer.  That’s the point.  There is no correct answer.

It is about learning.  Learning takes many, many forms.  Learning is not black and white.  We know some approaches are terrible, but we also know that lots of approaches do work.  What helps someone learn might not help another.

Black or white.  They needed to know if it was black or white.  They wanted to know what is the correct answer.

Sometimes, you have to accept there is no correct answer but know that they are options to choose from depending on the circumstance.  And that’s ok.

Art Makes You Smart or is it Art for Art’s Sake?

370px-Auguste_Rodin_-_Grubleren_2005-02
The Thinker by Auguste Rodin

Innovation and creativity are things that we hear about all the time.  To be innovative, you need to think creatively.  Art is one way to foster this.  OECD published a report, Art for Art’s Sake?  The Impact of Arts Education looking at the impact of arts education and these kinds of outcomes. They asked the question “does arts education really have a positive impact on the three subsets of skills that we define as “skills for innovation”: technical skills, skills in thinking and creativity and character (behavioural and social skills)?  What did they find?

We see articles like these : Art Makes You Smart and Is Music the Key to Success?  The research on art making you smart article is based on one school visit to a museum to children who had very little prior exposure to cultural institutions.  Is this group of kids smart now?

The museum article states that ‘museum visits really do improve critical thinking’ and ‘high achievers say musical training played a central role in their lives.’  Lots of studies make the correlation.  The OECD study did not find that evidence.   The sole longitudinal study in the OECD report on music found there was “no persistent influence after three years of music.”

Does it matter?  It doesn’t matter to me.  My reaction how could you possibly measure what seeing and listening to beauty impacts education.  It impacts all your senses.  It impacts the way you look at things, the way you hear things.  Whether it is art, music, even watching an athlete make a perfect play, how could what it resonates inside of you be measured, perhaps years later? My feeling goes along with the title of the OECD report,  Art for Art’s Sake.

My example:  I recently did my first Sketchnote, a visual note, about an event by Coders4Africa.  It explains what I learned from the event. I have been taking calligraphy lessons for several years. What you see is my practicing writing pretty letters and learning how to arrange them and using what I learned to write about a techie event.

What I wonder most about are the kids in the parts of the world that do not have museums or lessons accessible to them.  According to the statistics being kept for Millinium Development to Achieve Universal Education, enrolment in primary education in developing regions reached 90 per cent in 2010, up from 82 per cent in 1999, which means more kids than ever are attending primary school.  Yet at the same time 57 million children of primary school age were out of school.

What about any of these kids, in or out of school? How can they visit museums?  Where can they see what is in a museum?  How can teachers learn about art and show their students? Is it possible?  Yes.  Is it feasible?  Perhaps. Perhaps not.  My purpose is to put it out there.  I think of a few teachers in Garissa, Kenya, and I know that he would be excited to learn about this. Start somewhere.

Google Art Project  has 40 countries who have contributed more than 40,000 high-resolution images of works ranging from oil on canvas to sculpture and furniture.  Around the world you can see art in the Virtual Museum of Modern Nigerian Art at Pan-African University, the Rijks Museum in the Netherlands, Virtual Museum of Canada, the Virtual Museum of Japanese Arts and National Museum Australia’s collection interactives

How to learn more about creating art? National Gallery of Art has a series of lessons. The lesson on texture identifies different types of textures found in works of art such as smooth water, wrinkled skin or furry plums and hypothesizing what materials and techniques were used to achieve that texture.  Did they brush paint on in watery strokes and thick drips or twirl their brushes to make circles and curls? The pictures in the slideshow can be downloaded although it is set at a small image.

Have you ever visited the Exploratorium site?  It is one of my favorites. You can watch a cow’s eye dissection and learn how to do your own. You can find a lesson plan on physics using eggs, or take a tour on the Geometry Playground. When I taught years ago in The Gambia, I would bring my students there to play a “game” to guess what the object is that they were showing.  They loved it.   Kids can be a Museum Explorer  or a Time Explorer in the British Musem rescuing artifacts.   Some of these do require internet and have other hurdles to access them, but it could be shown on the teacher’s computer and put up on the wall.  Students are groups and at each step of exploration, one group would decide what to do next.

ArtBabble is a website that showcases high quality art-related video content from more than 50 cultural institutions from around the world.  One area that they look at is how art and design connect with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics):  STEAM.  Add the A for art in STEM.  Listen to Frank Stella‘s video about art on irregular polygons.  Learn geometry through art?  Yes!

How to bring it altogether?  Try virtual museum presentations.  The site is several years “old” and uses powerpoint as the template to create the museums.  But, hey, what a great way to learn powerpoint and go online and search collections of art. The first time I took kids to museum sites was around 2000. I found plenty to see and do.  The possibilities are endless now.

And, of course, if tablets are available, there are plenty of art apps and plenty other sites.

Let’s simply enjoy the arts – whether or not it makes you smart.

Photo: “Auguste Rodin – Grubleren 2005-02” by Rodin (1840-1917)User:Hansjorn (Hans Andersen) – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Not how? or what? but why? @ Coders4Africa event

My First Sketchnote

I had a conversation this week with a colleague from Africa who talked about creating videos to demonstrate specific skills and showing them on tablets.  He described it as innovative.  I had to break the news to him that videos on tablets is not innovative.  What is innovative is why the technology is used, how it is used and what is value added.

I recently attended an event of Coders4Africa on August 9, 2014.  Sessions were on tools, content, entrepreneurs, jobs.  What I Ioved most was through all the sessions – and remember, the majority were technical people – was that they always referred back to why? they were using the technology.  Even the few sessions on what were latest tools and technologies , the how? part,  came back to the why? and/or what?

Simon Sinek spoke about “How great leaders inspire action.”   They inspire action due to what he calls the “golden circle.”  Every organization knows “what?” they do.  Some organizations know “how?” they do it.  Very few organizations know “why?”  they do it.  Making money is a result.  It is not why you do it.  It’s a purpose, cause or belief.  It is why the organization exists.

Why do some organizations exist?  In the talk by David Ross on UX, he shared with us Freckle’s manifesto:  “Good software is cheerful software: it behaves cheerfully, and it leaves you cheerful, too. ”  Freckle knows why?   There must be smiley faces everywhere there.

Let’s apply the golden circle to technology.  People may know how? to use the technology.  People even know what? tools to use.  But do people know why? they are using the technology.  For what purpose?  What value does it add?  What problem are you solving?

The following are my random thoughts, concepts and ideas that I took away from the event in regards to what? how? and why?

Ali Kone:  What is  the intersection of business, design and technology?  What is the intersection of what is viable, desirable and feasible?

Kwane Andah: Think of digital analytics as what? people are doing vs. why? is it happening?

Amadou Daffe: There are problems that we are trying to solve in Africa but what is actually adding value?  Coders4Africa has the .org side to support and train coders and grow a coders’ community. Once they found the developers, the .com side now builds software that provide practical solutions.

With money from Google, they worked with girls in Senegal.  Sure , they taught them Python, Android, HTML, but first, the girls had to identify a problem and then they learned to build a solution for it.  Why?

Aaron Sanders: Technology is just a way to solve business problems.  Focus on solving the problem.  An innovation economy is about solving problems.

At the end of the day, if noone uses what you created, it did not solve a problem. You will want to change or if  ideas that don’t work here, maybe they could be disruptive in other places.

As a corollary, I would add it could be a problem that people did not know that they had.  Now where have we seen this?

Technology and Content Relevant to Africa panel: What motivates people is how you define the content.  If you want change, people have to react to what you are doing. Why would people want to use it?

Senam Beheton:  What is it that we bring to market to help people and change lives locally?

Startup Deep Dive panel:  To begin, have enough resources to add value to a few customers.

Sir Fazle Abed, BRAC’s 78-year-old founder and chairperson, explained in a NY Times article, The Power, and Process, of a Simple Solution, that management and monitoring systems have to be in place before scaling up:  “Some NGOs don’t have processes and systems.” Organizations have to be “effective and efficient and then you expand.”

It applies to businesses, too.  People want to attack a huge space, but they don’t have enough resources.  You only need enough resources to add value to a few customers to start.

Chika Umeadi: Competition brings innovation.  Vet your idea against others.
Ask other people if they fall in love with your idea.

For me, it goes back to the golden circle.   Technology is simply a tool to solve a problem.  Why would people would want to use the technology?  Why should that product, idea, content exist?  What is its purpose?  What is its value?  That is where to begin.

First Generation African

There is no place like home.
There is no place like home.

Someone called me that the other day after I told her the number of years that I have lived and worked in Africa. She is African and has spent many years living and working in the States.  She has returned to Africa, leading the Africa division of global technology company.

We both ask the question: “Where do I belong?”  She has many friends who have also spent years in other countries. They ask the same question.

“I am living at home but the other place is home, too.”
“I miss home. Which home am I referring to?”

I have days where I yearn for Africa after living back in the States now for a few years. I recently went to Zambia and Malawi for work. I was so happy to be back on the continent.

She called me first generation African. I loved it. It fits. Never heard that expression before. You hear first generation American all the time. But first generation Africa? Really? Can it be a trend?

Whatever it is, it is a way that connects me to another place that was and still feels like home.