The challenges of e-learning

Lessons (and tips!) from our Community of Practicing Innovators

agenda September 17, 2019

Every two months, The Spindle brings together a group of innovation-minded participants: a community of innovators in development. Members hold an ex- or implicit innovation role within a Dutch NGO. Each session, participants discuss their professional issues around innovation within development cooperation. On September 3rd, the meeting was hosted by Simavi, who proposed e-learning challenges as the case for the session.

Simavi started off with a presentation in which they introduced the concept of e-learning and its challenges. Part of this presentation consisted of a case, namely a video training pilot in Tanzania Simavi recently have been working on. At the start of the presentation, various questions were raised: what is e-learning and what does it mean to you as an innovator? Generally, the answers were very similar: e-learning isn’t in a physical setting, but over the internet; electronic learning; it could be in your own place; it’s digital, by phone, to learn by using your phone; you don’t have to go somewhere to learn, an interactive approach; it’s more flexible. Yet, it became clear that there is no single definition. Also, E-learning isn’t that new, it already exists for 10-15 years. Hence, there are still substantial challenges, but it definitely offers opportunities for development cooperation.

Challenges of e-learning
Looking at the poor and marginalised target groups, is e-learning really a usable possibility? Main message: it’s crucial to consider local circumstances when designing e-learning! Think of limited or no access at all to the internet, budget conform possibilities, different policy- regulations-  and privacy aspects per country, gaining support (in- and externally), capacity building of staff and beneficiaries and security (to make sure that people who use e-learning are protected, especially when it comes to more sensitive topics).

Simavi presented a pilot project concerning video training. A project that is part of their MKAJI project in the Dodoma region of Tanzania. Within this project, they made use of videos to train the trainers about infection prevention control in hospitals, ensure quality, and to observe whether paper manuals could be substituted by such videos. By using surveys Simavi was able to draw to following conclusions:

  • It appeared that videos cannot serve as a replacement for an actual training. It was preferred to have a combination of video and instructions on paper.
  • Participants were likely to watch videos more than once as well as show it to other relevant people outside of their health facility.
  • WhatsApp was likely to be the most effective tool for spreading such videos since many trainers had no access to a computer. However, when WhatsApp is used, it’s impossible to monitor if and how often videos are viewed. In addition, videos should not be too long (between 1 and 6 minutes) and of a quality that is too high since this makes it more difficult for people to download the videos. Internet access is an issue in this regard. Also, there needs to be an incentive to download the videos, if one needs to use its personal MBs This is considered to be a real challenge.
  • This pilot project of Simavi was eventually a video instruction instead of e-learning since there were no online assignments of assessments. So, it was not tested what participants learned of the videos.

Lessons learned
After Simavi’s presentation, participants of this session shared opinions and experiences. Lessons that were share were:

  • Think about where these type of videos should be shown and in which setting.
  • It’s important to do user research: what interventions are the most beneficial? Youth may be very receptive to e-learning in contrast to professionals who would prefer a mix of paper and digital. Piloting this concept with the defined target group(s) is key.
  • Consider the local circumstances, which are different in each culture. Some may have knowledge about how to use e-learning, apps or electronic devices, while others may be in need of ‘instruction videos about instruction videos’. Different personalities, different cultures and different generations need different education and different approaches.
  • It seems most beneficial to make use of a blended approach. To use parts of e-learning but to not replace paper manuals or training in real-life completely.
  • E-learning is not the goal, but a mean.
  • How to make e-learning attractive? Scrolling through Facebook is still more addictive than following e-learning lessons.
  • Storytelling becomes more important in order to learn about the progress of certain projects. These could be (video-)recorded by phone.
  • It can be difficult to work with innovative technology. Digital is mostly considered better, but this is not true in all contexts.

Tips and additional materials on e-learning

Design Sprint exercise
After the presentation and discussion, the participants started the design sprint exercise which consisted of three parts: 1) an interview, 2) reframing the problem, and 3) new solutions and feedback. Teams of two worked on ‘user-centred design’ (how do you effectively engage (end-)users in the design of an e-learning trajectory?) or ‘design for scale’ (how do you develop products or services that fit within the local context, national (and local) policies, and can be upscaled and/or integrated within the current system?).

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