Thursday 24 September 2009

What to take into account when developing online courses for learners in low resource settings

The last two years I have been co-developing a course called eSCART (electronic Short Course in Antiretroviral Therapy), a course that is organized by the Institute of Tropical Medicine. Although this course is fully online, demands 3 months of intense learning, addresses learners in low resource areas, it is a success. Or at least I see it as a success.

The challenges to get this online course for physicians that work on HIV/AIDS going were multiple. We also needed to create bridges between all the cultures that mixed during the course and for these three months (in two sessions: 85 learners from 31 countries, mostly from the South and tropical regions). We had a drop-out rate of 5%, which to our estimate is indicative for a sound online course.

So some of my networking colleagues asked me to share what we took into account when developing the course and especially how human respect was weaved into the fabric of the course.

Now I am sure we could improve a lot, so if you have extra pointers or ways you tackle international online courses for low resource areas or aimed at multiple cultures, let me know.

This presentation will also be given live on Friday 2nd October 2009, at the eLearning Guild's Online Forum numbered 401.

Looking forward to any comments you might have.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Using transparency to get citizens alert and active, or how Christian Kreutz influenced my thinking

It has been a very hectic period over the last couple of weeks. A tight workshop, planning a facilitator training, a short course with a lot of online activity, budget hassles, my master starting up … and this kept me from writing posts on a regular basis. I was also in an existential dip on blogposting.

Lucky for me I had one fresh and inspiring encounter at the middle of these chaotic weeks: meeting Christian Kreutz. His blog has been an inspiration for the last couple of years and all of a sudden I had the chance to meet him in Brussels.

Engaging citizens by analyzing (internet) data – civil society
We had an informal meeting, but a lot of what I learned from him made sense and sharpened my overall thinking on the use of websites and the internet to get civil society moving.

So what did Christian say that I found so enlightening? He simply said that we have all this data at our fingertips (google statistics, geo information, …), and all of these available data could be used for the better of society and its citizens.
In the past he has been writing about it. He wrote on metrics for social networks and what really happens, focusing on knowledge sharing and learning, he wrote about 6 innovative mashups for transparency, in which you could see the impact certain decisions have on the social fabric of regions (I was especially struck by the Healthcarethatworks – website that shows the New York City wide status for hospitals and its disproportionate impact that recent hospital closures have on low-income communities.) and his most recent post was on maptivism as a new approach of activism (based on the estimate that as much as 80% of data contains geo-referenced information. So, a lot of information can be displayed through maps. Digital maps allow easy ways to present large amounts of data and reduce complexity.)

The internet started out as a Utopia for me. It would benefit people around the world and make the globe a better place. With the increased absorption of internet initiatives into corporate environments, some of that euphoric belief in the WWW disappeared. But after reading the possibilities posted by Christian and after our talk in which he put forward the extra’s a transparent use of existing data (both on regional, national and international level) could bring… I am again a radiant believer. He gave a wonderful and simple example to get people interested in their own social environment. What if we take the data from a specific part of a city and open this data up to the citizens, e.g. people could see where trash bins are located, light poles are implemented, benches are placed... if city council than wants to change the outlines of that specific areas, or do something to create a better living space for all its citizens in that location, it could show the citizens what is already there, and ask them how they think their living area could be improved. I agree that a lot of debate could come from this, but coming to a consensus as a group can also adds to the social fabric of a region. All this data is already available, but in many occasions very little is done with it.

Christian Kreutz blogs qualitatively, which makes his blog a gem, check it out. He is thinking about going fully into consulting, so if you feel the need for a very professional, citizen-oriented web-analysis-expert, send him a note.

If you know of any data being used to make society more transparent, let me know, I would love to get more ideas.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Do you know of other changes in education for students?

Education is changing and all of us feel the results of that change. We are amidst the change as educators, but how does this affect the student/learner?

After reading the book ‘Disrupting Class – how disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns” by Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn and Curtis W. Johnson, I had the urge to start putting the changes on a piece of paper. As soon as I committed the ideas to paper, more ideas bubbled up.

Although I came up with a more or less lengthy list, I hope you can add some of your ideas of change in education. The list I could put together leading to the Walhalla of education we are aiming for.

In the meanwhile I am now listing changes for parents and teachers as well... will be posting those soon.

(thought after publishing this post ... wondering what the tables will look like on my mobile.... )

(Cartoon by Nick D Kim,

Yesteryear – a passive more read than write world

My educational Walhalla: the content production era

The student / learner

The student went to school on fixed times.

The learner fits education within her/his schedule or interest.

Lunch and breaks were given during which you better NOT learned (nerd and geek were bad names in those days).

You learn even when others do not, because you know that learning is fantastic.

Only very precise labeled books, papers, manuscripts were mandatory course material and as a student you just needed to go through them;

You gather your content, in doing so learning to be critical in filtering obtainable content.

As a student, you had little chance to explore the world and dive into any content yourself (exceptions aside).

The Web is your oyster… or chocolate cookie jar, where you can satisfy your knowledge hunger with delight.

Assignments and exams were mandatory if you wanted to pass anything formal.

Any type of assignment/test/task is very closely linked to real life cases and situations.

School was part of a life cycle: birth, school, work, death.

Learning is life.

You, as a student were isolated to your close (regional) classmates.

Anyone who has access to internet (even with limited frequency) can be your classmate or learning colleague. The world is your neighbor.

Group work was limited and did not go beyond class-room or at the most own school boundaries.

Group work can be very multicultural and diverse both in approach and in peers.

Your part of the world was enough; other continents were exotic and different.

The world is getting to be more of the same, no matter where you live (war zones not included, hopefully they will disappear).

No fiddling, no doodling, no talking… for most of the time. Paying attention = similar to physical and mental lethargy.

You do whatever is needed to get your mind working (I curse, yell and walk around stamping my feet if my brain cannot grasp something – this part does not resemble Walhalla)

If you scored above average on your assignments, you would get a diploma. Strangely enough this never meant that you were prepared for working life. It was more an indication that you could do what needed to be done to obtain a diploma in the prevailing learning system.

What you learn, is either a useful foundation for or the actual content you will use in your professional or personal life.

Higher education would mainly be followed in your own region.

Go to whatever educational institution you like, why not join the University of South Africa (the longest operating University in Distance Education)

The focus is on extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation rules!

Material was not taken into account different learner skills and/or needs

Even the least mainstream learner can find what is needed for his/her own knowledge benefit in a way that is accessible to them.

Teacher centered


Learning is linear

Learning is connected

Learning is receiving

Learning is retrieving, analyzing and producing.

Learning is whatever the group gets, you will be measured to the performance of the group, not to your absorption of the content.

Learning is what YOU need.

If you learn slower or quicker then the average processing time of your student group, that will be that, there is no alternative way to get more or less time to absorb the content in.

You absorb content at your pace (slow or quick).

Let me know if you can think of any other changes that can be added or if you made a list of any of these changes as well.

Friday 4 September 2009

3D animations for mobile devices

Since the beginning of last year a Tibotec mobile project has been running. There are two partners in this project the Institute of Tropical Medicine and the esteemed Instituto de Medicina Tropical Alexander von Humboldt. The complete overview of the mobile learning project was given by my wonderful colleague Carlos, you can look at the presentation here if you like.

I wrote about the technical parts of the project a couple of months ago on how we would put all the pieces of the mobile learning puzzle together to get the most accessible mobile learning project on the rails using different media. In this mLearning project we are using iPhone's and Nokia N95 smartphones. We wanted to test both these high-end models, to see how the user experience differed between the two and how those different devices were received by the learners (all physicians located in and around the capital Lima in Peru).
We are at an exciting stage right now, as the first modules have been put together. These modules are all embedded in mobile Moodle and some of them use 3D animations. These 3D-animations are build to give the learners a better idea of the interpersonal dialogues that can happen between physician and patient and how to improve these interpersonal skills. The movie and the 3D animations were made by Luis Fucay and David Iglesias from the Humboldt institute.

These 3D-animations were made in iClone and afterwards converted to the needs and specifications of the mobile devices. My personal favorite converter is the AVS video converter.

To get an idea of 3D-animation results, you can look at the movie underneath, or download the m4v-file or the windows mobile movie. The movie is in Spanish.

Tuesday 1 September 2009

What is your eLearning history?

The new academic year is starting and so I am reminiscing…
Do you remember your first eLearning experience? And the way it looked and felt? I was looking back yesterday and I suddenly realized how eLearning moved from a more techy demanding field into a more mainstream learning approach and ... I never thought about the change as it happened or as I lived it.

My first steps in eLearning and in retrospect content production, were done on the ever well-known Commodore 64. An amazing machine that got a generation hooked on adventure games, Basic programming… or at least that was how it felt for me.
While using Mosaic (Netscape) I had my first browser experiences, learning that I could learn while using a computer. I would just surf and anything that I could find that was even remotely related to a topic of my interest gave my brain an enormous boost. My father send me on the right content track by mentioning... (forgot name here: those sites where you could learn a lot of things on during the 90-ies... it will come back, but please help me if you know what I mean).

After a natural evolution across the next generations of computers, I ended up getting closer and closer to the eLearning principal. While I was working at an organization for Equal Opportunities, I started building online modules to help people get started with using e-mails, finding the right content, starting online actions… at that time I did not call it eLearning modules. It was just training material delivered digitally. This changed as I enrolled in an online course myself. From that moment onward I realized building electronic training or supporting such training could actually be a job.

The first formal online course I was involved in, was on the topic of Feminist Theory and Gender in the Media. Those were two postgraduate courses that you could follow at the University of Antwerp. The year was 1999 and the web-based learning was still starting up in Belgium. The web-based courses were built on the spot at the university and it was rigid compared to our current standards. The learning platform demanded several computer plugin’s and adjustments before you could access it and multimedia was not yet added. Content was delivered in manuals with added discussion forums. Yes, at that stage I experienced the move from the sage on the stage to a more learner centered approach; as professors were willing to pick-up the input of learners and add it to the content of the next academic year. Cyberfeminism was all the rage back then, so there was a euphoric sense of entering the digital learning world. It would free us all!
Although everything was still rather clunky, and the sages build most of the content, all participants were happy to able to learn. For me, eLearning was the only way I could get access to those courses, any courses as I was working almost around the clock at that time. And I really wanted to learn because I did not have much of a formal training up to then and knowledge seemed like the way to go. So I was definitely motivated.

Looking at the contemporary computer structure, a lot has changed since then. eLearning has evolved and now developing eLearning is no longer a very techy demanding process. I admit there is a long way to go before it really becomes completely intuitive, but right now anyone with some computer skills can start up an educational site. eLearning has become mainstream. K12 classes are increasingly using computer-driven modules and children are becoming producers of content.

So, as the history of electronic learning was changing, my profession changed also. In fact, I only realized it was my profession until a title was given and my function became more formal. And I must say, I love it, eLearning feeds my curious brain and I feel more than happy to indulge in it.

What is your eLearning history?