Wednesday, April 30, 2003

E-Learning: You Build It - Now Promote It, by Jay Cross
January 20, 2003 issue of The eLearning Developers' Journal

The author notes that many well designed elearning programs fail to attract students and collapse. Appropriate marketing strategies can find solutions to this problem, using techniques such as branding, positioning, segmentation, and promotion. Objections are often the result of poor marketing practices, the article notes.

I think all of the marketing techniques mentioned in the article are relevant to Knowledge for Development's online courses. For me, the problem has not been finding students to register for the courses but rather finding a way to more carefully select the students to avoid having 20 participants who are really "observers" and 10 who are active participants. I would prefer a class of 20 active participants and 5 observers.

Does that mean my marketing should stress that the course is "demanding" and that "observers' are discouraged from registering?
I am not going to scare everyone away?

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Build and Teach a Successful Online Course (April 15, 2003 article in TechLearning).

This article provides simple and sound advice focused on web-based learning. What I am looking for is experience similar to mine, dealing with a mix of technologies to address the learning needs of development professionals who are not necessarily well connected and for whom web-based learning is too demanding in terms of connectivity.

While I have been calling my course "online learning", it is not web-based in the sense that all the content is on a CD-ROM and the communications are email-based rather than web-based. There seems to be relatively little experience with this mixed approach that tries to limit the connectivity requirements of web-based courses.

There is a clear tension in each session of the course between those who are already having trouble keeping up with the email-based communications because of technical failures (including power failures) and those who are expect real time chat sessions, streaming video or other advanced multimedia materials as part of the course.

While my own technical skills and ability to supply the higher end multimedia materials are improving with each session, I am again thinking that there is a need to develop different versions of the course for different target groups. The problem is that it is the current mix of wealthy country (paying) participants demanding or expecting multimedia and developing country (scholarship recipient) participants with low connectivity that makes the course sustainable and allows for interesting exchanges across the digital divide. To have two separate sessions, one with multimedia and profits and one very low tech session offered as a public service would result in the loss of important benefits arising from the diversity of participants within each session.

The diversity is challenging, but rewarding....

Friday, April 25, 2003

Learning through networking and information exchange: how NGOs can increase their impact
An extract: "In research by the London School of Economics and Political Science and the Institute for Development Policy and Management, it is argued that learning from the field is essential to enable INGOs to influence wider policy-making and improve local accountability. As their focus changes from operational work to international advocacy, INGOs must strengthen institutional learning structures and learning skills."

So, what role can eLearning play in helping to build up the capacity of INGOs (International NGOs) to become "learning organizations"? Also, how can INGOs best use ICTs to develop knowledge networks that increase the effectiveness of their advocacy work as well as their operational effectiveness in the field? See the list of related resources on this site (a work in progress!) under the heading "Capacity Building for Transnational Civil Society Organizations".

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Approaches to Instruction
Instructional strategies described here include:
- Direct Instruction
- Indirect Instruction
- Experiential Learning
- Independent Studies
- Interactive Instruction

The main strategies that I have used and am comfortable with are Indirect Instruction and Independent Studies.
In "indirect instruction" the instructor asks the questions and guides a process of inquiry but does not provide direct answers. In "independent studies" the students are able to select specific topics of interest to explore on their own. I encourage the use of learning contracts for some of my students who come to a course with specific interests.
Designing for Diversity Within Online Learning Environments, by A. Holzl.
This isn't a new paper. It was presented at a conference in Australia in 1999. The paper describes a model for the design of online constructivist learning environments for tertiary education. The idea is to design around the benefits of diversity and to value the different perspectives that diverse participants bring to the learning experience rather than trying to change their perspective to accept a single "right" answer.

This is linked in my mind to the role of the online instructor as facilitator rather than "expert". At times I may not have any answer for a student's question, let alone the "right" answer, but I can always help them find some answers.

See also "Design of Constructivist Learning Environment" for a description of the key elements of such an environment.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Here is an old African proverb that one of my current students sent me today in an assignment:

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle awakens knowing that it must outrun the fastest lion if it wants to stay alive. Every morning, a lion wakes up knowing it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve to death.

Moral: It makes no difference whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you’d better be running. End.

In short, we must run to survive and compete or we will risk being left behind. This also relates to a recent discussion online (GKD list) where one side argued that Africa could not afford ICTs and the other noted that the alternative, i.e., being left behind and further marginalized in the global knowledge economy would be even more costly.

I'm currently in a slowing down period, on purpose, to resource myself after a sprint that lasted almost 5 months. There's nothing wrong with slowing down to think. After all, lions spend most of their time sleeping and they take their time finding the slowest gazelle and carefully watching before their attack.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Wearing Four Pairs of Shoes: The Roles of E-Learning Facilitators
The E-Learning facilitator must act as "instructor, social director, program manager, and technical assistant."

Learning by Email in Higher Education
This is a list of resources on various aspects of the use of email in education, including a link to an article focusing on advice for online instructors to avoid drowning in online interaction.

One of the questions I've struggled with as an online instructor is the extent to which I should be directly guiding the discussions or encouraging the participants to take responsibility for the moderation. I've gone full circle, from interacting a lot in earlier sessions of the course when I was worried every post needed a response and other participants didn't seem to respond... to a period when I tried to put participants in charge. Putting participants in charge can result in one participant taking over the discussions in directions that are not necessarily the most appropriate from a pedagogical perspesctive. There is also a chance that discussions will simply die down if there are no active participants to maintain them. I have now gone back to actively moderating discussions, providing inputs and comments on many posts but trying to limit my own postings to a reasonable number and posting much more strategically than I had done in the past.

To say that I have learned a lot is an understatement but I still have a lot to learn! This is the beauty of action learning! There is no end to it.

Monday, April 21, 2003

"Cross-cultural Issues in Content Development and Teaching Online." A Quick Guide developed for the Australian National Training Authority. December 2002.

Elearning dropout rates are high and I think it would be fair to expect dropout rates to be even higher when online courses gather a widely diverse group of participants. Indeed, it has been argued that "the lack of cultural adaptation is a leading reason for why elearning fails to engage a globally distributed audience." It would then make a lot of sense for me to be interested in finding ways to improve my own courses with a view to make them more adapted to a multicultural learning environment.

It's important to take cultural differences into account at every phase of the design and delivery of online courses to meet the learners' needs. On the other hand, the diversity of participants is also what can make the course so rich and interesting through the participants' contributions to the class discussions.

I have tried using learning contracts to deal with (some of) the differences among participants but that has not been a very positive experience. Most participants are not familiar with learning contracts and I doubt that the idea of a learning contract makes a lot of sense to participants from a range of cultural backgrounds.

I have experienced online miscommunications that were the direct result of cultural differences. Some miscommunications can result in serious problems within a discussion but I suspect that most miscommunications go unnoticed.

The authors of this quick guide also note that constructivist approaches and communication options afforded by technologies expand opportunities for cultural inclusion into teaching methods. That's probably right but many participants are unfamiliar to constructivist approaches and would rather be taught the right answers. As a result, the instructor or facilitator also need to explain the pedagogical approach at the beginning of the program to make sure that the approach is understood and accepted.

Much more to learn about specific steps to take to develop course content that is appropriate for multi-cultural/cross-cultural target audiences!

Saturday, April 19, 2003

"Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't", a book by Jim Collins.

This book has been my first experience with audio books. I am a reader rather than a listener but this was a positive experience. The book was recommended by a participant in a past session of my course on ICTs for Development. It has very little to do with ICTs for Development, barely touches on technology and doesn't address development issues at all. Rather, it is about great companies and how they got to become great. I was wondering how any of it was going to relate to my one-person company but here it is:

The Flywheel Concept

In the book, Jim Collins argues that great companies spend time and energy defining their core purpose and ideology and then follow a steady course, relentlessly pursuing what needs to be done and never questioning that core purpose once it is set. The success of great companies is not characterized by breakthroughs but rather by continuous improvement and sustained momentum.
While I would not in any way want to suggest that my company is anywhere near great or even a good company, I understand the concept of the flywheel better than many of the other concepts introduced in the book.

Some other ideas from the book that made the point for me:
- Greatness doesn't depend on the size of the company.
- Not settling for mediocrity
- Meaningful work

One direct lesson from this book for me is to find the confidence to say "no" to contracts that come my way but either should really be done by someone else with the required skills and experience or simply do not fit squarely with K4D's core purpose. Those types of contracts may be necessary to pay the bills but they do not help build the momentum of the flywheel. Instead, they result in time and energy spent on things that do not contribute to the flywheel's momentum and may even slow it down.

I think I'll be ready for K4D's breakthrough by the time my kids are in college. By then, I will hopefully have gained a good (sorry, great!) understanding of what it is that K4D is meant to do and how to become a great company!:)

Thank you Skip for recommending the book!

Friday, April 18, 2003

An article about KM (Knowledge Management, eLearning and Blogging):
"Grassroots KM through Blogging", May 2001
Authors: Maish Nichani, Venkat Rajamanickam
This is actually a review of various books and articles dealing addressing "storytelling" (including Steve Denning's work) as a way of capturing and sharing knowledge. The authors compare blogs to "stories" and also look at blogs as KM tools.
This blog will help me to keep track of projects and ideas for Knowledge for Development's future and to share these ideas as well as related resources with others who might have similar interests.