community

We envision learning on iversity as learning in a social network. Therefore, we created a social experience for our users that enables them to interact with each other in ways that they are already familiar with from social networks.

The messaging feature, for example, allows learners to privately communicate with others on the iversity platform through a convenient messenger system – one on one as well as in groups. Learners can message each other regardless of whether or not they attend the same courses. All they need to do to start a conversation, is to search the user directory.

When searching for another user on our platform, learners can identify other learners who are members of the same organisation. This is a useful feature to help facilitate communication among people belonging to the same company. However, an organisation is not visible to non-members. That way only members of the same company can recognise each other as such. This is how we avoid harassment of our users, for example by headhunters or competition. Another way to ensure the learner privacy in a social network is the possibility to block other users in order to prevent spamming and other annoyances.

 

Learning in a Social Network – Messaging Feature

 

The messaging feature also allows for group conversations. Here, learners have the possibility to add new members at any time or leave the conversation if they wish to do so. This allows users to turn to their peers when facing a problem and solve it together as a group. The feature makes it easy to exchange ideas and discuss assignments with more than one person; while keeping the discussion among a select group of peers, instead of the entire course community.  Learners also have the option to name group conversations. This makes it easier for them to distinguish between multiple group chats – because convenience is key.

While the discussions feature is course public and intended solely for exchanging thoughts about the course content, the messaging feature can of course be used for personal chit chat among peers inside our social network.

Community Managers – Facilitators of Learning in a Social Network

A course member can be appointed community manager by the course admin and thus gains access to special messaging functions. He or she can send announcements – email messages that are sent to either all course participants or specific subsets of the group – e.g. in order to draw attention to specific posts that are particularly relevant, helpful or controversial. They can also contribute content of their own in order to provide inspiration or feedback. Through announcements, learners of a course are further encouraged to engage with the course content and to think outside the box. Thus, they help with community management and tutoring. They can provide learners with assistance regarding the substance of the course and help to ensure their successful progress throughout the course, fostering effective online learning in a social network.

Recent Activities in a Course

On the dashboard page, learners can see a short preview of recent activities. Like in the picture below, they can see who joined the course, as well as who posted a comment or an entry to the Learning Journal. Much like the newsfeed feature in other social networks such as Facebook or Twitter, the recent activity overview allows users to see at one glance what is happening in a course. This enables them to find recent contributions, active discussions and to connect with other learners – even when they have been absent from the platform for a couple of days. Seeing other users’ activity is a key motivating factor. Instead of learning in isolation you can see what assignment your colleague has been working on yesterday. This can create a healthy form of competition. It also helps to create a sense of belonging where learners feel that they are part of an active community of peers.

Learning in a Social Network – Recent Activity Feed

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As I explained in my post on our instructional design, quality content is merely the starting point of the the online learning process. An effective instructional design also requires an active engagement with challenging assignments embedded in a community of peers. Only by combining these three elements can we ensure that learners reach their destination: advanced learning outcomes.

The Elements of the Online Learning Process: Content, Context, Community

At iversity, we call the elements that work together to create an effective learning process the three Cs: content, context, community.

Three Elements Make Up the Online Learning Process

Content: A great online course comprises the full range of multimedia content from video and audio, to text, photographs, infographics, illustrations or even comics. Quality is key. But this doesn’t mean that everything necessarily has to be polished. Sometimes, something that’s a bit rough around the edges but authentic can work just as well or better (like a page from a notebook or a few snapshots taken in the street to illustrate a point with real world examples). What’s most important is that elements work well together and tell a story. More about this in another post on storytelling in online education.

Context: The second C refers to context. This often causes some confusion, because it is not quite as self-evident as the other two. Context refers to assignments. Why context? Because assignments require learners to apply their knowledge in different contexts. For example, in order to solve a case study, I have to take what I have learned – the knowledge I have gained from working through the content – and use it to solve a real or fictitious problem.

Community: While a few autodidacts are very good at teaching themselves, most of us find it a lot easier to learn together with others. That’s why iversity puts social learning front, right and center. Both the platform and the course design aim at fostering meaningful interactions between learners. The community provides the information, inspiration, feedback and motivation that are often key for effective learning to take place.

The Intersections = Traditional Learning Formats

The intersections of these elements represent the learning formats traditionally found on campus: self-study with a textbook, for example, which offers content and assignments; the lab section or tutorial where students come together to work on assignments in a group; and the seminar where they discuss the learning material amongst each other.

Taking this comprehensive approach to instructional design, which combines online all three core elements of the online learning process, allows our courses to cover the full range of Bloom’s taxonomy. (What this means exactly and why it is important for learning, comprehension and ROI, I will explain in my next post.)

P.s. This model is very much indebted to William Rankin who has mapped out this idea in a lot more detail in his overview on Dimensions of Productive Formal Learning.

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For most visitors the African country of Tanzania means wildlife. Range Rovers, packed with tourists, guides and drivers, the latter often students from Dar es Salaam, gather in endless queues at the entrance of Ngorongoro with its rhinos, lions and elephants. Some tourists visit the historical Stone Town on the island of Zanzibar afterwards or combine dolphin watching with a taste of Mvita Ali’s incredible seafood buffet on a sandbank at Kizimkazi.Dar es Salaam: not enough software engineers

But virtually no one takes much time to voluntarily visit Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s busy trade hub at the coast with its 3 or maybe 4 million inhabitants. The port city is big, loud and not exactly the most beautiful harbor town at the Indian Ocean. While most tourists avoid the city, businessmen do not. A lot of European, American and especially Chinese companies are located in Dar es Salaam. Entrepreneurs from India and the Middle East add to the business community. Banking and financial services like micro-finance, mobile communication, logistics and other businesses thrive and grow comparably much faster than in Europe and even many parts of Asia.

 Dar es Salaam: not enough software engineers

The bottleneck for this growth is education. A lack of technically skilled workers leads to open positions across corporations in Tanzania. Without more graduates, degree holders and skilled specialists for IT, risk management or actuarial science, the economical capital of Tanzania can’t compete with the West, China or other African nations like Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.

Dar es Salaam houses seven universities, among them the Open University of Tanzania and the International Medical and Technological University. The quality of these universities is under dispute though. Even the best one, the University of Dar es Salaam ranks among the worst universities worldwide in terms of research and scientific excellence. As well, these universities do not offer enough study courses in Information and communications technology (ICT) that are in high demand now. And higher education at a university is not available for everyone in a country that is as poor as Tanzania.

Internet connections in Tanzania are comparably good though, given that Dar es Salaam is a landing point of the submarine high-speed Seacom cable, connecting it directly with Mumbai and Marseille.

So, one plausible approach to tackle the issue of higher education is by MOOCs. That is why the World Bank sets up pilot projects for IT and ICT education in Sub-Sahara Africa as a part of their “New Economy Skills for Africa Program – ICT” or short: NESAP-ICT.

Seacom Cable supplies Tanzania with high speed internet (submarine)In Tanzania, the World Bank designated Dar es Salam as a knowledge hub for SMART skills – SMART being an abbreviation for Software, Mobile Applications, Research and Technology. The next step was to define the critical success factors for a MOOC about IT in Tanzania, like a real impact on employment chances or the need to get credits.

   MOOCs are possible: Seacom Cable

(here: undersea near Zanzibar) supplies Tanzania with high speed internet

The Washington-based World Bank choose an American company, Coursera, as its partner, not a MOOC-provider from the EMEA-region like iversity. Together with its partner, the World Bank will design the MOOC over the summer of 2013.  Starting MOOCs in East-Africa might have another preferable effect: stopping the brain-drain from Tanzanian students to Europe and America, where they often stay after graduation.

What the World Bank's EduTech blog article about MOOCs in Afrrica does not mention: the opportunity to take courses outside the “knowledge hub”, to take part in a MOOC anywhere in Tanzania. A huge advantage in a country where many of the most gifted young women and men work at least part-time or for some months outside the commercial capital in the tourism regions to make a living. Especially in a country like Tanzania it makes sense to reach out for prospective students where they are today, not where universities are located for historical reasons. Thus MOOCs can make a difference in developing Tanzania’s economic future.

 

 

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