Why eLearning in schools of higher education is not thriving

There is an eLearning conference
happening in Kampala at the moment. It has brought together most of Africa’s
ICT enthusiasts and I must say it is a great gathering. Lots of conversation going on. The conversation is on twitter via #ela14
After having spent 3 days with eLearning
experts in Kampala from the COMESA region last week, I am afraid but I will have to be the prophet
of doom. ELearning may not be the way we should be looking right about now unless we are ready to make great changes as a continent.
These experts were lecturers from universities who either have distance learning or eLearning
on their campuses. ELearning these days takes the form of online study/courses,
Massive Online Open Courses [MOOCS], and distance learning.The universities represented were:
Jomo Kenyatta School of Agriculture and Technology [JKUAT]Kenya, Egerton
University Kenya, Makerere University, Uganda Martyrs University Nkozi, Haramaya
University Ethiopia, Stellenbosch University South Africa and Mekelle
University Ethiopia. Also present at this conversation were consultants in the
education and ICT sector from Africa.

ELearning in Africa is facing
challenges, the bulk of which are not new. But also, they are not about to go
away, they are the reality that we will have to deal with for quite some time.
The role of Universities has changed

Universities used to be viewed or
perceived as the avenue for education and learning. They are supposed to be the
custodians of knowledge. But we no longer look up to them as such. We would
rather consult professor Google. There are so many people that know so much
about what they are interested in and about what they do without having to go
through the university Education system. 
Secondly when it comes to
enforcing eLearning in universities in Africa, it means that there has got to
be a paradigm shift because it touches all the stakeholders involved. Everyone from
the technicians that man the ICT infrastructure to the lecturers and students
need to be trained. This is because ICTs though encouraged are not used as much and
mandatory for many in the universities. And as such, even when there is
knowledge available it is not sufficient to have more courses taught using this
Universities today would thrive more  as business models and not as channels of knowledge, hence eLearning to thrive has got to have a business ring to it. 

No special recognition given

A look at the MOOCS and online
courses given out of Africa, and you will notice that they are hinged on a
discipline or a professor. This means that if the professor is on a sabbatical,
then the course/MOOC may not be held. This could be more so because e the
lecturer loves to have an online course or a MOOC to their name and that is how
they get rewarded. One of the major reasons as to why eLearning has failed to flourish
in Africa is because there is no recognition given for the work done. The lecturers
are not given extra credit. They are encouraged to put up slides of their
lecture notes online or create an account on Moodle but after that, that is about it. The lecturers are
looking firstly for financial motivation[as reported]  and maybe recognition of some sort that they can add to their resumes or titles. [I am not sure if that is even possible]
How many of our universities have
computers that the students can use? I remember the computer lab at my Uni was
used a lot by the first years because they had a compulsory Computing class. But
also majority of the machines were not functional. In a room of about 100 computers,
only 30 would access the internet at the time and only about 40 more would be
working. The rest were without either keyboards or ‘mice’ or something was just
amiss. I am not using my Uni as a benchmark, but then again that is the reality
of most of our African universities. You may argue that the MOOCs and online
courses are designed for the non-traditional student. Understandable, but then
again, how many of us own computers with internet? The computer or the internet
will belong to the employer and so there is no 7 days access to both. Let us
not forget the amount of bandwidth we need to watch videos.
Enabling policy

For all the universities that
were represented, they have working ICT administration policies. This means
that there is an enabling environment for eLearning to thrive or universities
like JKUAT, they have a mandatory course that is taught online only for their
students. One of the professors from Ethiopia said that the government is in
such big support for the growth of ICT’s that the ICT personnel in the universities
are paid more than the lecturers.  Muele the
platform being used by Makerere is encouraged by the authorities but the number
of lecturers using the platform is very small. 
One of the professors said; “our universities must be disappointed that
we are not taking advantage of the opportunity.” So how d o we encourage our lecturers to use these platforms? Being online means that you cease to be a lecturer and you become more like a trainer. Do we see that?

For many, this is a challenge.
Obviously at the end of a MOOC or an online course one needs to do an
examination or test to show that what they have learned over time, has stuck. When
doing an online course though, it is hard to know if the person who is enrolled
is the same one that is doing exams. JKUAT asks the students to come in for a
test for the big test, which is a sit down test. So this means that eLearning
has got to take on a different way of assessment than what is the norm and this
will differ from one university to another. Also, certification is important. Who hands out the certificate or diploma achieved and are these acceptable in our society yet?
Content and platform

Think about copyright issues and
also think about licensing of the content that is put online. Can the content
easily be migrated from one platform to another easily? Is it translated? Is
the online platform open or closed? Is the content management system different
from the knowledge management system? Most of the schools of higher learning
have not asked these questions properly hence they have not been answered as
well. The result is that eLearning in all forms on the continent is struggling.
JKUAT highlighted that while they were doing very well, some of the courses are
supposed to be practical. So, sometimes they need a garden and seedlings or a
laboratory and test tubes. Some of this content can never be well captured in a
45 min video or a couple of slides.
ELearning is great because it
reaches very many students all at ago. The traction is great. It is something
that when done properly will benefit both the students and lecturers in very
many ways.  But whether this is designed
for the traditional or non-traditional student, the concept in Africa needs to
be re-thought about and not copy and paste from where it has been successful.

For us to make eLearning in Africa a success, we need to put more thought into it. If it is to make sense in
Africa, we need to re-model it and have it done our way. The great thing about using ICT’s is that they can easily be adapted into any situation. It is time we think that way.

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