In an event with over a thousand delegates, 68 parallel sessions, 50 exhibition booths, and 18 sector representation, the 13th eLearning Africa conference in Kigali – Rwanda was a place saturated with knowledge, learning and networking opportunities.
It presented an array of thematic conversations and cutting edge technologies that are practical, timely, and relevant for Africa’s education and learning space. I was privileged to participate in a panel discussion highlighting best practices in Learning from East Africa during a pre-conference workshop led by the Humanitarian Leadership Academy.
As I engaged in the conference, four critical issues stood out:
1) Whether internal or external, learning will remain relevant.
Organisations that position themselves with critically engaged talents are likely to increase in productivity and employee satisfaction. Similarly, governments that embrace learning are more likely to leap into the technological advancement and reap from the knowledge economy. Against many interests and citizenry, governments are increasingly imposing taxes on digital/social media, a reflection of the critical need for government to increase digital exposure to spur innovation for the future. And so, investment in eLearning must be considered as long term beyond immediate.
With an overwhelming majority of African youthful population (50-60%), governments may opt for quick fixes to engage youth in an attempt to deal with the possible backlash of youth unemployment. Evidently so, many African governments have initiated youth enterprise funds to promote youth engagement and employment. But even in these ventures targeting a majority of millennials, the government is yet to strike a resonating cord with the digitally exposed and socially and economically impatient population. Investments in eLearning therefore if aligned to development visions acknowledging the youth and their inclination to technology, would open a route to innovations that are need-based, context relevant and home grown.
For organisations in the private and non-state sectors, eLearning is increasingly adding value to efficiency in adaptability to customer needs, staff on-barding, engagement and development. While the scale of utilisation is less and varies than would be in the public sphere, some governments like the Kenyan government are embracing technology supported service provision (eCitizen) to its citizens. Thus, failure to consider eLearning may portent a lag in an organisation’s capacity to compete regionally or globally and assure productivity/growth.
“We believe it is important for staff to understand our business – what we do, and what we are all about no matter the department or unit. We believe that employees must grow, and thus we target business knowledge, functional competencies, and leadership competencies- eLearning makes this possible.” Isabelle Kamana, Heineken, Rwanda
2) Humanitarian crises are all around us, and the frequency of occurrence is on the rise.
Whether resulting from disease epidemic, conflict, floods, drought, earthquakes and typhoons, these crises affect millions of people. It was exciting to know that organisations such as the Humanitarian Leadership Academy and others are already looking into how these crises can be predicted and averted, and where the latter is impossible, that humanitarian organisations are equipped to respond more efficiently and effectively to prevent loss of lives.
Atish Gonsalves, the Global Innovation Director at the Academy opines that the Academy has introduced a global online learning platform, Kaya, that targets the humanitarian sector and focuses to train the next generation of humanitarian leaders and responders located in vulnerable crisis affected countries:.
“Kaya will build a global network of expertise that reaches people where need exists and integrates local learning for building better resilience,” Atish says.
What the Academy has done is to democratise learning and knowledge beyond geographical boundary restrictions. I have enrolled in the on-going Humanitarian Futures and Foresight Massive Open Online Course to be part of this critical mass capable of responding effectively to humanitarian situations.
Prof. Susana M. Fernandez who teaches artificial intelligence at the Technical University of Madrid in Spain adds that crises come in many forms. She suggests that digital literacy is itself a humanitarian crisis. Critical, is how programs and community can be better prepared to respond efficiently within the shortest time possible to save lives and promote humanity. In this light, the role of digital literacy deserves more high level conversations. She argues that in this digital age, many parts of Africa are yet to see and or interact with a basic computer and that should change. “Removing the digital gap is a humanitarian priority”, she says. It therefore means that multisectoral approach to tackling immediate humanitarian programmes must in more ways than one, be driven by a collaborative approach that integrates humanitarian organisations, private sector, and governments to develop and implement appropriate policies that ensure all can benefit from technology and learn towards increased resilience.
3) The role of artificial intelligence (AI) in learning.
I walked into a meeting to engage with artificial intelligent experts to possibly acquire some quick survival tactics should there be an AI take over! I quickly learned that we probably are safer with AI than we are with vehicles on our roads that globally claim 1.3 million lives every year. A key question in this session was why Google, Twitter, Facebook, Netflix etc. remain the most valuable companies on the planet? They understand the relationship between AI and human beings.
Artificial intelligence has the capacity to enhance learning at various levels including in student engagement, student support, content creation and curation, and assessment. It eliminates the human biases and enhances precision including at a higher magnitude level. Embracing AI will change the nature of work itself, what we learn, why we learn, and how we learn. From this discussion, the world is at the verge of a revolution and more than ever we must pay attention to how learning at different levels can be enhanced by appreciating AI and its value in supporting humanitarian interventions.
4) Motivating learners.
After all is said and done, how we ensure that learners are motivated in the digital age is the next discourse. While this question continues to haunt conventional learning environment especially organisation based learning, it was refreshing to be part of this conversation. As people are progressively learning new skills and struggling to show their value to third party in the absence of certification, an innovation is readily filling the vacuum. HPass presented open badges as a digital representation of a skill, accomplishment or affiliation that is visual, shareable online and contains credentialing information in standardised format, including trusted links that help explain the context, meaning, process and result of an activity. As we acknowledge that learning is a lifelong engagement, determination of capacity and skills that an individual acquires in the course of work will in the future be informed through a platform that is acknowledged and acceptable as a standard of measure. This will particularly be critical for internal learning within organisations. The concept of open badges will definitely be a conversation in the very near future as organisations increasingly see the value of digital learning and recognition.
Overall, the eLearning Africa conference was engaging, and robust in conversations that are contemporary and geared towards solving future humanitarian problems. Moving forward, it will be important to marry eLearning with the reality of resource constraints in Africa, especially rural areas. And although technology was a central theme, eLearning Africa ably illustrated ‘why’ and ‘how’ technology is an enabler to learning, and the relationship with quality humanitarian services and programmes.