COVID-19 has caused major disruptions for people from all walks of life. It has dramatically changed the nature of activities we used to do in person, especially those aiming to bring people together to learn, exchange knowledge, and strengthen relationships. As we grapple with the uncertainty of how in-person education and training will continue as the pandemic evolves, many types of learning experiences have preemptively moved online, especially those for adults.
At the Center for Digital Acceleration, we see significant opportunities for creative digital collaboration that would have been impossible just a year ago. Electronic learning has emerged as a particularly interesting category for development solutions. Projects with goals that span the thematic spectrum—from strengthening agricultural supply chains to supporting rule of law to stemming climate change—are considering how to implement digital curricula and thinking carefully about what approaches could work best for their myriad stakeholder groups.
Moodle platform implemented by DAI’s Center for Digital Acceleration, for STEM courses in Oman.
As practitioners actively consider eLearning and other remote-learning solutions, we have three key recommendations for beginning this complex process based on our experiences identifying best practices at the Center for Digital Acceleration:
1. Decouple content and technology. While it might be intuitive for some people to first think about the way they want a finished eLearning project to look, or the type of platform they want to have, we recommend taking a step back to think about the learning objectives and content that will need to be delivered given the end-users’ lived reality and context. It’s particularly important for a project to have a clear sense of the purpose of the eLearning course they want to develop and consider how much external support or guidance learners might need. For example, in a low-resource environment with limited internet availability and bandwidth, an exclusively video-based course would likely not be viable, even if the videos are well thought out and professionally produced. Technology solutions should serve the content and course execution, not the other way around.
2. Understand technology solutions. For technology solutions to best support project learning goals, decision-makers require a clear understanding of what these different technology solutions specifically offer. For example, a learning management system (LMS) has different functionalities than a content management system, and both are more formal and structured than standard digital communications tools that are often repurposed for the same ends. To know what solution is right for any particular remote learning project, understanding what a tool does and (perhaps more importantly) what it does not do, is key.
3. Plan for sustainability from the beginning. How will the course be maintained while it is available? What will happen if learners want to review material on their own? What will happen to the course after the project closes? Answers to questions like these are fundamental in determining what type of technology will best serve knowledge activities for different projects. Open-source solutions, such as the Moodle LMS platform, are generally considered to be more sustainable since they do not require expensive licensing fees. However, they do require more hands-on technology support, especially as the course is actively being developed. These are tradeoffs that any project needs to consider within a broader framework of sustainability.
Ultimately, the technology options available for remote learning are vast and can be adapted for most contexts and circumstances. What we have consistently found to be most important when determining what will work is keeping the learning objectives and learners’ context at the forefront of decision-making. As in all good project management, stakeholder response and engagement will determine whether the effort is successful—all the more reason to keep learners at the center of this process.