Understanding the greatest challenges creating an e-learning portal in Burundi, Africa.

by Stephan DOUKHOPELNIKOFF, illustrations by BiDigital.one

In 2022 we created a e-learning portal in cooperation with Spark to contribute to the creation of jobs.

The goal of the platform is to allow students to follow online courses to improve their workplace skills. The courses focus on their workplace skills rather than the technical skills they teach at the university.

We decide to name the platform PrepAKAZI, ‘prep’aration to ‘work’ (Swahili).

TABLE of content of this article:

Why the PrepAKAZI e-learning platform?

From mid 2021 till 2022 we coached young people and organisations in organisational and performance skills to improve performance and results of the partner organisations of Spark Burundi.

Spark started with giving support to several organisations to enforce the development of skills needed in the private sector as employees or as entrepreneurs. You can consult the list of skills we coach on the leaderCoach.one website: link

This is proven successful but it is an intense and small scale approach. 

Probably it was successful exactly because of the focus on smaller groups of people and not on masses.

Spark is different from most NGOs because it is focused on results and constant improvement.

The challenge was then to scale up the results and the efforts.

So we studied the question if there could be a possibility to scale up and contribute to the creation of more jobs through online courses.

The importance of platforms is also accentuated by European union:

“The platform economy can benefit transition and developing countries by creating jobs within underperforming markets especially for people facing barriers to employment and or subject to exclusion such as young people, women, persons with disabilities and people living in remote areas. It can offer an alternative to persons who might otherwise migrate offsetting a countries’ ‘brain drain’. The Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced remote work as it suffered less disruption compared to conventional physical businesses. “https://www.etf.europa.eu/en/news-and-events/news/future-work-platform-economy

The advantages of an online platform

The French version of this part of the text you can find here.

Ease of accessibility by time and place.

Online training portals are accessible from anywhere, allowing students to log in from anywhere through the internet. This is also a reason to create access points (youth centres) in rural Burundi where young people can take group lessons online without having to travel to the capital.

Flexibility

Students can take classes at their own pace and on their own schedule, making it easy for them to balance their personal and professional lives.

Cost reduction

Online training portals help reduce travel, accommodation, and tuition costs.

Personalised learning

Online learning portals allow learning to be personalised to meet the individual needs of each student.

Competency-Based Training

Online training portals are designed to help students develop the skills required in the workplace.

Continuing education

Online training portals provide a continuing education opportunity for current employees.

Up to date

Online training portals help update employee skills to adapt to technological changes and market demands.

Interactive learning

Online training portals offer interactive tools to enhance learning and make training more engaging.

Collaborative and participative learning

Online learning portals allow students to collaborate with colleagues and mentors to enhance their learning.

Centralisation of information

Through a dashboard and a menu, the students have an overview of all information on his courses, activities, information and messaging.

All information is centralised in one place. The students know where to find the information they are looking for.

Motivating

Students can be motivated in different ways by different tools such as:

  • The publication of results
  • Online quizzes
  • Gamification
  • Videos of peers 
  • Videos of examples etc.

Certificate

Online education portals offer recognized certifications in the job market, which can help students stand out in their job search.

What are the challenges of PrepAKAZI?

Internet Access

An online internet platform can’t be accessed when there is no internet. Internet access in Burundi can be improved. So it was important that the portal was not to heavy and could easily be accessed even through mobile networks.

For the accessibility in rural areas, the internet can be accessed in shared places, such as the local youth clubs. There are some organisations busy with this topic.

When we were testing the platform it happened that the university was disconnected from the internet. 

Most students had smartphones and they continued the courses on their smartphones.

This showed the potential and the greatest advantages of the platform.

It is easily accessible, when-ever you want, from where-ever you are.

Mindset

The greatest challenge is the mindset of the people.

And there are different aspects of this mindset that are challenging.

You can not assist people who are not conscious of the fact that they need to be assisted.

You can not coach people to become a good entrepreneur if they don’t know what entrepreneurship means. 
Certainly when an entire society has a negative attitude towards entrepreneurship.

First of all: People are afraid to fail. 

Failure is a very important aspect of learning because it concerns experience and action.
We learn most from experience and the least from what we read or from what is told to us.
So if you are afraid of experience, you block yourself from learning.

A mindset can be fueled by

LEARNING | INSPIRATION | EXPERIENCE

These three elements need to be combined. One without the three is not enough!

What are you with knowledge that is not tested?

The greatest challenge of Burundi is the mentality not only of the non educated people but also the educated people. The greatest challenge is not about being educated or not educated.

It is the lack of understanding of WHY?

You can transfer knowledge to an ignorant person.
But this doesn’t mean that the person understands the most important question: 

Why do I have to know? Why do I learn?

The most important question is first WHY? Then WHAT? HOW? WHEN?

Mindset about work.

In general, when you ask people why they work, most will tell you to earn money. This is a worldwide view.

But work has so much more to offer to your Life:

  • Experience
  • Continuous learning
  • Self confidence
  • Better relationships
  • A good life

Specifically for Burundi:
First, there is a lack of a creative and analytical mindset.
People are used to being told what to do without asking questions.
This means that in the absence of constant directives nothing will happen.
Because of this mindset a lot of people lack initiative.
Secondly, there is the mindset about entrepreneurship.
It is considered for failed students.
Students that succeed will be employed by the government or organisations.
So entrepreneurs or business people are often considered as crooks and there are.

Mindset about learning.

There is a conviction that people who studied, know it all. Also that they will automatically earn money when they finish their studies to contribute (back) to the family that nourished them…
So they get a kind of respect. But is respect earned by your knowledge, your words or the result of your actions?

Also there is the lack of understanding that learning has to be continuous. By consequence a lot of knowledge is outdated. So even the people who are not ignorant and who do have knowledge, are stuck in their knowledge and don’t evolve.

In the land of the blind, one eye is king.
Does it mean that, because he has an eye that he can see? 

I would doubt that. I believe that conscious people, even blind, can see a lot more than people who think they can see but don’t know how to see.

Third, there is a lack of understanding that knowledge has only value through action.
Even people with ideas are overestimated. Because an idea that is not executed is still just an idea without any added value.

They are considered as ‘the intelligentia.

But it is not the intelligentia that solve problems but rather people that master skills and act upon them that improve society.

Mindset about positions and life.

Youth has to respect the elderly. This is a noble principle.

But the other side of this beautiful principle is that the youth has mostly nothing to say and have to listen to the elder while in many cases their knowledge is more up to date and practical. So this can lead to frustrating situations and block progress of society as a whole.

Though the youth is 65 % of the population of Burundi and even more in Africa.

As a coach of the youth it is sad to see so many bright minds not being respected. While mostly it is the older generation that is lost and blocking the future of the youth.

Coding of the system.

Students in Burundi who follow ICT-courses, normally learn ‘pure’ coding languages such as  HTML. By itself, this is of course ok. 

But the platform needs to be programmed as a LMS (learning management system).  From HTML to LMS is a huge step. 
There are already many LMS systems and only a few are the best. The best is to use a LMS that runs on WordPress. 

The better the system, the easier to program, the easier to access.
We wanted different people with different backgrounds to be able to update the portal. There is no complex coding required to update the system. This makes the portal more sustainable because of the ease of use and the low cost.

Once the system is in place there is only the yearly costs of the hosting, the domain name and the plugins.  
At DOUTTI we stand for CLARITY and SIMPLICITY, what is absolutely not simple but sophisticated.

The complexity of skills needed to build the platform

The programmers  

The goal of SPARK is to create jobs. So through this project also more jobs can be created through a new niche in the ICT-sector, programming of Learning Management Systems.  

Programmers of LMS should be multi skilled and have knowledge of learning, e-learning and micro-learning. They should understand the whole of what they do and not only the technical part.

The writers of the content and the scripts  

The programmers can also do research on the skills (texts, images etc) to use as  illustrations and to be used as content.  This can then be analysed and corrected by the university. Though the problem is that they can be outdated by knowledge and techniques, not understanding the value of LMS.

The quality and relevance check of the content by the team of the UNIV.  

We worked with University Lac Tanganyika (ULT). Professors, Madame Monique Kayibanda and Madame Joëlle Gakuba were part of our team.

Nevertheless the portal lacks the participation of the students. Students should be actively involved in the updating and overall of the portal. So there is lack of engagement. What undermines the sustainability of the portal.

The skill set of the Internet programming team.

  • The use of digital and internet (Gmail, Word, Excel,…)
  • Websites (back-end, front-end, membership levels)
  • How to build a website
  • How to use and program WordPress, various plugins.
  • How to master (program) an online education management system (Learning Management System)
  • How to master and manage a membership platform.
  • How to use and program gamification modules (quizzes,…) 

The skill set of the curriculum development team.

Documents (syllabus, infographics)

  • How to research the skills of the 5 modules.
  • How to write the documents for the 5 modules and the skills. 
  • How to develop computer graphics (scenario and content), graphics.

Videos

  • Knowing how to write scenarios (scripts) to create videos
  • Knowing how to film, record interviews, and trainings.
  • Knowing how to edit videos (imovie, DaVinci resolve, VideoMaker)

The skill set of the management and monitoring team.

  • Recognize and respond to customer needs.
  • How to plan an (education) project
  • How to plan and control financial management
  • How to manage, coach a team
  • How to do strategic planning
  • How to evaluate and adapt

General skillset of the team.

  • Being responsible, a trustworthy person
  • How to manage
  • Mastering writing
  • Master Kirundi, French, and English is an asset
  • Master communication (listening, understanding)
  • Master learning
  • Master digitalisation (Computer, Smartphone, Internet)
  • Master follow-up and evaluation, also digitally
  • Master the execution of tasks

The content

The content is the biggest challenge to make a good start and to be sustainable. Once the basic content concerning the different skills is there, the platform is easily maintainable and new updates can be added.  

The platform can be evaluated after a while to see if goals and functions can be added. For  example the connection with the workplace, the employers. 

This is the future or long term goal that we have to keep in mind. 

The focus is now on skills for the workplace for the students. Already an amazing step forward. 

The content concerns: 

  • videos (instructional videos to teach, 
  • interviews to inspire and to learn, etc…) 
  • documents (courses, course materials etc.) 
  • gamification (quizzes, …) 

We were in favor of letting the students participate in the creation of the content. Also this was refused by the different partners. In the short term this will underline the motivation and sustainability of the platform. Tis due to the mindset, as explained above, of some people in certain positions.

For the most important basic videos we wanted work with more experienced people because we  have to inspire SIMPLICITY and QUALITY to be sustainable. Simplicity is not simple but sophisticated. The basis of sophistication is professionalism. But as the content was out of our hands we were not able to contribute through our skills and vision,

The skills for the workplace

We created a list of workplace skills to be taught.

This list was adapted by the partners as they were not happy with the content we provided.

So another consultant worked out new content in cooperation with the university. The added value was adding real life examples for the students.

Our view differs though on the list of skills needed for the workplace.

If you don’t aim high in the quality and topics, you will stay where you are and you won’t progress.

The process of e-learning

We prepared for months studying learning, e-learning, micro-learning and gamification techniques.

In total we studied around 30 books and as many articles on these subjects. You find the references at the end of this article.

As a result we created the 6 Modules of the online learning process. The process is very sophisticated  (based on everything we learned) and important for the students to be followed in Burundi.
The process goes crescendo from the basis to the end.

Only in step 5 the students learn the workplace skills, after passing through 4 steps that involve:
1. the understanding of WHY to learn?
2. the understanding of the importance of mindset
3. the understanding of the importance of attitude
4. the understanding of the importance of action

All these other steps are part of the process to prepare them to learn those skills.
Step 6 is constant follow-up, updating and evaluation.

In the online final version of the PrepAkazi-ULT portal this process is skipped. This has consequences for what the students will remember and the sustainability of the platform, in the longer term.

The partners were not happy with our content what we can understand from their perspective. Whatever their perspective is…
But the problem was that our (sophisticated) process was also part of the content.

Now, the focus of the platform is now mainly on specific courses and not on any process.
Besides that, there is no follow-up once the certificate of the course is generated (step 6).

These are the same mistakes as people of classical education systems make.

This will not only affect the sustainability of the platform but also the learning itself.

When we create at Doutti, we create a whole. Many people lose the view on the whole (courses to master skills, inspiration, community, engagement) by focussing too much on some parts that they think are the most important (specific course content).

“A part can never be more important than the whole that it is part of or the other parts.”

Engagement of the students

In general we discovered that the old classical educational ideas are still prevailing: teachers teach and students learn.
While open minded people know that students can teach teachers too. Certainly when it comes to new technologies and innovation.

The students have to be involved in the programming of the platform. It should is part of their connection with the university. Its is as important as the rest.

The platform is their bridge to the job.

Not involve the students is excluding them from all the possibilities that can enrich the students:

  • sharing of activities (internal and external)
  • sharing of articles on topics
  • sharing of news of the different clubs of the university
  • sharing of information concerning the courses on the information page
  • sharing of interviews with professionals
  • sharing of experiences of all kinds that open up their minds…

The follow-up, coordination and implementation.  

The creation of this platform is the coordination of many skills as you can see in the attached  documents.  

This needs coaching of all the team members involved and to follow up. 

You can not own a website or platform

You can be granted the licence to use the IP by the creator.

The creator transfers the rights to use the platform.

These rights can be: consulting, content providing, IP of the content etc.
A partnership can be made between different parties that agree on the licences of the website.

The website is in fact the legal assembled work consisting of:

  • the domain name
  • the hosting
  • the CMS
  • the written content
  • the images
  • the design of the website
  • the code of the website

The ownership is not the same as the control of the website.

The level of control can be different.

  • Access to consult
  • Admin control
    • ability to change content.
    • update blog posts.
    • adjust contact information.
    • renting out space on the website

The next step. Connection to the workplace.

In a second step, after the first step of providing the courses to improve the workplace skills, the platform can be connected to the workplace.

Digital job matching platforms can both help markets clear more quickly and induce dynamic responses, including in the content of education programs and in the investment decisions of firms and workers by linking workers and firms to the information they need.

Practical challenges

Fuel shortage

The programming was done from our office where we worked with our team. 

In Burundi we were confronted with fuel shortages and sometimes we were forced to walk by foot to the office for 1 hour. Remote working was not possible because of the bad internet connection in different places.
People had to cancel meetings because of lack of fuel. Online meetings were not possible.

No transport allowed by bike or motorbike

Even with the fuel shortage, bikes and motorbikes were not allowed. So walking was the only option as we didn’t have the budget to pay taxis.

Power Cuts

Our electronics suffered a lot and some became damaged by the electric chocks of the electric power sometimes jumping on and off.

Internet Connection

And last but not least to program the platform online was hell because of the poor internet connectivity also connected to the power cuts.

Also one would think to organise online meetings but because of the power cuts and the bad quality of the connection this was not possible.

Summary

“The strength of a team depends on the equal attention given to
the best and the weakest players.”

Everyone concerned with the portal should understand:

  • the importance of every part of the whole project and not only some parts of the project.
  • the importance of an educational process that is part of the whole project.
  • the importance not only of knowledge but of action and follow-up.
  • the importance of student participation and involvement in the creation and management of the portal. We live more and more in a participative world, certainly when it comes to new technologies and innovation.

References

Gilbert, S. (2016). Designing gamified systems: Meaningful play in interactive entertainment, marketing and education. CRC Press.

Depover, C., Karsenti, T., Komis, V., & Collin, S. (2019). Enseigner avec les technologies: Favoriser les apprentissages, développer les compétences. Presses de l’Université du Québec.

Hubbar, R. (2013). The Really Useful eLearning Instruction Manual. Wiley.

Liu, S., Glowatz, M., Zappatore, M., Gao, H., Jia, B., & Bucciero, A. (2018). e-Learning, e-Education, and Online Learning. Springer.

Allen, M. W. (2007). Designing successful e-learning. John Wiley & Sons.

Foreman, S. (2018). The LMS Guidebook: Learning Management Systems Demystified. Association for Talent Development.

Allen, M. W., & Bingham, T. (2014). Guide to e-Learning: Building Interactive, Fun, and Effective Learning Programs for Any Company. Wiley.

Dirksen, J. (2016). Design For How People Learn (Voices That Matter). New Riders.

Horton, W. (2011). E-learning by Design. John Wiley & Sons.

Ward, D., & Elkins, D. (2015). E-Learning Uncovered: From Concept to Execution. Artisan E-Learning.

Hodell, C. (2011). ISD From the Ground Up: A No-Nonsense Approach to Instructional Design (3rd ed.). American Society for Training and Development.

Malamed, C. (2011). Visual Language for Designers: Principles for Creating Graphics that People Understand. Rockport Publishers.

Clark, R. C., & Lyons, C. (2010). Graphics for Learning: Proven Guidelines for Planning, Designing, and Evaluating Visuals in Training Materials. Pfeiffer.

Clark, R. C. (2015). Evidence-Based e-Learning. Routledge.

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2011). Scenario-based e-Learning: Evidence-Based Guidelines for Online Workforce Learning. John Wiley & Sons.

Kapp, K. M. (2012). The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education. Pfeiffer.

Arshavskiy, M. (2016). Instructional Design for eLearning: Essential Guide to Creating Successful eLearning Courses. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Author

About the Author

Stephan DOUKHOPELNIKOFF

International entrepreneurship consultant,
lawyer, mediator,
leadership, entrepreneurship, performance and mindfulness COACH,
digital, innovation, internet and creativity.
For more information click here

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