Three ideas for mlearning in Africa

Everyone knows that the mobile phone is revolutionising the way people communicate, work, play and live in Africa. Below are three ideas for mobile learning (mlearning) on the continent.

m-Novels
Given that many teens are reading and writing more than ever, not formally but on mobile phones, can these be used as platforms for exposing learners to “good” examples of the written word, and encourage them to read, write and discuss literature? There is certainly a need to explore all available channels to raise the low level of literacy amongst youth in Africa. Further, mobile phones may represent a way to alleviate the chronic shortage of books as they provide a viable distribution solution.

A project that I’ve proposed at the Shuttleworth Foundation is the m4Lit (mobile phones for literacy) pilot. If approved, this project will create a story, published on a mobisite – accessible via mobile phone web browsers and computer web browsers – to explore the opportunities for mobile-assisted literacy development. The story will be published serially (daily) and invite young readers to interact with it as it unfolds – voting on chapter endings, commenting, discussing and finally submitting a written piece as part of a competition.

The overall aim is to increase exposure to the written word and get young people to read and write more. The pilot takes an expanded view of functional literacy, framing the consumption and creation of content as a social exercise that allows for audience participation, using the technology that is in the hands of the youth. (Let’s face it, at USD299 a pop, the Kindle is not going to become the ebook reader of Africa.)

Mobile learning management systems
Building on the learning management systems (LMS) out there, like LAMS or Moodle, a mobile LMS would allow for teachers to create content as well as assignments, which learners then complete on their phones. The ImfundoYami / ImfundoYethu pilot project — “mobile learning for mathematics” — in South Africa is a good example of such a system that:

  • Alleviates the burden of marking assignments for the teachers. Through the web back-end, teachers can immediately see the results of the learners’ assignments. They can also see where the class is struggling (if most learners got questions 10-15 wrong, and those were about fractions, then clearly there’s a problem with the understanding of fractions).
  • Gets kids excited about homework because it happens on the platform they love.

Where to get content for the system? Use open-educational resources (OERs) from sites such as Connexions or OER Commons. Such a system can be used to develop literacy and numeracy, or any learning subject for that matter.

I’ve been struggling with the question of how to make this kind of system sustainable — after all, it costs money to access data over your mobile phone.  Advertising or sponsorship is one model. After my presentation at the Accenture CRM summit, Andrea Spilhaus-Mitchell, Business Development Director at Accenture South Africa suggested that there needs to be something in it for the mobile industry stakeholders. Literacy and numeracy tests would reveal much about mobile phone users, and allow for customising subscriber packages as well as marketing campaigns. In short, it’ll allow the mobile network operators and handset manufacturers to better understand their customers. Further, this kind of data (in aggregate) could be fed into larger reports, such as the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report.

Adding a level of competitiveness to the tests, with an overall score or a leader board, could motivate learners to take more tests and to try harder. This has worked well in Scottish primary schools where learners play Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training on Nintendo DS, and also for Dr Math on MXit.

Alternate reality games
Lastly, I do love the idea of alternate reality games (ARG) for African learners, in which they use their mobile phones to access clues and solve the game puzzles. Ushahidi or The Grid (in South Africa) would make the games location relevant.

These are three ideas that I think could make a real impact on learning in Africa, using the device that has changed everything.

Engaging low-income markets through participatory media

Last week I presented Engaging a participatory culture at the Accenture South Africa CRM Executive Summit in Johannesburg.

I asked: What does the emerging participatory culture – in which people produce, share and consume content – mean for a developing country like South Africa? To answer this question, I shared my technology experiences from the education, e-government and developmental sectors and offered suggestions for engaging low-income markets through participatory media.

The presentation builds on the one I gave at Web4Dev in February.

Been working on mLearning Africa (and been in Zambia)

I haven’t blogged here for a while … because I’ve been doing a lot of posting at mLearning Africa, which I started in May. It’s about news, projects and research about mobile learning in Africa. Check it out!

I also recently attended a mobile learning summit in Zambia called Go Mobile! Check out an interview, posts and images from that.

Zambian learners on their mobile phones (Source: Steve Vosloo, CC-BY-NC-SA)

Zambian learners on their mobile phones (Source: mLearning Africa, CC-BY-NC-SA)

South Africa’s youth are mobile-savvy and participative

(Source: HDI Youth Marketeers)

(Source: HDI Youth Marketeers)

At mLearning Africa I blogged about the results of the fifth annual Sunday Times Generation Next Study. The study, conducted by HDI Youth Marketeers in conjunction with Monash University (South Africa), polled 5,272 South African youth about their brand preferences and consumer behaviour.

What is clear from the study is that youth like to be connected, entertained and to participate (consume and produce content). The mobile phone is at the heart of this behaviour — which has implications for teaching and learning in the 21st century.

Interesting mlearning report

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Pop culture leads participatory culture

In Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins says: “Our workplaces have become more collaborative; our political process has become more decentered; we are living more and more in knowledge cultures based on collective intelligence. Our schools are not teaching  what it means to live and work within such knowledge communities; but popular culture may be doing so.”

I have suggested before that participatory culture is not only an American thing, but is alive and well in developing countries. The news below confirms that, as well as Jenkins’ proposition that pop culture often moves a society towards behaving as a participatory culture. This is not a bad thing, because when we ask our learners or citizens to be participatory then they’ve been prepped in some way already.

The Star reported that DStv, the main pay TV service in South Africa, will soon be rolling out a new youth station, called Vuzu, aimed at “technically savvy 18-to-24-year-olds with a predilection for engaging viewing, combined with audience interactivity centred round MXit, MMS, SMS and the internet.”

According to channel director, Yolisa Phahle: “We can’t predict the response (to Vuzu), but we are hoping (audiences) will voice their opinions and give us feedback.”

The pros and cons of an mhealth cellbook

I posted a short piece about the pros and cons of an mhealth cellbook on Tech Leader.