Learning While Building eLearning: Part 1


This is the first in a short blog series based on conversations with a colleague who is “learning while doing” as he is building an eLearning offering. Disclaimer: I’m an adviser to the project and my condition of participation was the ability to do this series of blog posts, because there is really useful knowledge to share, both within the colleague’s organization and more widely. So I said I’d add the blog reflections – without pay – if I could share them. So here we go! Over time it will probably include some additional comments from other members of the team working on this project. (Edit: Part 2 and Part 3.)

The reason I wanted to share this story is time after time I hear people state “Hey, let’s just convert our face-to-face (F2F) training into elearning” without a real sense of what that process might entail. What really happens when you decide to convert your face to face training to an elearning offering? What types of offerings lend themselves to conversion? What would that conversion look like? What should you consider?  I’ve done piles of research for clients in the past (and I’m working on getting permission to share some of it.) But nothing in the research is surprising. What is surprising is that it is not considered before diving in!

There are many paths to answering the questions about converting F2F learning to online or blended learning. The most important starting point is to ask some important initial questions, explore the options, and learn from others. Then, if you still want to proceed,  you can hire a firm to fully convert materials, do it yourself or work with a few others.

Regardless, the “conversion” process asks us some fundamental questions about learning: what and why we want to learn and what the impact of that learning might be. Looking at our assumptions around these fundamental questions can inform any initiative to “convert” something to elearning.

Meet Emilio  

Emilio is a technical officer at a large international development organization. He is an expert in his domain with years of knowledge and experience. Over time he has been asked to share his expertise and has developed a set of materials and practices to offer face to face (F2F) workshops around his area of expertise. He is passionate about his topic and his depth of experience brings richness to every conversation he has with people who want to learn more. Now he has been asked to reach more people by teaching online. That “elearning” thing.

The first decision Emilio faced was to understand what elearning really means. What are the options? What does it take to convert his offline materials into online opportunities? In our first learning conversation, Emilio shared his discovery that there is a large range of types of elearning courses and that they are difficult to categorize. He started out thinking that this is simply presenting his F2F lectures in a real time online space, augmented with the materials he had developed. But he discovered there was more to it than that.

Matching the Material With eLearning Options

multimediaAn early insight was that what you choose to do depends on your target audience and what they want or need to learn. (Or what YOU want them to learn!)

From conversations with other colleagues at work, Emilio learned some forms of elearning that have been produced in his organization. For example packages were created to introduce ideas, concepts and general information to government officials. Emilio now sees these can be less interactive, self-paced, and can potentially reach hundreds in unfacilitated courses. His colleagues have handed material over to consultants who have converted them into self paced offerings – quickly and efficiently.  This form fits with a goal of information dissemination. The value added to the learner, as compared to doing an internet search or picking up a book, is that the material is chunked and sequenced into digestible chunks and because of the reputation of the agency, people have confidence in what they are learning.

Emilio’s existing  training courses focus on a variety of complex policy issues and practices.  The material is more about converting concepts into practice, which is far more challenging than introducing ideas. Learners need to wrestle with the material, practice its application, consider their contextual differences and get the kind of feedback experts like Emilio have in their heads – the kinds of stuff that is rarely included in the slide deck or readings. Subtle. Contextual. Experienced. This is more challenging than converting basic or introductory materials into elearning.

As the volume of complexity of the material grows, there are other issues to consider. How do you keep the learner’s attention? How do you know if they are falling off course and what do you do? What and how do you customize for different contexts?

An early implication of these differences was that Emilio’s colleagues and bosses may have been thinking that he was doing the same thing as the people making introductory courses. The might expect it would take the same amount of time and resources to implement. Like him, his colleagues were not familiar with the range of elearning options. Add to that the fact that a strong organizational driver towards elearning is the idea of efficiency and reach, you can fall into a trap assuming that elearning is just about low-cost content distribution to many people, and that it is always easy or effective to implement.

Sometimes we can and do reach thousands with introductory material. But how do we really build capacity for more complex topics at a distance? What does “cost per student” really mean for deeper learning?

Emilio discovered that the reality is quite different than he thought. There is a mountain of jargon. Even thinking about the course learning objectives in a more complex offering is much more challenging (and we’ll talk about this with Emilio in a later blog post). All his tacit information that is easily available when he is present in a F2F training needs to be identified and reconsidered. What needs to be made explicit? What can come out through the facilitation of a course, with direct online interaction with learners? What has to be packaged into knowledge products? What is REALLY important amongst the vast possibilities of the content?

The adventure has begun. Stay tuned for the next part!

The Value of Hybrid/Blended Learning

faoblended Image from From http://www.fao.org/docrep/015/i2516e/i2516e.pdf

Via Stephen Downes came this snippet that caught my eye.  Discussing design models for hybrid/blended learning and the impact on the campus ~ Stephen’s Web.

Tony Bates writes, “Despite all the hype about MOOCs, hybrid learning is probably the most significant development in e-learning – or indeed in teaching generally – in post-secondary education, at least here in Canada.” I think that if you look inside universities, this is true. But outside formal education institutions, the hybrid model is virtually nonexistent.

Hm, in my world, which is definitely outside post-secondary education and not in Canada, blended models are front and center. So I thought I’d leave Stephen a note and get Mike Culligan, a colleague from LINGOS and Last Mile Learning, to chime in. Here is what we replied in the comments. I have added some links to mine which were not in the original comments!

Re: Discussing design models for hybrid/blended learning and the impact on the campus

I wanted to give you a heads up that the hybrid model is indeed alive and well outside of formal education institutions. FAO’s most successful learning programs are now blended (particularly good examples in S. Africa around Food Security Policy learning projects) , LINGOS.ORG has been getting very good results w/ blended and showing significant resources savings from their traditional F2F offerings, and better results than pure play elearning, and other organizations in development are moving in the same direction. Little old me too – much of the capacity building/structured learning I facilitate is now blended. I think the problem is these different worlds don’t talk to each other very much. [Comment] [Permalink]

More examples – International Development

I work with LINGOs – the international development organization Nancy White mentioned above. In addition to the examples she provided, there are more examples from Plan International, Management Sciences for Health, etc.

> One of the programs with the longest track record is the Virtual Leadership Development (Program http://www.msh.org/resources/virtual-leadership-development-program-vldp ). Operating since 2002, the program’s website describes the learning experience as follows:

>”Rather than giving a few top level managers off-site leadership training for one to two weeks or more, the VLDP trains up to 12 teams of four to 10 people virtually over the course of 13 weeks. The VLDP requires approximately four to six hours of individual commitment per week. Team members work independently on the VLDP web site with additional support from the program workbook. They also participate in on-site team meetings within their organizations throughout the program. During the VLDP, each team plans and develops an action plan that addresses a real organizational or programmatic challenge facing them.

I recently completed a desk study with Scott Leslie for another organization (and I think we’ll be able to share it soon!) to review their elearning options and again, the blended learning option was high on our analysis. My work a couple of weeks ago in Kenya with leaders of agricultural networks which focus on learning across various ag domains again identified blended as a significant option, allowing both the deeper focus and relationship that we can wring out of F2F, with the ongoing, “home-based” learning that the network members can do online.

Formal, informal and in-between, blended RULES in my experience. What about in yours? Stephen, your post also reminded me we still have a lot of network weaving to do to help this type of learning permeate across the membranes of the .edu, .org and .com worlds!

Reflecting on my TAFE Workshop Approach

Phew! I’ve run workshops in 7 Australian TAFEs in Victoria and Tasmania states in the past three weeks – 3 hours of “intro” in the morning and 3 hours for “advanced” practitioners in the afternoon. Time to debrief!

I had a couple of underlying principles: provide the participants options and agency in the workshops, and to “walk the talk” of engagement rather than simply presenting.  At dinner one night just past the mid-point, my host Brad Beach and I were debriefing and he wondered if this approach was recognized or “seen” by the participants (between 20-35 people per session. It led me to wonder about those who also saw me for a keynote, an advanced online facilitation workshop, and 30 or so at KMLF and another 10 in a medical practitioners community of practice workshop. Wow, more than 650 people in 10 days! Reflect, reflect, reflect.

I have been thinking about this and have two somewhat contrary thoughts. One is really a question:  does it matter if they explicitly understood my approach? The other is, if we can’t walk our talk, then we can’t keep moving our teaching and learning practices forward.

First, a bit about my approach – I welcome your feedback. Based on some preparation with the workshop sponsors (all TAFEs (Technical and Further Education, sort of like our community colleges in the US but not really…) in Victoria and Tasmania states), we identified 7 “clumps” or areas related to teaching and learning online including:

  • using a communities of practice lens to help make the social aspects of learning more visible/usable
  • critically looking if “community” is useful in any particular context
  • purpose
  • relationship
  • engagement and support
  • activities
  • monitoring and evaluation

To back this up I prepared a huge slide deck of back up material we could select from depending on what people wanted to hear about. Of course as a whole this heaps too much.  In retrospect, too much even for choosing, especially with the diverse groups I had. And it requires spending quite a bit of time “explaining” to even begin to select. So I realized I had to structure some activities to surface what issues people were interested in.

For the morning sessions I used the paired face drawing  (for details, see  here and here) to both make space for paired introductions and as a metaphor for how we work online with others… being open, trusting, not-knowing, and the power of open turn taking. Plus its unexpected and fun. Then I was going to do the “35” exercise (which I did not know by this name until a weekend last week with Viv McWaters and Geoff Brown.. credit to Thiagi) but the rooms I was in didn’t have enough space for the circulating needed.

In the smaller groups, we went around the circle sharing names and “what brought you here today.” In most cases, each person’s reason prompted a comment from me which sometimes turned into mini conversations so this took up to an hour.  I kept a flip chart of these ideas and referred back to it throughout the workshop. But the concept was that even just sharing what we were interested in brought us deep into domain conversations without a presentation or “content” delivered by me.

At this point I asked if people were interested in a short presentation on the communities of practice perspective and some reflections on how it might be useful in designing, doing and evaluating teaching and learning online. (By the way, these few slides were the ONLY slides I ended up using, but you can find the whole, annotated deck at the end of this post.)  As the week proceeded, I realized that this design approach was a nice way “in” on these conversations and I built on it, combining with a “design for at LEAST three perspectives” of institution/administration, teacher/facilitator/leader and learner/student. All week long as I heard people’s stories I heard, I felt, a lot of pressure to design for compliance and administrative needs, even while there is a ton of emphasis on the learners. I kept feeling that if we were able to look across these three audiences and across the “community-domain-practice” of the CoP lens, that we’d see a fuller perspective of the online learning offerings and find a fuller way to evaluate the whole, instead of just on completion rates, compliance to government vocational training requirements and student satisfaction surveys. But I’ll write more about that in a future blog post.

After that, we needed to mix things up with a break. In some of the workshops we did Dave Gray’s “empathy map” exercise to expand what we consider about ourselves and the learners. It is a useful, visual way to test if we ARE designing for students.

Other times — both in the morning and afternoon sessions — we did case clinics using various “fishbowl” formats. I think the Samoan Circle variation worked best because we did not fall into the challenging whole circle – everyone wanting to talk problem. The bottom line with these case clinics was that one person with a real problem or opportunity benefited from the experience of the group, everyone saw more clearly that each other was a resource and that this online learning offering is not a solo practice. I could have just thrown up a few slides and said that in 5 minutes, but I think the conversations in the fishbowl were some of the most engaging in all the workshops.

The afternoon workshops were intended for teachers who have been teaching online for some time. To surface both their context and what they wanted to talk about, we first brainstormed some of their major challenges. We picked one and ran a reverse brainstorm in teams of 5.  Some of the challenges they picked to design for “100% failure” ranged from the generic “all online learning” to “focusing student engagement.” As usual, this activity generates laughter, then good reflective conversations about real issues in their institutions. Sometimes I probed with the “four why’s” approach as it can be easy to sit at the symptom level, rather than get to the underlying or systemic issue.  Again, through a conversational format using small and large group issues were surfaced. I like the reverse brainstorm better than a straight up brainstorm as I think it is easy to get stuck both in our ruts and our “that’s the way it always is” attitude. By designing for failure rather than success, we shift our frame far enough that new perceptions can emerge.

The afternoon then also had some sort of fishbowl case clinic. The clinics seem to tap into the knowledge and experience in the room and most people mentioned in the debrief how useful this was. We did a modified fishbowl “Samoan Circle” style where we started with three people in the middle, with one of the people being the person with a challenge or case, one colleague they picked and me. We started by hearing the case person’s story and then asked clarifying questions. Those questions alone can trigger a great deal of insight. Then we’d segue into ideas, followed by the case person reviewing what they heard/learned and planned to do. People said they planned to use this method back at work!

In some of the workshops people had technology questions and we were able to successfully play using Twitter as both a note taking and “tapping into the outside world” experiment. I need to write this up separately as there were many insights. (Ah more time, eh?)

Finally, in all the workshops I asked people to “Pay it forward” by suggesting what they heard in the workshop I should make sure to share with the next group. This was a twist on “what did you learn.” You can see what they said in the early slides in the deck annotated below.  Sometimes we finished with a round of “just three words” on “your experience of the last three hours.” I always love the words – predictable and unpredictable – which come out.

Here is the PDF file of the annotated resources slides…NOT a presentation!  FacilitatingOnlineInteractionforLearningAU11


Guest Post: Adejare Amoo on an Industrialist’s Role in eLearning in Africa

Nancy’s Note: In June I was lucky to help facilitate a couple of events for UN University at eLearning Africa in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. One of our panelists was the wise and warm Adejare Amoo from Nigeria. Adejare’s role was to illuminate how business can be part of innovating in eLearning in Africa. In preparation for his part in our “fish bowl” exercise, he drafted an outline that I really appreciated. Because we did not have time to cover all his points, I invited him to do a guest post on my blog. I think Adejare is my FIRST guest post since I started this blog May 26, 2004. I will also post a few reflections from eLearning Africa in a subsequent post.

As for Adejare’s post I love this line: “The higher education institutions in Africa need to follow the industrialists’ innovation concept and good practice policy, whereby they start their projects on a clean slate,  think big, start small, fail quickly, and scale fast, using ICT. Above all, the higher education institutions in Africa should adopt and adapt “open innovation policy” which has helped the industry to grow, just as it has helped most of the higher education institutions in the developed nations to use e-learning pedagogy for quality mass education production which has positively impacted their environments’ development.” Read on! And thanks to Adejare!

I am an e-learning entrepreneur, a highly innovation promoted and real time evolving industry. I am based in Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa (about 150 million population). Students as well as research & development results are identified as the products and services from  Higher education institutions in Africa. However these products and services form a core input in the industrialist’s production process system. In effect, the industrialist is a major consumer of higher education products and services.

Furthermore, as a major stakeholder in higher education system in Africa, the industrialist sponsors some relevant higher education research and developments programmes, as well as some relevant higher education projects  –academic and non-academic, such as infrastructural developments. Some of the industrialist’s employees are parents and relations to the students, whose progress is of utmost importance to the industrialist’s organisation>. In addition to being a donor, the industrialist is a network builder in higher education system. As a council member, he contributes to higher education policy and practice formulation.


Innovation has been identified as turning new ideas into beneficial and/or profitable products and services. It is characterised by information and communications technology (ICT) driven experimentations and sharing of ideas.

Higher education system in Africa is confronted with some challenges. Both the admission and carrying capacities of the higher institutions are too low to satisfy the high demand for quality mass education delivery required to develop their environment.  Most of the institutions stick to their own obsolete ideas and practices, without allowing for other innovative ideas and practices from outside their institutions.  These institutions are starved of adequate funding. In view of the self contented policy and practice in most   African higher institutions, support assistance could not be readily obtained, since the donor partners could not understand their challenges. Most of the higher institutions in Africa are yet to apply technology in their education administration and delivery. The prerequisite solution to these challenges is radical innovation.

The industrialist also needs innovation of his company’s products and services to improve on customer satisfaction, satisfactory return on investment (ROI) to the investors/shareholders, and efficient as well as  effective social responsibility performance as a corporate citizen. The stakeholders desire innovation in the company’s products and services, and which innovation must come from all the inputs in the production process. Such inputs include the identified higher education products and services, i.e. qualified manpower and research & development results.
Expressed mathematically, “Summation of innovation of process inputs equals innovation of products and services.”


he industrialist’s primary goal is to achieve his organisation’s set vision, mission, and values. This is, most essentially, to be and remain no.1 profitable producer of his company’s quality products and services, as well as fulfil the company’s  good corporate citizenship responsibilities, through innovation. The industrialist also aims at achieving the planned innovation objectives and strategies for the organisation, products and services, through innovation from the higher education products and services as part of the inputs. As a corporate citizen, the industrialist needs to fulfil the organisation’s  responsibility in promoting innovation of higher education process system, plantation of entrepreneurial seeds for generation innovation, as well as promotion of the organisation’s image and network.

From the point of view of comparative contemporary policy and practice in the higher institutions in the developing and developed nations, it will be observed that most of the universities that make the first hundred leading universities global ratings worldwide employ the application of the above mentioned innovative characteristics, i.e.  information and communications technology (ICT) driven experimentation and sharing of ideas  in their administration and academic operations.  The ubiquitous internet technology application has facilitated sharing of ideas and good practices such that the entire world is reduced to a digital village, with respect to the higher education institutions in the developed world.  This must have been borrowed from the successful high tech companies, which believe and practice the idea that companies should make greater use of external ideas and technologies in their own business and allow their own technologies and ideas to be used by others.  (Henry Chesbrough, UC Berkeley). In Practer & Gamble (P & G)’s “Use-It-Or-Lose-It Programme” innovation strategy, after an internally generated innovation has been successfully applied within the organisation for three years, it is thrown open to other organisations that could benefit from it. The higher institutions could benefit from such strategy.

The high tech industrialists have capitalised on the above mentioned innovation driving forces to make a significant impact in the higher education institutions, most especially in the developed nations. To the industrialist, innovation is a revolution. It involves high risk taking, along with high failure probability result, and to be undertaken by all stakeholders. The industrialist considers this phenomenon as part of innovation game. It provides opportunities for continuous experimentations as well as controlled frequent and rapid changes.  For instance, Microsoft’s innovation strategy allows its employees to spend about 20% of the company’s time on controlled experimentation of their personal innovative ideas, that could positively contribute to the company’s benefits and ROI to its stakeholders. The company accepts that about 50% of such experimentations could fail. Furthermore, Microsoft provides high tech tools and equipment to some higher education institutions, in Nigeria, for their digital/computer labs. On the other hand, while implementing its “Innovation Research Programme” strategy, Hewlett Packard (HP) votes a huge amount of dollars to sponsor research projects in the higher education institutions annually and use the generated results in its products and services innovation.  In the industry, consumer generated innovation is assuming a greater trend. Similarly, the industry should generate innovation from the higher education institutions, being the major consumers of the products and service, i.e. the students and research & development results.

As the industrialist commits so much  resources into promotion of innovation in the higher education institutions, the challenge of ownership of proprietary rights of products and services resulting from such research and development activities, undertaken by the institutions, could become important and controversial issues. This is where mutual and collaborative understanding should be embraced by both the higher education institutions and the industry.

The industrialist possesses and provides financial support to the higher education institutions, through grants, endowments, foundation, donations, scholarship, sponsorship for conferences, etc. Relevant examples of such donors in Nigeria include Microsoft, HP, Intel, Nestle, Shell, Chevron, and Dangote, among others. The company possesses relevant technology and infrastructure. Provision is made for both the students and teachers to access the industrialist’s technology and infrastructures such as laboratory for research and development. Places are provided for students/teacher industrial work experience, as well as for sabbatical work experience for teachers. Collaborative exchange programme between the industrialist’s staff and student/lecturers is promoted. The industrialist is involved in higher education institutions’ social and academic extra-curricular activities, building and sustaining network between the industrial group and the higher education institutions. Promotion of socio-cultural activities engages the industrialist. The company initiates and participates in community development programmes such as health, poverty alleviation, capacity building facilities, etc. The industrialist organises competitions and quiz and also provides facilities for entrepreneurial skills acquisition to be shared with relevant students/teachers.

To effect the innovation, the industrialist will require collaboration and cooperation from higher education institutions leaders and the entire institutions’ community. Collaboration and cooperation from other stakeholders in higher education innovation — parents, NGO’s, and socio- cultural organisations, will be relevant. Open access process policy and practice will enhance “open innovation”, which will involve sharing of technological developments and information, as well as ideas. High quality support/participants and manpower, with positive attitude, integrity, creativity, interpersonal relation, etc will be of mutual benefit. The industrialist will be a member of the governing council of the higher education institutions, where policy and practice are formulated. The industrialists will be represented on all relevant government’s boards and high powered policy and practice formulators, to make audible voice.

The government will provide motivation in terms of tax rebate, recognition and other incentives, which will include conducive business environment — infrastructure, power supply, transportation means, peace, safety, security, etc. Funding from equity, loan and/or grant will be highly required.


The higher education institutions in Africa need to follow the industrialists’ innovation concept and good practice policy, whereby they start their projects on a clean slate,  think big, start small, fail quickly, and scale fast, using ICT. Above all, the higher education institutions in Africa should adopt and adapt “open innovation policy” which has helped the industry to grow, just as it has helped most of the higher education institutions in the developed nations to use e-learning pedagogy for quality mass education production which has positively impacted their environments’ development.
Mine is just to provoke more contribution on the way forward to quality mass higher education delivery in Africa, using e-learning pedagogy and other information & communications technologies, for accelerated and sustainable development.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to the challenges confronting quality mass education delivery for development in Africa.



Engr. Adejare AMOO  is a Consultant/Managing Director of CorporateMind Associates Nigeria Limited, engaged in blended education, through their website www.corporatemind-elearn.com and a learning/study centre . This is in support of accelerated and sustainable realization of the goals of the global socio-economic development programs such as MDG, and EFA. The targets of his social entrepreneurial effort cover the disadvantaged communities , such as the youths, girl child, the physically challenged, and the women , among others, in the developing nations.

He retired from Nigeria’s oil and gas industry in 2000 after 27 years work experience. He did an ICT Certificate course on e-Commerce  to support his passion for ICT in education. He is currently the Chairman of the ICT Group, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He participated in the stakeholders workshops organized by Federal Ministry of Education, Nigeria, on education reform programs in 2006 to 2010. He participated in the eLearning Conference in Paris, and in EDUCA Berlin, as well as in the eLearning Africa Conferences between 2005 and 2010.He participated in the Second Science With Africa Conference in Addis Ababa, 2010. He participated in many international online education forums and webinars, including the e-Learning Expert Online Forum 2009, organized by UNU-ViE, Bonn.

He is currently the Nigeria’s ambassador to WWW.SCIENCE-CONNECT.COM NGO. He authors and publishes the Nigeria wiki-page on the NGO’s website. He has a very strong international network. He is bilingual with proficiency in English and French languages. A youths mentor and a community leader, he is married with children. His ambition is to dedicate the rest of his life to support the less privileged  in the developing nations, using ICT.

EFQUEL – European Foundation for Quality in E-Learning – 2010

A few years ago my friend Ulf-Daniel Ehlers invited me to speak at the European Foundation for Quality in E-Learning. When he asked, I said incredulously, WHAT? Me speak about E-Learning Quality? Thus began my education into what this can mean – beyond certifications, hide-bound rules and what often ends up  being a limitation instead of a search for and valuing of quality. Ulf and his colleagues opened up some new vistas for me.  In thanks, I’m sitting on this year’s program committee. We haven’t had our virtual meeting yet, so I wanted to find out, what would YOU want to see on an agenda for such meeting. Take a look at the current outline, which is more action oriented than presentation focused.  Do you have any suggestions you want me to take to the meeting?

EFQUEL – European Foundation for Quality in E-Learning – 2010: Lisbon.