Tag Archives: e-learning

Training for Humanitarian Aid: a Learning Challenge

I have the best job in the world: I help others to learn, and make the world a better place in the process. I’m a didactical specialist working with the international aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders. Our assistance to people in distress is first and foremost medical and my role is to train my colleagues in giving the best quality care – as midwife, nurse, doctor, logistician or specialist in water and sanitation, as expatriate flying into the mission from Holland, India or Canada, or as a national staff member in our mission in the Central African Republic, South Sudan or Papua New Guinea. My job is to find out how best to accommodate their learning.

Over the past two years, I’ve participated in a number of MOOCs on education and related subjects. My goal is to deepen my knowledge about theories, methods and best practices in training and leaning and to keep up-to-date with developments in these areas. How do we transfer knowledge, skills and behavior from one person to the other? How do we assess a learning need? How do we evaluate training and learning in systems for formal learning? And is there a way to do so in types of informal learning? What do the rapid developments in virtual learning and distance education mean for all these issues? Even after so many years of working in education, I still don’t know most of the answers to these questions and if I do, they are in desperate need of an update.

Satisfying my desire to know more about training and learning is not the biggest problem: applying that knowledge to the unique learning environment of Doctors Without Borders is a real challenge. Take, for instance, what I’ve learning in the first week of UC San Diego’s MOOC Learning How To Learn: it makes no sense to cram your head with information, it’s more effective to repeat what you’ve learned and space that repetition. It’s still better to throw in some exercise and a good night’s sleep! That’s a luxury learners feel they don’t have at Doctors Without Borders: time costs lives, and a training takes them away from their care for people who need shelter because of a war or natural disaster, who are sick and suffer from malnutrition. Staff appreciates learning opportunities because they realize they can take better care of people afterwards. But it’s impossible to stop them from cramming as much information as possible in their heads, and from sharing experiences until late at night.

Being creative in learning, as computational neuroscientist Terrence Sejnowski pointed out during an interview, might actually help to overcome my challenges. At Doctors Without Borders we might not have the opportunity to build strong neural structures by spaced repetition of information during our training, but we can initiate opportunities for learners to do so afterwards, for example through distance learning. In a post-training-test we can establish what information training participants retained, and then can refer them to information sources for what they forgot.

I have a long way to go in terms of learning about learning. But I’m confident that Learning How To Learn and other educational MOOCs will help me doing a better job at that!

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E-learning and digital cultures 2: our future with tech #EDCMOOC

In the debate on teaching and learning in the digital age two dominating views tend to emerge: one utopian, one dystopian. The video New Media is an expression of the latter: immersive technology makes us blind and deaf for the destruction of interpersonal communication, environmental pollution and societal collapse in general. A day made of glass is an advertisement video and depicts the opposite view: a future in which digital technique makes our work and school experiences easier, profounder and more enjoyable. Which video reflects my take on our future with tech?

My interest in e-learning was first aroused  in the early 2000s, when I was  teaching at universities in the Netherlands and Taiwan. Learning management systems had just been developed and were introduced in industrialized countries to facilitate online learning in higher education. I went back to school to study Digital Communication and Media/Multimedia. Using web creation tools I became fascinated by the many ways digital creativity and interaction can be used to enhance learning. In 2011 I started working for a Swiss medical NGO, developing e-learning and blended training courses for health care professionals in low- and middle-income countries. It became my personal mission to optimize instructional design and educational technologies for the promotion of sexual and reproductive health while offering learners a stimulating online learning environment that enhanced continuous learning.

So yes, digitization of learning and development definitely had a positive impact in my education and work. But not everyone is that fortunate. Many of my learners in developing countries for instance: their computers don’t meet the technical requirements for state-or-the-art online courses or they lack bandwidth. In  industrialized countries a increasing proportion of children has serious back problem because of excessive use of games, tables and smartphones that are increasingly used for teaching in schools. On a personal level I find I can be so occupied with online communication that I neglect my partner and friends in real life – something Sirley Turtle discusses at length in her TED talk ‘Connected, but alone?’.

Of course it’s not technology that’s to blame for  inequality in  digital access and knowledge, back pain, and the deterioration of real-life communication: what’s at fault is the way we relate to technology. And that’s all but a black-and-white matter. The videos I mentioned show the limitations of a dichotomizing view on our future with tech: New Media could not have been created without the advances in technology and A day made of glass is stuffed with 1950s-style gender stereotypes. We need cautious technical and digital progress: making sure all who want can join the developments, and reflecting on what is lost during the time we spend online.

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About MOOC Completion Rates: The Importance of Student Investment

The high dropout rates of online courses receive a lot of attention. But how big of a deal is it really? Excellent article by Tucker Balch based on data from the 2013 MOOC on Computationel Investing.

the augmented trader

I just finished teaching a Massive Online Open Class (MOOC) titled “Computational Investing, Part I” via coursera.org. 53,000 people “enrolled,” which is to say they clicked a “sign up” button. How many finished?

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Working (out) in Ethiopia

“No problem!” My Ethiopian colleague smiled encouragingly. He had just welcomed me to the medical centre of Gondar University, in the north of Ethiopia, where I was to give a training. Then he showed me the computer room I was expected to use. I looked at the dodgy PCs and felt slightly concerned. The training’s e-learning tools were developed in the UK with the best intentions but not quite the same system requirements as in Africa. “What if we get a blackout?” I asked him. “We have a generator,” my colleague replied. “No problem!”

I work for the Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research, a non-profit organization focusing on sexual and reproductive health. My colleagues and I provide health professionals in developing countries with trainings and help them conduct and publish their research. We often work together with other organizations and institutions. In Ethiopia, I represented my NGO as well as Oxford University. I was expected to gather health professionals, facilitate a digital training on a certain complication of pregnancy and reward the participants with a certificate.

There proved to be a few challenges. More people showed up than had inscribed for the trainings so there were not enough PCs available. Internet slowed down or halted completely. Plan B was to hand out CDs with the course material. But many computers lacked the software required for the training’s complicated graphs. Or the CD was not compatible with the brand-new Macintosh computers that had been donated by a well-wisher. Or passwords to allow updates were missing. Wireless keyboards and mice that didn’t match proved another problem. During my visit to Ethiopia, I became accustomed to running around in hot, stuffy computer rooms, explaining the course here, pointing out the proper side of a CD there and updating software everywhere. As soon as I had everything up and running, a blackout would mess things up. And generators never worked.

After the last training I sank to the floor. My Ethiopian colleague stooped over me. “That went really well,” he said casually. I nodded, panting and wiping the sweat of my brow. He shook his head. “Crazy Dutch girl.”

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