Wednesday, 17 February 2016

When E-learning is Not Like a Duck to Water

The advancements of information and communication technologies have enhanced teaching and learning practices across the globe including Africa. Through the African Universities' Research Approaches (AURA) programme, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS) is also now using these technologies to deliver its teaching and research intervention training programmes to faculty members and students. However, the main question remains whether MUHAS researchers and students are prepared to fully embrace these technologies to enhance their teaching and learning and research practices amidst the multiple challenges they face?

Research One (R1) Learning Intervention

Through the AURA programme from September to October 2015, MUHAS rolled out AURA's Research One (R1) learning intervention.  This involved a pre-online session, a face to face session and a post-online session.  Research One (R1) was followed by an online regional event on the “Future of research in the 21st Century” organized from 2-4th November 2015.  

A high participant attrition rate was observed during the online training sessions mainly because participants were instructed to join the training individually in their offices. Most participants did not know how to use the e-learning platform due to lack of skills and also due to their mind-set towards online e-learning systems.

This observation may not be so surprising as many African universities, including MUHAS, face a number of challenges related to use of e-learning platforms including: frequent power outages,  the lack of the online learning culture, the mind-set of teacher-centred  (versus student-centred) on the part of many of the senior faculty, as well as lack of ICT skills, unreliable internet services and many other challenges. 

The low level of attendance of participants to the online training sessions at MUHAS calls for a need to build the capacity of faculty members and to cultivate a culture of online learning  within our institutions. However, as short term measure, this experience forced the MUHAS project coordinators and ALIRT teams to find a temporary solution to avert this situation. This short term measure included facilitating the online learning sessions collectively in a single room until participants were comfortable with attending online training individually in their offices.  

This solution however had cost implications in that MUHAS would need to have some equipment to conduct online learning to researchers collectively - headphones with speakers for each participant, - in order for them to fully participate in the AURA programme online activities.


The key lesson learnt from this experience is that before one adopts new technologies and strategies,   you will need to prepare and assess end users in terms of  their  competence or attitudes. Mitigate these deficiencies early on to ensure achievement of project objectives.

Dr. Doreen Mloka is a Medical Microbiologist/Molecular biologist. She is a Medical Education Fellow and the Director of Continuing Education and Professional Development at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS), Tanzania and co-coordinates the African Universities' Research Approaches (AURA) programme at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS).

Professor Lwoga holds a PhD in information studies from the University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. She teaches and supervises both undergraduate and postgraduate students. She has facilitated a number of workshops and short courses.  She has published widely and has presented over 30 research papers in both international and local conferences.  Professor Lwoga currently co-coordinates the African Universities' Research Approaches (AURA) programme at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS), Tanzania, together with an additional four projects working with international partners in Sweden, South Africa and USA.

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