Thursday, 28 April 2016

Applying learning theories to online learning: Reflections on the T3 intervention at Jimma University, March 2016

Through the African Universities’ Research Approaches (AURA) programme, Jimma University (JU) recently offered the T3 intervention, one of a series of interventions designed to build the capacity of universities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

T3, which took place at JU from 21st to 22nd March 2016, is a practical course focusing on how learning theories can be applied to an online learning environment. The training was designed to enable instructors from the various colleges of JU to:

•     plan and organize online learning effectively on Moodle – JU’s existing platform;
•     apply pedagogical implementations to learning technologies such as Moodle;
•     assess learners using learning technologies.

Generally, T3 introduced a growing world of technology that may help to facilitate learning and teaching by making learning and teaching easier and more engaging, as well as cost-effective. Information technologies are one of a number of revolutions which are transforming lives in the 21st century and having an impact on countries like Ethiopia. Consequently, education and training needs to be reinforced with technology if we are to benefit from the opportunities offered through the digital revolution.  If the instructors at JU are committed to applying T3, then the training will impact positively on the teaching and learning process in Jimma University.

Online learning: technologies, pedagogical processes, and benefits

The mentors of T3 covered a range of technologies applicable to online learning, including Moodle, which was discussed and demonstrated extensively. According to the demonstrations and theoretical discussions on pedagogical processes, Moodle can be used to create courses for online learning with the use of various kinds of teaching methods and theories. It is possible to apply social constructive, and any other theories suitable for the course content, to online learning as well as face to face learning.  Moreover, various learning materials (such as videos, podcasts, texts, documents, portable document formats, PowerPoints etc.) can be easily embedded in the course page created in the Moodle. It is also possible to incorporate chat and discussion forums in the learning page we create in Moodle – these can also help us to apply social constructive theories (encouraging the trainees to be more independent in the learning process, to share the knowledge they have gained, and to benefit from opportunities for greater online socialization with each other around their learning). Moodle also enables us to assess the trainees online.

The task set by the training facilitators at the end of the training, (to create a technology oriented course on Moodle), and feedback after rating this, made us competent enough to translate the skills developed by the intervention into concrete action because the task was designed so that we would have to apply what we had just learnt by putting it into practice on JU’s Moodle platform.

In addition, other learning technologies (such as Google Hangouts, Google Plus, Skype for Business, Second life, Facebook, Twitter, email threads etc.) were discussed and demonstrated in terms of how these could be used for online learning by facilitators.

The T3 training was facilitated by educators from various universities in Africa and highly skilled pedagogy experts from UK. Their experience on online learning was another highlight of the T3 intervention - in addition to delivering the training, they also shared their experiences on online learning in the context of their institutions. Hearing about their experiences was an additional motivation for the trainees to use technology for learning. The facilitators also promised to continue to provide support remotely.

T3 key points of learning:

The training intervention has yielded two key changes to my ways of teaching and learning:

1.    First, I had not believed that you could use social constructive theory for teaching online as online learning has little space for interaction between the educator and trainees – or so I perceived before T3. After the training, I could see that interaction between the educator and the trainees online is definitely possible. Therefore, I learned that we can make online teaching and learning interactive and share our knowledge among trainees online as well as offline. According to the new skills I have gained, the educator not only transfers knowledge but also learns from the learners too because, when online learning is created with the application of social constructive theory, the learners are encouraged to be more independent in the learning process and to share what they have acquired with both their fellow learners and also with the educator.

2.    Second, what I learnt from T3 is that pedagogy matters more than technology in online learning. Before we start designing online learning we have to select appropriate pedagogical theories to deliver the course effectively. Then, we can develop an appropriate online learning page. “Pedagogy before technology” was the interesting motto of our mentor – to remind us what is important.

Now capacitated by T1 (the precursor to T3 – T1 focused more on the pedagogical theories and T3 on applying these to online learning), T3 and the remote assistance of our mentors, I am getting ready to revolutionize my way of teaching and learning in a way which benefits both the trainees and the institution I am working for. Furthermore, some of the departments in our college have also created opportunities to apply T3 so there is more to come from Jimma University.

Melaku Haile Likka, Department of Health Economics, Management and Policy at the College of Health Sciences, Jimma University in Ethiopia.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

The E-learning Landscape of Jimma University

Ethiopia is going through rapid economic development at a time when technological changes are influencing many aspects of human life, including higher education institutions. This context of rapid technological change in the world, and economic development in Ethiopia, means higher education institutions in this country need to carefully examine their educational practices with a technological lens. This context of rapid technological change is compounded by other challenges, such as the ever increasing population of learners from a variety of backgrounds, with diverse needs, motivations, abilities, and learning preferences, who are coming forward now and are eager to participate in a 21st century education. There is, as a result, an increasing demand for more responsive and flexible courses, and the drive to use information communication technology (ICT) in teaching is becoming a necessity for our universities – many of them ill equipped to respond to this demand and drive.

Cognizant of the importance of technology in improving educational quality and access, many universities in developed and developing countries have been trying to implement e-learning.  Likewise, Jimma University (JU) has been trying to implement e-learning for about ten years. In spite of the huge investment made by the university on expanding ICT infrastructures, we have yet to see real progress in the university as to the use of technology in teaching and learning.

Four years ago a few staff members took training on e-learning but no one has yet started using the e-learning Moodle infrastructure of JU. Just a few interested staff members are currently applying e-learning in the university. The majority of those staff members who took the e-learning training have since left the university due to a variety of reasons. Efforts made in this regard are clearly not satisfactory... The university has offered training to academic staff members, developed the e-learning Moodle and put in place some institutional arrangements for the introduction and implementation of e-learning. However, the re-organization of contents and change on mode of delivery of courses during the modularization process seems to be one of the major factors that has led the university management not to push the colleges to move further forward in this regard.

Other major limitations with regard to the sustained implementation of e-learning in Jimma University include the following:
  • Poor follow up and support from the university’s leadership (department, college and corporate level);
  • An absence of incentive mechanisms for academic staff members who are champions of e-learning;
  • An absence of awareness raising and capacity building trainings; and
  • The malfunctioning of e-learning offices.
Major challenges to the sustained implementation of e-learning in Jimma University include the following:
  • Interruption of electricity and internet connections;
  • intolerable student-computer ratio;
  • deficiencies in e-learning knowledge and skill on the part of teachers and students;
  • centralization of ICT related privileges; and
  • a confusing structure of e-learning at the university level.
Based on these findings, the university has been developing an e-learning strategy for the coming three years. There is strong belief that the university will get invaluable inputs from the African Universities Research Approaches (AURA) partnership universities to help us with this challenging situation. We hope that the AURA partner institutions will share their experiences around what they have done and are doing in their respective institutions to develop technology- enhanced teaching and learning. This will strengthen blended distance learning programs like JU’s Health Economics Masters program.


Pirani, Judith A. 2004. Supporting E-Learning in Higher Education Roadmap, July 2004. EDUCASE Center for Applied Research. Retrieved 19th April

Shimels Challa is the ICT Development Team Leader at Jimma University, Ethiopia.

Bekalu Ferede is the E-learning Coordinator at Jimma University, Ethiopia.

Elias Ali Yesuf 
is based in the Department of Health Economics, Management, and Policy at Jimma University, Ethiopia.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Fostering Competencies in Research through Project-based Learning

R2 Highpoints
Photo: Emma Greengrass/IDS.
The Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS), through the AURA programme, recently conducted the Research 2 (R2) workshop focusing on strengthening the capacity of conducting research among MUHAS academic staff. The R2 workshop was conducted over a six week period from February to March 2016. It adopted project based learning approaches and blended learning approaches which included pre-online, face to face, and post-online learning activities. The teaching modality was participatory, and focused on independent learning, learning from instructors, and peer to peer learning and assessment. Some of the topics were completely new to participants (i.e. social network analysis, mixed methods) while other topics were familiar to faculty, such as topics on comparative and surveys research designs. Given their medical science backgrounds, MUHAS faculty members were not aware of some of the social research methods offered and were able to learn and appreciate these through R2.  They also learnt and appreciated the application of qualitative research approaches, and how they can combine both qualitative and quantitative research approaches in their practice.

Participants were also able to refine their individual research methodology, and gained practical knowledge on how to apply mixed research methods, especially sequential mixed methods. This kind of training was very important and also timely given the fact that MUHAS is currently implementing competency based curricular. Furthermore, participants were able to develop a group proposal, which was multidisciplinary in nature, to compete for funding. Through the group work, participants appreciated the fact that they were able to learn from their colleagues and to share what they knew regarding the topic they were working on. Participants were also able to expand their network of researchers to work with, through the task that of writing proposals as a multidisciplinary group.

In conclusion, the R2 workshop enabled participants to acquire useful skills on how to develop competitive proposals for grant application, various study designs, and to learn the advantages of working in multidisciplinary research groups. Participants also appreciated the teaching methodology and it is expected that they will adopt this modality into their teaching, especially the use of project based learning.

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. She currently coordinates two medical education projects and several microbiology projects.