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.

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