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70,000 years ago we were getting something right in relation to learning and responding to circumstances and left Africa.

We have been learning in communities ever since.

Perhaps population pressures or stability permitted reading and our inexorable desire to innovate led to the printing press and more since besides. Meanwhile populations and civilizations grew and society required or permitted the development of formal learning.

For me all the learning theories are observations of human behaviour as individuals or in groups.

Open learning is if anything taking us back to learning on the fly, in more vibrant less formal communities online. A response to the necessity of educating 7 billion and solving many of the human created problems on this dot in space called Earth.

I rather think the theories come AFTER the event to philosophise over what is taking place – in a commercial and entrepreneurial world you get on with it.

Take virtual worlds – they are commercial gaming and entertainment environments which educators would like to use and as they use them explain, position and justify.

  • All I want to know is, does it work?
  • Is it affordable?
  • Is it scaleable?
  • Is it going anywhere?
  • If not ditch it snd try something else.



Could Africa take the lead in learner-centred pedagogies using SmartPhones?

Looking at the development of e-learning in developing countries it is not surprising to find issues regarding traditional, conservative approaches to teaching and technological/cost issues regarding the introduction of ICT based learning. Having looked at examples from around the world, in Europe (Denmark, France, UK), Africa (Malawi), the Middle-east (Kuwait) and beyond (Nepal, Bhutan) I ask myself why isn’t the middle ground being considered.

I’ve not read anywhere a call for BOTH systems, to mix and match traditional teacher-centred, top-down learning with, the l ‘must haves’ from a state/society point of view with the learner-centric learning that engenders greater buy in. Nor do I see enough about the different psychological maturity of students as they come up through secondary and tertiary education. Surely it is a case of ‘freeing up’ the choice for ‘learner-centred’ learning as the individual matures? What is more, it is clear, certainly in Africa, that the adoption of the mobile phone has leap-frogged over wiring in networks and desktops. However, teaching in text is not the same as a 3G SmartPhone, though potentially even e-reader functionality with Open Educational Resources would overcome many of the most significant, current problems.

In brief, I’ve looked at Bhutan and Nepal in comparison to the enlightening and encouraging successes in Malawi.


The Royal University of Bhutan has been established for 2 years. In some respect it is like the University of the Highlands in the UK, but students have to relocate so that they can study their chosen subject as they have no online technology beyond email exchange.

The issues in relation to introducing new teaching methods and technology include:

• sceptical of distance learning
• not used to the Western values of :
• +curiosity
• +rationality
• +creative approaches to learning.

The response to this should be to:

• Experiment with web-based solutions and wireless Internet.
• Nurture progressive and open education within the limits of the technology.


95% students attend Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu which has been established for 50 years. 89% of the population lives in villages with only 2% attending higher education.

Like Bhutan teaching methods are conservative with memorisation and exams. (Instructivist) and they:

• Can’t see worth of the degree.
• Scepticism
• Poor internet.

The response to this has been to:

Experimenting with video links and wireless Internet.

In contrast, in Africa, the University of Malawi has tackled the inherent problems of geography, demand, traditional teaching methods and poor resourcing with a willingness to try new things, championed by the Vice Principal (even if some of the rest of the senior management are negative). The result has seen a successfully adaption of more learner-centred approaches to teaching mid-wifery and agriculture, with more use of CDRom than unreliable internet and digitised Open Educational Resources to overcome copyright issues and handling/storing/lending textbooks.

The University of Malawi UNIMA was established on independence in (1964). It has four colleges and a polytechnic. Demand for places has grown whilst access to physical and human resources is fixed for example, in 2009, 5,600 sat the exam for 1,152 places,


• A quota for spatial diversity (and its legal validity/value)
• Inadequate supply of copyrighted textbook leading to demand on reserve section of libraries and old books being rebound many times


• Use of Open Education Resources
(OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or released under a copyright licence that permits their use and or re-purposing by others).

‘To include full courses, course readings, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials or techniques used to support access to knowledge’. (The Use of Open Education Resources at the University of Malawi (UNIMA)p2

• train staff so they can exploit e-learning strategies
• overcome problems related to large class size
• provide students access to affordable, quality learning resources. (ibid p2)


Develop a course that would move students away from having a purely theoretical knowledge to being able to apply their skills and knowledge clinically.

• Aim for one third theory and two thirds practical skills
• Incorporate a problem-based learning (PBL) approach.


• Support to teach in a different way.
• Minimised any dependency on connectivity by using CDROMs


‘The final product included an orientation section, which introduced the PBL methodology and spelled out how student involvement was different from traditional learning methods’. (ibid p6)


Piloted in February 2010, the midwifery learning environment generated a high level of interest among students.

Uptake in using the materials was slow as staff and students had to adapt to a different methodology of teaching and learning. However, a second piloting of the course occurred between June and August 2010 with a group of midwifery diploma students.

‘Integrating the PBL methodology might take some time, but there is growing consensus at KCN that using OER is a cost-effective way of creating high quality teaching and learning materials’. (ibid p6)

However, problems with Internet connectivity often made access difficult. (ibid p7)


• A series of writing workshops facilitated by OER Africa/IADP assisted
• BCA staff to source, analyse, and adapt a variety of existing
• OER to help craft the textbook.

Products and Outcomes

While it initially proved difficult to wean the writing team off their familiar copyrighted texts, the BCA team felt afterwards that there is a role for OER in the production of university texts.


• Time to search for and developed OER
• Bandwidth at the college inadequate
• Lack of senior management buy in
• Lack of funding


• Champion for ICT in Dr Emmanuel Fabiano
• Willingness to experiment and build on lessons learned
• Project funders OSISA, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Ford Foundation.


The Use of Open Education Resources at the University of Malawi (UNIMA) 2009
Author/researcher: Andrew Moore & Donna Preston. Editor: Neil Butcher & Lindsay Barnes

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