by Wachira Kigotho
The Association of African Universities has launched an initiative with a private partner to provide universities, academics and students on the continent with access to a low-data online learning management system that could provide support amid the ongoing migration, due to COVID-19, to a blended and online learning environment.
The Association of African Universities (AAU), in collaboration with eLearnAfrica, has launched a learning management system that has been specifically designed to serve universities on the continent by making remote learning tools available to academics and students.
The platform, AAU-eLearnAfricaLMS, was launched on 7 July, during the AAUs’ 15th quadrennial general conference themed ‘The Future of African Higher Education’.
This comes at a time when higher education leaders and academics have highlighted significant challenges related to online learning in the face of COVID-19.
During the conference, which started on 5 July, presenters have highlighted poor digital infrastructure, a lack of affordable internet access and data and devices as well as the capacity of both students and faculty to optimally function in the online environment.
Against this backdrop, higher education leaders have also called on governments to display political will to address some of these concerns. Failing that, they could be complicit in the devastating consequence that a lack of investment in higher education could have on Africa’s development.
Nodumo Dhlamini, the director of information communications technology services and knowledge management at the AAU, said the new platform will give African universities more options.
According to Dhlamini, the AAU hopes the partnership will give non-traditional students flexible learning opportunities and give disadvantaged communities access to higher education.
She explained that the new partnership will allow universities to expand their course offerings and even grow class sizes without the physical presence of students.
“Courses are user-friendly and available in mobile format, to accommodate people who do not have computer access,” said Dhlamini.
According to Esther Karimi Malia, the learning management systems implementation leader at eLearnAfrica, the new platform will provide African universities with free web-based solutions that will enable them to incorporate blended and online learning into their academic programmes.
She said during the launching ceremony that, by working with African universities, the aim was to serve African students and societies on the continent.
The company eLearnAfrica, an online education platform, focuses on expanding access to educational and professional development opportunities. It has been partnering with universities to digitalise programmes and make them available on the platform.
Student-centred and low data
Malia said the idea of setting up the system is meant to revolutionise traditional educational delivery models by providing access to distance-learning resources that would increase the market value of university graduates by providing quality education through world-class learning technologies.
The platform is student-friendly, with easy course access but, even more important, Malia explained, is the fact that it has been highly optimised for low-data ecosystems.
“Students can download courses and work on them at their own pace,” she said.
Students can also get access to different universities in their regions, as well as all over the continent. Malia told University World News that students, through the system, can get in touch with leading professors and other academic experts across the continent.
The online courses are designed to give students some of the practical skills they need. They are supported from the time they register on the system, at a cost of US$10 per year, until they graduate, and students are encouraged to choose the courses that best suit their academic vision and passion.
What this means is that, through the AAU-eLearnAfricaLMS, students can learn at home and when it is convenient for them. The learning management system offers several degrees from fully accredited online universities. It could also offer support to students who are already enrolled at a university.
Free for universities and faculty
According to Brook Negussie, the chief executive officer of eLearnAfrica, the main objective of his company’s partnership with the AAU is to increase access to university education in Africa.
“Financing the design, development and deployment of online degrees is essential to meet the demands of our African universities,” said Negussie.
Towards this goal, eLearnAfrica is expected to work closely with university academic staff and administrators in Africa in terms of increasing degrees and professional courses that will be on offer.
The system will be free for the universities and academic staff. Lecturers and professors will be able to upload personalised course content that will not expire.
According to Malia, the platform has an inbuilt student-tracking feature that will monitor progress of work, while assessment reports can be sent to the central result processing unit of each university.
Academic staff will be able to send messages to co-hosts, as well as being able to engage students in question and answer sessions, while an online library will be available at all times.
The partnership has also established an incentive programme whereby a university will be paid one dollar for every student registered with the AAU-eLearnAfricaLMS.
The virtual classroom of the learning management system is based on an easy to understand remote learning environment.
Malia told University World News that the virtual classroom has the capacity to display videos, documents and slides, while multi-format quizzes and exams could be marked and graded automatically. Class discussion forums and seminar chats could also be enabled.
Some other integrated functionalities on the platform include guidelines on how to design and to create courses, as well as an instructor dashboard that will help lecturers to manage and modify courses.