Edit note: Please note that I have just discovered that my carefully recorded voiceovers in the PowerPoint presentation below don't work in SlideShare. If anyone has a suggestion as to how to fix this (since my slides are meaningless without audio), please let me know!
By contrast with ICWE's annual Online Educa in Berlin, eLearning Africa focused predominantly on formal, institutional learning. Corporate learning didn't occupy a lot of space either on the programme or within the venue. Our session was scheduled for what f2f trainers call the graveyard shift (straight after lunch) on the first day, and we did have a few dozers, it has to be said.
The first speaker was Mads Bo-Kristensen from Videnscenter for Integration in Denmark. He spoke about tools in use in Denmark to assist immigrants in gaining proficiency in 'business Danish' to enable them to communicate within the workplace. I can see enormous potential for a tool like this within Africa. It is a hugely multilingual continent. Every country boasts innumerable 'local languages' and speakers of all these languages must work together within large organisations. Quite apart from this, aid workers coming to the continent could fare much better with skills in these local languages.
Next up was Mehdi Tounsi from Gatlin International in France. Mehdi is Algerian and we found immediate synergy in the fact that we hail from African countries that often do not refer to themselves as such... and in the fact that we both consider ourselves African in spite of this. Mehdi spoke about a sustainable and affordable business model for e-enabled learning in Africa.
To my surprise, the challenge to both their presentations came from the young, outspoken delegates who have been educated abroad. One of these told us that Africa is not ready for elearning because the generation currently holding teaching posts had not learned to use computers at school. Another told us that Africa was not culturally suited to elearning. I promised to address both these points in my own presentation. I have recorded more or less the same words over the slides (I didn't really use notes... as usual), so here it is:
During the question and answer session that followed, one of the young bucks was arguing a point about learning, when I realised that he was referring to an academic situation. I tried to explain that I was talking about workplace learning. Learning on the job. The young man knitted his brows and looked at me blankly. And he was not the only one. If it isn't an academic course of study with an accreditation at the end of it, it fell outside of the frame of reference for many of the people present, even though I had so carefully crafted my story about Abi and his workplace learning needs.
The other started up again about his contention that older people in Africa had not encountered computers in school, so I pointed out that I was an older person, educated in Africa without computers... and yet I did this stuff for a living. I was a bit irked that he was prepared to write off his entire continent as beyond e-redemption based on this flimsy fact and it must have showed, because the chairman had to pull me up.
I maintain that social learning absolutely fits with African culture, but like the rest of the world, Africa has to break faith with the idea of the instructor/teacher/whatever as sage on the stage. One teacher in a pre-conference workshop emphasised the social structure of the classroom dynamic and spoke of the need to retain it. This is not unfamiliar territory to those of us who have been championing the social learning cause for a while, but these traditions run perhaps a little deeper in Africa than elsewhere.
One young man informed us in our corporate learning session that we must walk before we can run. I was disappointed. I had hoped that my anecdotes of TV and passenger flights had demonstrated that this was not a requirement.
Who knows? Next year perhaps the ethos will be subtly different.
It is worth noting that there were several delegates on Twitter and Facebook throughout the conference, using these tools with the easy confidence of seasoned social media pundits.