Tag Archives: pearson

What Business can teach Development

For twelve years I was a practitioner and researcher in the fields of ICT for development, education, government and digital media, always developing tech solutions for social good. Then, in 2014 I left the non-profit world of international organisations and moved to a corporate when I joined Pearson South Africa’s Innovation Lab.

I made the move purposefully: to learn and to develop a business perspective on education technology, to see it from the “other side.” I always intended to take insights back to the non-profit sector one day, since for-profit and non-profit have much to teach each other, to make each more effective and efficient. I have now returned to UNESCO and so it’s time to reflect on the question: what did I learn in the years at Pearson? What can Business teach Development?

I learned many new things, and was reminded of many known truths (like implementing a tablet program for 8,000 students across 13 nationwide campuses is a deeply complex exercise). But I think my clearest lesson was the value in following an agile product development approach.

During the time I was at Pearson the company started to adopt — across the globe — something it calls a Product Lifecycle (PLC) approach. The PLC consists of six stages: idea (developing the initial concept), explore (researching the need for the product or service), validate (confirming the assumptions and proposed solution are valid), grow (launching the solution and growing revenues, reach and learner outcomes), sustain (maintaining revenues, reach and learner outcomes, and achieving operating efficiencies), and retire (closing down or divesting).

Each stage in this framework has activities and gates, which need to be validated before commencement (or not) to the next stage, as decided by a product council that meets regularly. A product development approach is not new in the development sector. But is it applied at the implementation and funding level? And is it done in an agile way, with a common set of actions, triggers and validation points? Doing this is very effective at (i) quickly weeding out bad ideas and validating good ones, (ii) showing how good ideas may need to pivot, and (iii) being honest about when to kill off projects that have reached their end.

In the development sector at least the first three stages (idea, explore and validate), if not first four (including grow), are bundled into a well-planned pilot – one stage, essentially. This is a bad idea as it isn’t lean enough, doesn’t encourage “fail fast, fail often” in the words of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. The whole solution is built and rolled out before asking key questions like: does anyone actually want (not need) this service? Will they pay for it – financially or with their time? What are the real pain points of the group we’re serving? In other words, we don’t know at the end if there is a neat product-market fit, because the product hasn’t been developed iteratively with the market.

Development should break down these activities into distinct stages. Each stage is essentially a mini-pilot. Funders should demand the same, but key for them is to offer funding agreements that allow for flexibility and the ability to adapt and learn from the different stage activities. So, there is the potential for full funding of the project, but key gates must be opened along the way. In this model donors fund stages, but commit to fund more based on results.

But surely, you may be thinking, it’s precisely because donors only fund short-term pilots that much development effort suffers from pilot-itis. The problem isn’t that donors fund pilots, it’s that they fund ones that don’t add value. If they follow a more agile approach, there’ll be more early stage pilots and fewer, more successful and sustainable, bigger ones.

When a well-intentioned non-profit organisation proposes a two-year project with neat predicted outcomes, it is essentially saying to funders: we need two years to show you this works before we scale it to the whole world. This is madness. We need proposals – and calls for proposals – that are more agile so that both implementer and funder are open to new trajectories being forged in the project. Even in a five-year programme, the principles of being agile should still apply. The NGO should say: we have an idea and we think it’s a solid one, but we need to explore and validate it before moving further. And if we need to adapt it, we need your support.

There are many agile or lean models, centred around the sound principles of iterative development and designing with real users. Development organisations should choose one and go agile. There are some development pioneers beginning to move in this direction. By moving towards a more agile way of operating – like Google and Facebook – we will get much more impact from preciously scarce funds.

CCTV interview: Technology as a tool to transform learning

I appeared on CCTV America along with Scott Himelstein, director of the University of San Diego’s Center for Education Policy and Law and Mobile Technology Learning Center, to discuss our vision for using technology as a tool to transform learning.

Here is the interview.

CCTV America

Harnessing ICTs for greater access to education for girls and women

Harnessing ICTs for greater access to education for girls and women is a presentation given at the GWI (Graduate Women International) Conference in Cape Town. It covers some of the educational opportunities provided by technology uptake, what Pearson is doing in this space through Project Literacy and Every Child Learning, and the key challenges that remain to realising this potential.

e-Learning: “e” is for exchange, not electronic

Africa – Continent of Opportunities: Bridging the Digital Divide was an event in Berlin hosted by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to engage with a range of development policy actors from different sectors dealing with digital technology in Africa.

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The goal of the event was, through dialogue, to inform the direction of BMZ’s Africa policy regarding bridging the digital divide. It hoped to explore new and innovative ideas for fields of action to implement effective cooperation in the area of ICT in Africa. A new strategic partnership for digital Africa was launched, with a focus on the application of ICT in key areas, including education. BMZ appealed for partners to explore how they could get involved.

The event covered ICT lessons from Rwanda, ICT infrastructure, inclusive digital education, building e-literacy and tools for knowledge transfer.

I sat in on the discussions and summarised the findings from three tables on the particular topic Digital Methods to Transfer Knowledge. In the group was the Rwandan Minister of Youth and ICT, Mr Jean Philbert Nsengimana, and also Mr Günter Nooke, the German Chancellor’s Personal Representative for Africa in the BMZ, amongst others from around the African continent and Europe.

Rwandan Minister of Youth and ICT, Mr Jean Philbert Nsengimana

Rwandan Minister of Youth and ICT, Mr Jean Philbert Nsengimana

Below are the guiding questions from our session, as well as key points raised. Guiding question 1: What are the most important tools to efficiently transfer knowledge?

  • All participants agreed the tools should not just transfer knowledge, but allow users to create it. Tools should be used to create, transfer, share and engage.
  • We did not focus on particular tools, but rather attributes of tools. These included: being mobile; flexible and adaptable to local context; low-cost (where possible); modular and extensible; and lastly “integratable” with existing platforms.

Guiding question 2: How can we optimise and develop those tools and make them available to anyone?

  • Reduce the cost of usage.
  • Raise awareness that the tools exist and what their benefits are.
  • Ensure a holistic view – not just to consider a tool but the ecosystem in which it is used. This includes training, support, pedagogy, connectivity and cost, amongst other things.

Guiding question 3: Is e-learning the formula for success making face-to-face interactions and education dispensable?

  • No! While everyone recognised the benefits of e-learning – such as enabling distance education, asynchronous and synchronous communication in peer learning networks, and the ability to scale learning beyond fixed time and space constraints – they equally valued face-to-face-based education. Overall, the concept of complementarity, where both approaches are used in the most appropriate way, was seen as the ideal education model.
  • Open and distance learning represent opportunities, but are not silver bullets.
  • Mentors, either face-to-face or virtual, were noted as being able to play a valuable supportive role for teachers/lecturers and students.

Guiding question 4: How can development cooperation contribute to building inclusive digital education?

  • Concerning inclusive education, it was noted that the focus should be on learning and not teaching. The “e” in e-learning should not stand for electronic but rather exchange. We should be exploring digital methods to enable learning,  to teach students to “learn how to learn”.
  • A concern was raised around too much “screen time” for younger learners especially. Finding a balance between digital and offline activities is key here.

Recommendations for development cooperation (and any organisation involved in e-learning really):

  • Take an ecosystem view and include partners (from government, private, civil society and academic sectors), as needed.
  • E-Learning today is not just about ebooks and tablets; those are only small parts in the “digital learning experience” that ultimately includes adaptive assessment and personalised learning, digital learning portfolios and digital administration systems. The whole is made up of many interrelated factors, such as capacity, connectivity, content, political and policy support, and sustainable funding models, all of which need to work together in concert.
  • Do not follow the hype about e-learning and mobile learning. Be informed, be realistic, set a long-term vision (such as Rwanda’s Vision 2020 set in 2000), be prepared for uneven progress across different groups and stakeholders, and most importantly, learn and adapt as you go along.
  • A model should be developed incorporating many of the above issues, including technology, implementation methodology and a business model.  Funding should be provided to pilot the model in a few countries so that it can be refined. Other countries can then adapt it as needed for their own contexts.

A “mini expo” was held where I exhibited Pearson’s X-kit Achieve Mobile and Project Literacy, as well as Yoza Cellphone Stories. Overall it was a fascinating event and a valuable opportunity for Pearson to provide input into the future strategy for a digital Africa. We look forward to continue being a part of the discussions. 027_Afrikatag2015_9205 185_Afrikatag2015_9434062_Afrikatag2015_6771

I would like to personally thank BMZ and the Goethe Institute Johannesburg for their generous support in ensuring my participation in Berlin. The Institute’s support is an expression of their continued interest in the potential of mobiles for literacy in Africa.

Images: Thomas Ecke, Copyright

Skills training and the digital transition in the publishing sector

I presented Skills Training and the Digital Transition at the Digital Technologies Summit, Pretoria, on 18 March 2015. It considers the new skills and new ways of working needed in the publishing sector in the digital era.

1:1 Educational Computing Initiatives — Lessons learned and confirmed at the Global Symposium on ICT in Education 2014

Global Symposium on ICT in Education 2014I recently had the privilege of attending the 8th Global Symposium on ICT in Education 2014, themed Transforming Education with 1:1 Computing (3-5 November, 2014, Gyeongju, Republic of Korea). All presentations are here.

I presented on 2 Case Studies at National Level: 1:1 Educational Computing Initiatives in South Africa – namely the large-scale tablet implementation at CTI and MGI higher education institutions, and the ICT4RED school tablet rollout in the rural Eastern Cape district of Cofimvaba.

28 countries were represented, sharing their experiences of planning and implementing 1:1 computing initiatives. The event was hosted by the Korean Ministry of Education and the World Bank, along with KERIS, UNESCO Bangkok and Intel. South Korea is one of the leaders in digital learning, so it was a fitting context for the conference.

A number of lessons were learned and known ones confirmed, shared below (download here).

Serious game play for learning analytics

The Department of Design, a collaboration between the Netherlands and South Africa, recently held a Serious Gaming Festival to explore how this field can impact planning, idea generation and collaboration. Marcus Vlaar,  one of the founders and Chief Creative Officer at Ranj Serious Games, gave a fascinating keynote about The Ancient Learning Method of the Future.

A veteran in the field, Marcus explained that his company has created around 400 serious games, many for corporates with the goal of developing key competencies and testing those skills in a game-based simulation context. One game has the player managing a global flu pandemic, in another the players are staff at a multinational pharmaceutical company learning about ethical and business compliance by being tested with real life dilemmas.

One of their latest projects, and I think the most interesting, takes a holistic view of a user as she works through a number of the games (each game is usually a discreet experience). By adding a meta-layer over the existing games, Dex, as the project is called, tracks usage over time and feeds user activity into an expert system that measures competence levels. By aggregating and analysing this rich data, Dex can report to the user, and her employer or educational institution, for example, how she is developing different competencies and recommend which ones she needs to focus on.

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The concept of taking a holistic view of a student as she progresses along a learning path is certainly not new. Digital learning systems allow for data to be captured and analysed in order to, over time, paint a picture of a learner where progress is made visible and problem areas are exposed. Some educational offerings, such as the Khan Academy, are already doing this to a certain extent. Khan’s learning dashboard tracks a user as she works through the body of content and assessments.

Through intelligent tracking the lofty goal of learning analytics, that enables personalised and adaptive learning, can be achieved. While everyone knows it’s a great idea, achieving learner analytics is very difficult to get right, especially when you want to track learners across a number of different educational products and services — much like what Ranj is doing with its games. It requires building effective data systems — as Pearson is aiming to do — that can capture usage activities, share that data across different applications (easier said than done!), and analyse the data using comparable metrics. So the “critical thinking” metric in the flu pandemic game needs to be the same as the one in the pharmaceutical business compliance game. What is needed is a single view of a learner across a period of time. This is at the heart of Pearson’s efficacy goal of putting learning outcomes at the centre of all its educational offerings.

Increasingly online companies are tracking our usage paths through the Internet, e.g. Google’s single sign-on is not only for its many Google products, but also for partner organisations that require user authentication. It is essential that educational institutions also take a more holistic view. For the first time in the history of the world it is theoretically possible to track and guide a learner from kindergarden to PhD graduation, and beyond. Surely we should prioritise the building of interoperability and intelligence into all of our learning products and services. It will take years — even decades — for organisations to get this right, but whoever cracks the nut first will definitely have a key advantage and be taking learning in the right direction.