Mobile for Learning & Skills Development
By Jessica Lomelin, Every1Mobile
Article first posted on Business Fights Poverty
In the first of our blog series, we spoke about the fundamental benefits and impact of mobile in development. Mobile – in terms of social impact – is key to facilitating 3 essential elements: communication, action and measurement.
In this article, we go more in-depth; focusing on how mobile is a catalyst for learning and skills development. Irrespective of the focus area – health, education, livelihoods – mobile can serve as a contributor and enabler to enhanced learning, both within an individual or community context.
In order to bypass the digital divide – and overcome obstacles faced in African environments (teacher absenteeism; lack of materials and books; limited energy supply) – mobile will be an increasingly essential, if not a fundamental tool through which education is delivered in Africa.
Considering the existing ‘youth bulge’ in Africa, access to education and learning is likely to have the biggest impact within the continent. According to Ambient Insight, Africa has the highest mobile learning growth rate in the world, with a 5-time anticipated growth rate, reaching nearly $530 million by 2017.
Similarly, GSMA and McKinsey’s ‘Transforming learning through mEducation’ report found that ‘education app downloads (both free and paid) have grown faster than the overall market in the last 3 years, coming in at number 3 in most frequently free downloaded apps (behind news and travel)’.
As a whole, mobile for education and skills development surpasses barriers of time, scale and delivery. It enables partnerships with schooling institutions and tried-and-tested educational models to deliver free-to-low cost educational content and access to resources and experts within a particular field.
Every1Mobile’s approach to mobile learning
Irrespective of the development topic – information sharing and knowledge transfer is at the heart of what we do. On a daily basis, Every1Mobile (E1M) interacts with 1.2 million young Africans to discuss and engage around 3 critical, yet broad issues: health, education and livelihoods. Education is the vein through all three.
We deliver engagement and education through innovative mechanisms such as: information resources, light touch, user-generated content, peer-to-peer learning and through access to experts, among others.
The distribution and accessibility of content is the leading goal in how our communities run and are managed. However, essential to that goal is ensuring that all of our content helps to create a strong and positive user experience.
Even more, focusing on a continent that that has a smart phone penetration rate at just 12% means that the content, resources and engagement mechanisms must also be formatted to suit lower-end, basic feature phones. For some, feature phones – reliant on rich-text and low imagery interfaces – may be a challenge for connecting to users, but we have found that our methods below are fundamental tools to distribute content and resources in an engaging and compelling way.
At the most basic level, young people will have the opportunity to access and interact with educational content to reinforce positive life choices. For example, the content on our mobile communities – BeSmart and SmartSex –provides distinct educational value through engagement tools like polls and surveys, as well as the more traditional form of manuals and learning activities, while our popular community D-Siders aims to subliminally reinforce general literacy and positive life choices through an interactive, mobile text-based soap opera.
BeSmart is an example of how we incorporate particular forms of light touch activity into our portals. More specifically, BeSmart is a ‘mobile companion’ focused on self-paced learning, building self-esteem, resilience and critical thinking. Spanning a broad range of topics – from numeracy and life skills to health and entrepreneurship – BeSmart uses fun and digestible daily facts, quizzes, forums and competitions to encourage users to keep learning.
User generated content & peer-to-peer learning
Every1Mobile builds enabling environments for young people by ensuring that our virtual communities are managed by young people just like them: the mobile sites are continuously shaped by an on-going dialogue between users and their online community managers. Central to this philosophy is providing the users themselves with a platform through which they can be supported, heard, challenged and celebrated. E1M invites users daily to submit poems, stories and experiences related to curated learning topics on the sites. On average 150 poems are received and published each day – testament to the value young people place on self-expression.
Our virtual peer-to-peer forums have been some of the most successful mobile tools as they ensure anonymity and privacy, creating safe spaces conducive to shared support, learning, changing attitudes…and fun! For example, our smartSex community hosted over 3,000 direct peer2peer support exchanges on our Girl2Girl ‘girl-only’ zone in its first month alone.
In our experience, we have found that the wide and free availability of content and educational material is only the first step to enhancing skills and learning; providing content that is creative and delivered in a fun and compelling format (most importantly for low-end devices) will help spur engagement, loyalty and most importantly, valuable learning amongst users.
Access to Experts
Similarly, we have found that access to mentors and experts has also yielded positive responses. Since January 2013, users have asked our experts over 290,000 questions on critical topics like business and science.
Similarly, over half a million (500,000) questions have been asked and prompted by our users on topics related to sex and relationships.
The latter statistic is vital and indicative of a few key factors:
Firstly, it helps us to monitor conversations and facilitate open dialogue around a key topic (sex) that is normally taboo and shunned in many communities in Africa.
Secondly, we are able to gather data and gain a true understanding of users’ knowledge and awareness of said topics, enabling our experts and mentors to intervene, facilitate open and shared conversations and dispel any myths.
Measuring knowledge transfer
Mobile – in a timely and at-scale manner – has the ability to conduct surveys to get a baseline understanding of current topics, use the information to help execute awareness campaigns, and then measure the impact.
For example, Every1Mobile conducted a baseline analysis of our users’ understanding of the human papillomavirus (HPV) and their behaviours toward it. Based on our preliminary findings, we ran a 3-week HPV awareness campaign leveraging our engagement capabilities through editorial content, quizzes and open forums. Following this, a post-assessment survey captured knowledge and measured attitudinal shifts and impact. The survey was a tremendous success, showcasing a 40% increase in awareness of the virus.
Community: first and foremost
Mobile has the unique ability to offer users a sense of community and a relationship. Whether it’s through interaction with a mentor or open-group discussions amongst peers, mobile communities mirror the same critical dynamics that an individual would find in-person within a classroom. Even more, mobile is able to surpass the boundaries of limited infrastructure, personnel and skills to ensure that every youth – despite location, age, and knowledge level – is able to access various forms of educational content and material, right at their finger tips.
 Ambient Insight: http://www.ambientinsight.com/Resources/Documents/AmbientInsight-20…
 GSMA & McKinsey: http://www.gsma.com/connectedliving/gsma-and-mckinsey-transforming-…
 Informa WCIS +, found in: http://www.telecoms.com/209421/africa-gets-smart-continent-prepares…