Building the future in tertiary education.

Nigeria as a Case Study.

This week on Series V, we explore some factors that should be considered as entrepreneurs seek to build edtech companies that will bridge the gaps in Africa’s tertiary education space. Please forward to a friend and share on your social media. We love to get feedback and suggestions, you can send them here.


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Media reports in Nigeria have recently shocked most with the news that 1.8 million candidates who registered for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) jostled for about 850,000 admission slots in Nigeria’s university system.

With the population of Nigeria forecasted to exceed 400 million by 2050 (from about 180 Million today), it is quite clear that we cannot build enough lecture halls nor dormitories to prepare Nigeria’s workforce for the future. In thinking about solutions, we reckon that technology enabled — Open and Distance Learning should feature prominently in Nigeria’s education mix. Leveraging technology presents an opportunity to expand borders, scale reach, improve quality and maintain standards.

To build this future and capture value from their effort — Edtech entrepreneurs and the various stakeholders they collaborate with should consider the following;

1. Design with the local environment in mind. When designing our technology systems we must take a radically user-centered design approach. We must of necessity consider the peculiarities of the local environment where these users exist. How do the intended users currently access content? What technology interface do they utilise? What is the impact of power outages on how they interact with ICT? What is their income level and what impact does this have on how they use ICT? One of the biggest insights that will immediately jump at you from this exercise for instance is the need to compress content to the barest minimum size without losing quality or perhaps chunk the size of video lectures.

2. Provide multi-channel learner support. It is essential to provide a duplicity of easy to use and easy to reach support channels. Your users are going to need it. From experience, these channels should include; social media support, email, toll free lines and on platform chat. It is also usually best that access to these support channels are themselves embedded within the learning environment.

3. Don’t ignore the lecturers. While an increasing number of the learners are digital natives, the facilitators or teachers are mostly digital migrants. Do not ignore them! To ensure adoption, provide maximum support and create a user-friendly interface that is easy for them to comprehend. It is also critical to ensure incentives and rewards are properly aligned and this most times will require deep institutional changes.

4. Incorporate Quality Assurance Process in design. One of the paradoxes of ODL is that the goal remains to provide learning online or remotely without compromising on quality. It is therefore essential that the systems we build and implement have non-burdensome mechanisms for monitoring, assessing and evaluating quality on an ongoing basis.

5. People, process and policy over technology. Often times we obsess over the shiny new technology, but the reality is that people, process and policy trump technology every time. It is critical that we build our technology interventions around; defined and accepted processes; optimised people behaviours and journey maps; and enabling policy frameworks. During your system requirements gathering phase, the needs of the users should determine the structure of your system and not the other way around.

6. Focus on the use cases for all ODL stakeholders. In building your technology ODL system you will benefit significantly from obsessing on what users would actually do with the system. Users here include; the students, the university, the lecturers and the regulator. In thinking about this, we like to utilise the “Jobs-To-Be-Done” model developed by Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen in 2007. Professor Clayton argues that “Most companies segment their markets by customer demographics or product characteristics and differentiate their offerings by adding features and functions. But the consumer has a different view of the marketplace. He simply has a job to be done and is seeking to ‘hire’ the best product or service to do it.” By anticipating the jobs our several stakeholders actually want to get done with their ODL experience, we are better positioned to design the appropriate ICT interventions.

7. Avoid over featuring on the platforms. Do not create a complex system. Make it simple, make it easy, make it plain. Avoid too many modules; too many buttons; too many pages! Focus on only relevant modules that satisfy the immediate need of the user and iterate as you go. As the saying goes “A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work.”

8. Build for scale. Considering the pent up demand and rapidly increasing population, give room for expansion.

9. Encourage investment in ODL — ICT by promoting contractual sanctity.To encourage more venture capital or private sector investment in ODL we must of a necessity ensure we protect the integrity of contractual agreements and avoid personalisation of agreements based on the administrative tenure of university systems. Investing in technology enabled ODL is a long term endeavour and we must encourage investment in the space not discourage it.

Again, remember that by 2050, Nigeria’s population is forecasted to exceed 400 million — that is double our current population. We simply cannot build enough hostels or classroom halls to educate all our youths.

See you next week,

V.


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