March 9, 2014 10:59 pm

Mobile learning revolution helps empower Africa

Guy Pfeffermann

Pioneers’ progress: Guy Pfeffermann sees education for millions

Demand for education is booming in Africa.

Its people are striving for personal growth and material improvement. What they may lack in material resources, they make up in an enormous thirst for learning, hence the exponential growth in online education.

Rebecca Stromeyer, founder of the annual eLearning Africa conference, says: “Over the past eight years, homegrown innovation and entrepreneurship have driven a boom in the sector”.

In the case of business education, this may soon lead, counter-intuitively, to Africa becoming a global leader in mobile technological innovation.

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While traditional high-cost business schools are struggling to cope with online and blended pedagogy, very soon thousands and then millions of Africans – many of them first-time learners – will be able to fit management learning into their hectic daily lives, at unprecedented low costs. How can that be?

In Africa, necessity is the mother of invention. Only three or four dozen quality business schools serve this potential market of more than a billion people.

Luckily, mobile phones have spread like wildfire and are now ubiquitous, with the fastest growth in broadband mobiles.

In 2001, about 25m people in Africa had a mobile phone subscription; by 2013, that number had ballooned to 780m. The innovation revolution that began in Kenya with mobile financial transactions is spreading across the continent. The next wave of mobile technology-enabled innovation will be mobile learning.

This has not caught on in high-income countries, where nearly everyone has access to computers and broadband. In sharp contrast, in Africa mobile learning is the only practical way to sidestep huge physical and computing infrastructure deficits, and so allow busy people to learn wherever they happen to be at incredibly low cost.

Mobile learning solutions have the potential to combine scalability, very broad geographical availability, very low unit costs, and the flexibility required to adapt to life in Africa.

To achieve their promise, mobile learning solutions will require:

• suitable technological platforms;

• mobile-friendly locally relevant content and pedagogy;

• and sound business models.

These have come together in Africa. For example, in Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, Tunji Adegbesan, a social entrepreneur who teaches strategy at Lagos Business School, is this month launching Gidimo – a mobile server for learning, entertainment and connection.

In partnership with the Pan-Atlantic University’s Enterprise Development Center, Gidimo will offer a basic management course, complete with videos of locally developed case studies, group discussions and reading materials, available on any mobile phone – smart or not – or tablet anywhere in Africa with a network signal.

They are also working with Nigeria’s Nollywood – the second largest movie industry in the world by number of films made annually – to create low-cost mobile video teaching cases. One seven-minute example shows various ways of handling dissatisfied customers.

Such “bite-sized” materials focus on the most crucial and relevant business topics for African entrepreneurs.

Gidimo’s business model also sets an innovative example. Private investors initially funded a world-class platform with very low marginal costs. Low variable costs make scaling economical.

Different courses will be offered to high-value users, such as professionals or students cramming for tests. They would be charged more, while prices for poorer users or their partners will be much lower.

Other such mobile learning initiatives are springing up. As these initiatives grow and mature, they have the potential to reach millions of youths and small business owners, women and men. Providing access to quality, practical education on that scale will be the biggest quantum jump in education since the spread of Gutenberg’s printing press five centuries ago.

As a development economist dedicated to expanding access to quality business education across the developing world, I am eager to follow these pioneers’ progress.

They are seizing this exciting moment in history to help drive economic growth in Africa by empowering people through education.

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The author is founder and chief executive of Global Business School Network

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