Behind The Scenes of Education Technology: The Learning Designers

The popular image of start ups often puts charismatic founders and CEOs in the limelight, and education technology is no exception. Bucking this trend, we look at the work of learning designers, the professionals who create your e-learning experience.

Understanding the user's world

Edtech is a dynamic field in Africa, with various models being developed: Arifu’s targeted courses delivered by SMS and Cognician’s interactive management coaching platform are just two examples of a growing sector that’s constantly adapting to new needs. Behind it all are teams of software developers, business managers, content editors and learning designers.

Mollyne Gatobu is beaming when she explains what her job involves:

“I have to research and understand the user’s world, it’s about learning every day. It’s a very experimental process. We have to see what works and what doesn’t and adjust our approach,” she says.

After six years as a content writer for a telecommunications firm selling value added services through push messaging, Gatobu has finally found a way of employing her communication skills for a project with valuable social impact. She participates in every stage of the design of the training modules that are eventually used by different target groups in East Africa, from farmers to retail business owners.

The advantage of working in a start up environment is that the structure is flexible enough to allow for a fast iteration process, so that the training programme is finely tailored to the needs of learners. For instance, when women report that their husbands aren't so enthusiastic about their entrepreneurship aspirations, a business course aimed at businesswomen must reflect this state of affairs.

Radically learner-centred

Although many learning designers have a background in the more traditional education sector, design thinking applied to the teaching/learning process involves a shift in perspective. The learning designer is something of a teacher, a researcher, a writer and a project manager all wrapped into one. 

Stephen Njunge, who holds a B.Ed. from Moi University and has a worked as a teacher and a curriculum designer before joining Arifu as a learning designer, points out that learning design occupies a space at the intersection of educational content creation and human-centred design:

“Learning design is completely learner-centred and the level of engagement of the designer with the learners on the ground really surprised me. I had never thought of teaching as such an interactive process before but now I see the difference it makes to be constantly open to feedback every aspect of the training,” he explains.

Since e-learning programmes are typically self-taught through a phone, a tablet or a computer, learner support must be built-in. Part of the designer’s role is to draw the learner in by crafting narratives that will speak to their lived experience so that they will be motivated to stay on board. Creativity, curiosity and a large dose of humility are essential.

Cover image by Ignacio Palomo Duarte. CC-BY, some rights reserved.

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