For those that don’t yet know, the CABI Academy is our programme to create a growing curriculum of educational resources and activities. These will cover a wide range of topics – to reflect CABI’s existing areas of work, such as agriculture, plant science and tourism, Mark Berthelemy writes.
The aim is to provide materials that will help university faculties improve the work-readiness of their students and help professionals who provide advice to gain skills and knowledge based on up-to-date actionable research.
It’s early days yet. At the moment, we have two in-depth courses. One is designed to teach people how to diagnose the causes of problems in crops. The other then teaches the principles of how to manage pests and diseases, once they’ve been diagnosed.
The courses we are creating contain a mix of different types of resources and activities, including online learning packages, survey questionnaires, PDFs and multiple-choice assessments. Our learning platform then provides the glue that holds them all together in a coherent and easy-to-navigate way.
It was really important for us to find a platform that we could grow into, but without the immediate financial overhead of many of the products on the market.
Given there are well over 600 learning platforms, we had a lot of choice, but very quickly decided on Moodle.
The key thing we were looking for was flexibility. Our courses will each have different requirements. Some will include a face-to-face element, some are entirely self-study, some are open-access and some closed to specific groups of people.
We also needed a solution that would work in locations where internet access is often intermittent.
So how has Moodle given us that flexibility?
Multiple service providers
Even though Moodle is free to download, you still need experts and equipment to run it well. We don’t have those experts in house, but, because of Moodle’s open-source nature, we were able to choose a service provider from the many that exist.
Simple user experience
One of our main aims is to create a system that people want to use – reducing as many of the barriers as possible.
Where we can, we’ve used the Auto-Enrol plugin which allows us to quickly setup a course to automatically enrol people from a specific email domain and put them in a separate group.
When we don’t know students’ email domains, we’ve used ‘enrolment keys’ which allow us to provide a completely self-service approach.
And, when we are working with an organisation that has an LTI compliant platform, we just set things up so that people can access our courses directly from their organisation’s system.
We want our learning design approach to be robust, so we’re building in a fair bit of formative assessment – the type that helps you know what you need to learn.
We’ve created assessments that display different questions to each user on each attempt. And we can use those questions across multiple courses.
Sometimes, just sometimes, you need the learner to do one thing before they can do something else.
For example, we’ve put in restrictions which mean you have to submit a questionnaire before you can start the course proper. Or you have to successfully complete an assessment before you can collect a certificate.
Online and offline
Many of the people we are aiming our courses at will have intermittent or low bandwidth internet connections. We can’t expect everyone to have always-on fibre broadband…
We’re using Moodle mobile apps and the Moodle desktop application to provide an offline experience that is equivalent to that obtained online. Users have to download the content once – whilst they have a decent connection. After that, they can work offline and then synchronise any data when they next come back online.
So, as we look ahead, we’re still exploring how the CABI Academy will develop. It’s going to be an interesting journey as we learn more about what our users and customers need.
See also the news story ‘CABI launches new interactive training courses on crop pest diagnosis and management.’
If you would like to find out more about the CABI Academy or about how we can help you incorporate digital learning in your own international development programme, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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