Field Digital Skills: Micro-courses via WhatsApp for farmers

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A new platform offering training to farmers via the WhatsApp mobile application has just been launched by the CGIAR Digital Innovation Initiative. As part of the Digital Innovation CO-LAB learning network, over 70 micro-courses are under development, starting with an initial course in basic digital skills.

The potential for services such as WhatsApp in agricultural extension has been of great practical and research interest in recent years. The Scopus database research abstracts and citations shows an uptick on papers covering WhatsApp for learning since 2019. During the COVID-19 pandemic international institutions such as FAO and CIMMYT, along with many national extension systems, turned to such technologies to maintain contact with farmers.

This potential is only set to grow: by 2025 as many as 64% of people in sub-Saharan Africa are predicted to be using smartphones.

As a result, farmer education via WhatsApp is already a reality and an important opportunity to transfer expertize, as long as courses are thoughtfully created for farmers and considering the unique challenges of this learning style.

Overcoming the challenge

Unlike traditional e-learning platforms, WhatsApp was developed as an instant messaging service. This began to change with the introduction of WhatsApp business, which allows businesses to communicate with their customers through structured and automated messages.

As an e-learning service, WhatsApp allows course materials such as text or videos to be shared with learners, who can then respond to prompts or quizzes. This opens up many opportunities to engage learners and reinforce teaching, but many challenges remain to be overcome.

Didactic video from the micro-courses

For example, distance learning for farmers involves the challenges of self-regulated learning: how can individuals manage their progress towards learning goals and manage their time, especially given the constraints faced by smallholder farmers?

Digital Innovation set out to investigate this challenge by developing a didactic approach that incorporates the latest thinking in learning design with an expert team of contributors.

First, the team profiles the learners and identifies the learning goals the course should achieve with the resources available for content development. A rapid prototype is developed which defines aspects such as the scope and level of interactivity in the course. Learning specialists work with the subject matter experts to develop the course text and activities, and with designers to create videos or images that enhance the learners’ experience. Following technical improvements and testing, the course is certified as ready for release, and after launch data on its use is collected for further improvements.

This process results in micro-courses, which provides carefully defined content in small learning units. This is intended to overcome the constraints to farmer self-regulated learning such as level of interest or time management. The overall curriculum is developed to offer farmers different learning routes through the micro-courses, depending on their goals and level of competency.
Didactic video of a micro-course

How to get involved

The first learning route available “Field Digital Skills, Level 1” is composed of four micro-courses aimed and women and men farmers to learn the basics of using smartphones mobile phones for learning. To access the course, registering your mobile phone number in the CO-LAB Learning Network at this link. All the videos used are available on a Youtube playlist.

If you are interested in developing and publishing a course through the COL-LAB Network Platform, please fill in our submission form.

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