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Free online course for African entrepreneurs: meet Rebecca Harrison of AMI

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Learning Lab, where groups of managers and entrepreneurs work through the online material together in small groups and with a facilitator - Nairobi (Kenya) -

Rebecca Harrison is director at African Management Initiative (AMI), an organisation that aims to provide business skills to one million African managers before 2025. They hope to achieve this goal by offering a range of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) and other online resources, due to launch next January. She answers our questions.

How did you end up launching an online course about business for Africans?
We started by conducting research about the management gap in Africa. We discussed making business education more practical and more relevant, and developing a more scalable approach.

We launched the AMI Virtual Campus, a place where managers can gather and find resources from leading business schools from the continent.

Next January, we are relaunching and rebranding. We will offer a MOOC with a blend of online and offline elements. We have an ambitious goal: to reach one million managers within the next decade. We want to reach a critical mass and have a ripple effect on the continent.

How do you perceive this management gap you wish to address?
10 to 15 million people in Africa are in a management position. Fewer than 10% have formal training in management. Obviously, that is a bit of an estimate. Many business schools are too expensive for most African managers and often too theoretical. And only the biggest companies are offering in-house training.

Our market is anyone that is in management position or wants to be in a management position in Africa. Specifically, companies that have employees, that are growing and need help (rather than one-man shops).
We will offer lessons about business basics: managing money, people, oneself, projects.

You use the Massive Online Open Course format…
In America the MOOC concept is exploding. We take video-based learning like Coursera and apply that to an African context. We aim to become a standard. Last June, we launched a free pilot of the 1st African MOOC, about workplace effectiveness: “Success@Work in 21st century Africa“. 850 people signed up from 25 countries.

You can have a look at the pilot course, even though we are not running it formally, and you can register at www.africanmanagers.org to become a member of the AMI and receive further information. The course will start in January, 2014.

MOOCs revolve around video lessons. Isn’t the use of videos challenging for many prospective students on the continent?
We have developed a way for the videos to require much less bandwidth, We use animation, which requires much less bandwidth than filming a teacher. And our videos are shorter clips (2 or 3 mn instead of the 20 or 30 mn format) -bite-sized trunks of learning. We also focus on collaboration, peer learning and application as much as ‘sage on stage’ style lessons from professors.

How do you deal with the issue of making sure students learn the skills?
A manager learns skills 10% through academics, 20% through peer-learning or peer-support and 70% through everyday managing. For the course, you have to work with an accountability partner; ideally someone from your own company. In the future, we plan to add automated matchmaking. There will be lots of different addons and personalised teaching, including eCoaching, personal developing plans, 360 feedback systems and just-in-time tools and resources.

What about country-specific courses? And courses in languages other than English?
Currently our students are from all over Africa. Our biggest markets are Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa and Ghana. We also had a lot of students signing up from French-speaking countries like Cote d’Ivoire, Morocco and Tunisia, even though our material is currently only in English. The beauty of Internet-based learning is that we can be open to anyone. At the same time, we want to keep being distinctly African. Country-specific content can be driven by our members. We’d rather that happens organically. We are trying to make the platform more social and collaborative so students will be able to upload more country-specific content.
We have no immediate plans for lessons in other languages but hope to launch a French version in 2014 or 2015.

the course will start in January 2014

What is the project for your organisation and business model?
We were previously a nonprofit. We are restructuring as a for profit social venture to ensure sustainability. We hope to break even in the next three years. Our business model relies on income from paid certificates and paid premium memberships and facilitated workshops. We also want to propose offline learning apps. And we are looking for companies that want to sponsor courses.

Who are your current partners?
We have a range of local partners. We partner with Africa’s leading business schools to get the best content and the best teachers in Africa. Our business school partners are the Gordon Institute of Business Science in South Africa, Lagos Business School in Nigeria and Strathmore Business School in Kenya. We also work with local partners to deliver our offline Learning Lab workshops and to build a broad footprint at a grassroots level across the continent. These include technology hubs such as the iHub in Nairobi (pictured), business associations, training firms and colleges. To find out more about becoming an AMI Learning Lab partner, contact me at info@africanmanagers.org.

Thank you!

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