Clayton R. Wright
Grace Lau Pee Hoay
Wawasan Open University (WOU), Malaysia
African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF), Kenya
Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), India
Institutions establish learning centres to extend their reach by providing access to learner support services closer to learners’ homes and businesses. Based on the authors’ experiences in working with educators in Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and North America, this paper (see link below to the full paper) provides guidelines and suggestions developed on such significant issues as:
- Learner support
- Community ownership and governance
- Staff training
- Technology as tools for learning
- Research and evaluation
- Marketing of the centre and its services
The final section of the paper details the Keys to Success, which outline useful strategies and principles, not only for learning centres, but also for a wide variety of online learning initiatives.
Without learners, no one would have a job in the educational system. Thus, the focus should always be on helping learners to succeed. Learners should be supported in any way that is reasonable and ethical. Centre staff must play a variety of student support roles and may need to act as intermediaries and/or advocates for those who lack computer literacy and world language skills.
Many decisions should be made locally. People value the things they have a stake in; thus, the community should be involved in dealing with the social/cultural, economic, and political factors that affect the operation of the learning centre. Decisions made by a governing body or learning centre committee will affect learners; thus, those who work directly with the learners or are learners themselves should be part of the committee.
Reasonable expectations must be set and defined clearly. Expectations should have some likelihood of achievement. Data should be collected and analyzed on a regular basis in order to determine whether the expectations have been met and how the operation of the centre could be improved. The performance or outcomes of the centres must be evaluated on a regular basis. Although some centres or knowledge hubs may be located in communities where people have limited ability to pay, it can be surprising what people may be willing to do in order to obtain the information or training that may alter their lives and the lives of their families.
The selection and training of quality staff is essential to the operation of a learning centre. Regardless of its location or how well-equipped a learning centre may be, it is the people who work there who determine the success of the centre. Centre staff not only provide information about an institution, register students and receive assignments, they also offer encouragement and technical support. Because the staff represent the institution as well as the learners, they must be trusted by both the learners and the institution. Taking care of their professional development through continuous training opportunities will enhance the quality of service provided by learning centre staff.
Technology that is appropriate for the environment must be used effectively to deliver information, facilitate learning, and to manage administrative tasks. The successful use of technology is highly dependent on the capabilities, confidence, and enthusiasm of the centre staff. Clients of the centre must be encouraged to innovate – they must find new ways to use technology and to craft resources that they and their community need.
In order to thrive, learning centres must be marketed – the capabilities and potential benefits of the centre to the individual and the community should be highlighted. The community must be engaged in marketing and planning for the centre’s future. This planning will only be effective if centre staff know what members of the community want and why people may not be using the centre.
By learning from and collaborating with others, gaps between ideas/plans, implementation, and expected outcomes may be addressed. Through collaboration, centres can share best practices and expertise, develop shared content, collectively negotiate for better prices for equipment and connectivity, conduct research, advocate for those who are marginalized, share risk when new initiatives are launched, and provide flexible, ongoing training.
The world changes. Technology changes. People’s expectations change. Thus, learning centres must change as well, evolving to offer new services and reach new clients. They must address the changing needs of people, embrace technology, yet maintain a warm, supportive environment that encourages and celebrates the achievement of individuals and the community.