Are NGOs in Southern Africa Region ready for eLearning?

Guest Post by Roger Steele, LINGOs

I answered with a resounding ‘yes’ when I was asked that question about six months ago — perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.  At the time, I had just started managing the LINGOs project to ‘Strengthen Project Management Capacities’ in collaboration with World Vision International’s (WVI) Southern Africa Region. (For background on LINGOs work in cross-cutting area that affects every member NGO, please see the blog post on Field staff capacity building models)

With almost a dozen week-long PMD Pro1 introductory courses under my belt, I still say ‘yes’ – but – you might sense some hesitation in my voice (check out http://pm4ngos.org if you don’t know what PMD Pro is).  Not totally unexpectedly, we have encountered challenges on our eLearning journey.

As I shared here back in September of last year,   the World Vision/LINGOs project has embraced a blended learning approach.  We decided to lead with a combination of face to face and virtual instructor-led courses.  The future blend will incorporate more self-paced learning, small group (hubs of training) and coaching (performance support).  I’ve written about the face to face (F2F) courses in this blog.

Our face to face instructor-led courses have been conducted over a period of 5 days. Each course is delivered in a fairly typical NGO format for the first four days. The facilitators combine techniques to engage participants in active learning to complement lectures that introduce fundamentals of Project Management for International Development.  On the fifth day, Friday, facilitators proctor an internet-based examination that presents 75 multiple-choice questions to each participant. The set of questions has been carefully validated and normed to measure knowledge and comprehension contained in the PMD Pro1 Guide.  A unique feature is that each exam is automatically computer-scored.  Each test-taker is given his/her score and pass-fail result immediately upon exiting the exam.  I was a little surprised that this feature proved so popular with participants.  They love  getting immediate results.

 So far, our team has facilitated the face to face PMD Pro1 courses in five WVI Southern Africa countries: Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, DR Congo, and Malawi.  Without fail, we have encountered significant eLearning challenges during the examination on the fifth day, of the each and every course.

PMD Pro1 Course participant with Roger in Zambia

These Friday problems have always happened in spite of the fact that our team works hand-in-hand with the WVI National Offices to secure reliable Internet connectivity.  In Zambia, our first pilot country, one hotel in Lusaka has hosted all three PMD Pro1 courses over the past nine months.  At the first course, the hotel proved incapable of providing sufficient Internet bandwidth, so the IT office from WVI-Zambia arranged for a dedicated connection from an internet service provider (ISP).  The ISP ran their wires down from the hotel roof and through hallways to our classroom.  Even with that dedicated line, the internet connection dropped numerous times during the exam period causing several test-takers to time-out prior to exam completion.  During the second and third Zambia courses, the host hotel’s internet provider agreed to increase bandwidth on the morning of the exam – but we still experienced connectivity problems and exam delays.  We recently secured approval from the testing authority to increase the total block time from 1.5 to 3 hours as a mitigation strategy for future exams.

 The venue of the one course we completed in Malawi was a relatively isolated hotel on the shores of Lake Malawi.  While the hotel had assured WV-Malawi that a strong and reliable Internet connection would be available all week, the reality was another story.   The hotel’s internet signal was very weak and did not even reach the training room.  Fortunately, the WV Malawi IT department came to the rescue by mid-week.  They were able to set-up a portable satellite Internet system (VSAT) next to the PMD Pro1 classroom – allowing all 23 program managers to successfully complete the examination on Friday.

two participants taking practice exam

I suppose some will say that what I’ve describe sounds quite expensive – and the special Internet arrangements that I’ve described will be beyond the budgets of many NGOs.  I acknowledge this concern, but encourage readers to keep in mind that WVI and LINGOs are operating learning pilots and expect to cultivate efficiencies moving forward. 

In Harare, the WVI-Zimbabwe office hired an Internet Service Provider to set up a fiber-optic connection at a hotel for an estimated US$1400 (5 days).  I had sticker-shock when I first heard this quote – but upon reflection realized that those costs must be put into perspective.  It is significant to keep in mind that 33 WVI program managers were trained and certified during that week.   The cost of Internet could be incrementally assigned to each participant at the rate of US$42 – an amount that was considerably less than what some participants paid for a single night of lodging during the course.  I wish I could report that the fiber optic line we used in Zimbabwe worked trouble-free.  However, after enjoying blazing internet speeds from Monday through Thursday, a scheduled power grid shutdown brought the internet to a total halt for the whole of Friday morning.  Fortunately, the national power grid was restored and the Internet-based exam was completed by late Friday afternoon.

I’m sure some are asking; wouldn’t it be quicker and cheaper to administer a paper-and-pencil examination?  Perhaps it would be in the short-run — but once PMD Pro gets past its pilot phase, LINGOs is expecting scale-up to create efficiencies for both internet instruction and testing.   I recently discovered that a group of researchers have been actively investigating online versus paper exams, with some interesting findings that extend well beyond time and cost considerations.   Check out:  http://research.csc.ncsu.edu/efg/teaching/papers/2010-1150_Online.pdf  

 I’ll write about my experience facilitating the PMD Pro1 course with WVI participants in the Southern Africa Region using the Elluminate platform in a future blog. 

 You might also be interested in these 2010 posts about LINGOs Project Management Work

 Sept 2010: Participation and accountability in face to face training: Lessons from Southern Africa   

October 2010:  Field Staff Capacity Building Models for National and International NGOs” the 4As

 October 2010: PM4NGOs Launched as Independent Organization to Promote Project Management in the Development Sector  

PM4NGOs Launched as Independent Organization to Promote Project Management in Development Sector

PM4NGOs Launched as Independent Organization to Promote Project Management in Development Sector – Elects First Board of Directors

In September 2010, Project Management for Non Governmental Organizations (PM4NGOs), a new international NGO, was born and held its inaugural Board of Directors meeting at InterAction in Washington, DC, USA. PM4NGOs began as an initiative to promote the use of professional project management methods in the development sector.

Since 2007, a group of humanitarian relief and development organizations including World Vision, Care, Catholic Relief Services, Oxfam, Mercy Corps and Plan International have been working together with the prominent professional societies in the field and with LINGOs, a consortium of NGOs focused on sharing learning resources and experiences to improve the capacity of NGOs operating in the developing world. Over the past three years they have designed a curriculum, tested it in over 30 countries with over 200 field-based project managers from fifteen different organizations.  Most recently a curriculum has been translated into an independently accredited certification scheme with the help of the APMGroup International in the United Kingdom.

PMD Pro Certification leads to need for independent accrediting body
The Project Management in Development Professional (PMD Pro) certification was launched in early in 2010 creating the need for an independent accrediting body. While PM4NGOs had operated as an initiative of LINGOs for the past three years, the creation of an independent organization was necessary to maintain the integrity of the standard and its independence from any single organization. Recognizing that need, the LINGOs Board of Directors asked that PM4NGOs become a separate entity and LINGOs transferred all intellectual property related to the PMD Pro certification scheme to the new organization.

The founding board members represent international humanitarian relief and development organizations, organizations that provide training services to those agencies, and members of professional societies including the Project Management Institute, the International Project Management Association and Prince2 practitioners.  Vadim Usvitsky, Director of Special Projects at World Vision International was elected the Chairman of the Board. Other officers included Trevor K. Nelson of Nelson Project Consulting, Leah Radstone of APMGroup and Barbara Wallace of InterAction.

Board Members include Eric Verzuh, CEO of the Versatile Company, a Registered Education Provider of PMI, Martin McCann, CEO of RedR, Mike Culligan, Director of Technology and Projects, LINGOs, David Palasits, Manager of Staff Development and training for Catholic Relief Services, Steve Marks, Director of Project Performance Consulting Ltd., and John Cropper, Program Manager for Oxfam.

 

From Left: John Cropper – Oxfam, Vadim Usvitsky- WVI, Ernesto Mondelo- Inter American Development Bank, Eric Verzuh-Versatile Company, Barbara Wallace-InterAction, David Palasits- Catholic Relief Services, Leah Radstone-AMPG International, Mike Culligan-LINGOs

 “A very important role of PM4NGOs is to make certain that access to the new certification is broad and the price affordable” said Vadim Usvitsky, Board Chair. “We work in an environment where professional credentials are very important but not often available. We want to make sure the PMD Pro reaches all project managers that are interested.”

The PMD Pro certification has three levels as illustrated by the triangle above. What makes the certification unique is that it incorporates other commercial certifications into the requirements for PMD Pro2 and PMD Pro3. Decades of work has gone into the project management methods used in the private sector and it was decided that rather than duplicate that effort, PMD Pro would take advantage of all the tools and techniques that had been developed over the years. In addition, candidates are required to master and pass an additional examination demonstrating the application of project management to the development sector.

LINGOs provides project management capacity building for NGO sector in Southern Africa, Haiti and Latin AmericaBy launching PM4NGOs as a separate organization, LINGOs has become a source of project management capacity building efforts by organizations in the sector. The Inter American Development Bank (IDB) has asked LINGOs to be the Executing Agency to develop the project management skills of NGOs in Guatemala, Panama, Brazil and Paraguay.  A second initiative between LINGOs and IDB targets the IDB funded local NGOs in Haiti. Both projects will reply be based on the PMD Pro1 curriculum and include training, coaching, community building and ongoing online learning opportunities.

A similar collaboration is underway in nine countries that make up World Vision International – Southern Africa Region. The Strengthening Project Management in WVI-SAR will train over 500 field-based project managers and over 25 trainers to carry the training program throughout WVI-SAR and to local implementing partners.

PMD Pro1 learning resources availableWhile the projects above are designed for specific countries and organizations, anyone interested in earning the PMD Pro1 can do so immediately. On the PM4NGOs website (www.pm4ngos.org) there are links to recorded modules covering all the content of PMD Pro 1. The Guide to the PMD Pro1 and the Syllabus can be downloaded free of charge and there are links to a sample examination so individuals can test their readiness to take the certification exam. Details about how to register for the examination and the costs can also be found on the site.

For more information on the certification, upcoming training programs and the schedule for PMD Pro2 and PMD Pro 3, contact Mike Culligan by email: mike (at) LINGOs.org.