This is an anecdote I tell sometimes to help demystify online learning, and to remind myself of the virtue of keeping things simple.

Back in 2003, a family friend came round for some advice over a glass of wine.

He had recently retired from the BBC World Service, where he had run the Africa desk for a time.

He wanted to share some of his knowledge, to help people across Africa to set up their own DIY community radio stations.  But how to reach them, and how to teach them?  Could he do it online?

I told him to keep the technology as simple as possible, and to keep the purpose firmly in mind.

So I suggested he get some free or cheap webspace, install some free bulletin board (online forum) software, and then email his contacts to invite them to join.  Not hard to do even with little technical knowhow.  Once there, I suggested he use the forum to tell people what to do, to them get doing it and ask them to share back their experiences.  Simple.

When I saw him next, about a year later, I asked him if he had tried it.  He said he had, and was now curated a small but vibrant community of people all over the continent, who were now running their own community radio stations…

This was around the time we were installing an early version of WebCT at my university, writing our first E-Learning Strategy documents, chivvying pioneering faculty, running workshops and setting up projects with governance and project teams and doing the slow, never-ending business of changing university culture, and presenting earnest papers about the non-linear nature of hyperlinked education at conferences…

There’s much to be said for doing it yourself, starting simple, and doing what human beings do best – talking, trying things, sharing stories. An expert, a group of willing learners with a common purpose and a motivation to learn, and a simple tool that overcomes time and distance.

My firm conviction is still that you can teach most things that way.  

Alright, maybe not dentistry.

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