mLearning Project

posts related to the mLearning Project to deliver training on the mobile phone platform.

mLearning in CAR

PTL Training CAR Central Africa Republic 2015-03 (2)

Some of the CAR pastors in the
mobile learning course
(Ernest is in the middle in tan suit)

Ernest, our mobile phone-based pastor training guru in Cameroon, recently launched another group of pastor-students in Central African Republic (CAR). Along with the French language 80-hour theology curriculum, he showed the group how they could use their mobile phones to load the JESUS Film Media App for their personal outreach. This makes their inexpensive smartphone that much more effective!

It made me happy to see technology helping equip pastors in places where technology is usually scarce. And it made me proud of Ernest who used his technical training on the system to troubleshoot a bunch of problems and get everything working on his own with just a little email help from me.

PTL Training CAR Central Africa Republic 2015-03 (6)

The class of CAR pastors taking the
mobile phone-based theology course

PTL Training CAR Central Africa Republic 2015-03 (1)

The smartphones!

Ethiopian Customs Snafu


The Duplicator

So here is the rest of the story of the Ethiopian Customs Snafu.

On the day of my departure I arrived at the airport early. Really early. 9 hours before my 10:30 pm flight. One of the local staff members went with me to help negotiate the release of my memory chip duplicator machine.

Flights arrive in Addis Ababa in the early morning, and flights depart in the late evening. Almost nothing happens at this airport after 10:00 am and before 6:00 pm. So the airport was very quiet and all the employees were sitting around the baggage arrival area watching an old Clint Eastwood movie.

2014-05-07 12.09.45

Customs Desk

At the Customs desk we repeated the same process I had followed on the night of my arrival a week earlier, and it took just about as long. Only this time my friend was doing the talking, and I was doing the waiting. And watching, “Every Which Way But Loose.”

Surprisingly, we were assigned the same customs tariff amount as the night I arrived, about $100. Only this was to get the machine OUT of customs and take it directly home. The price to leave it in Ethiopia, on this particular day, was set at $3000. This was absolutely crazy.

After I paid the fee they directed me to go across the way to the storage area to get the duplicator. I found out at the storage desk that I needed to pay a fee since they had stored it for seven days. So I paid another $20 or so for storage fees. Then they said I needed to pay a VAT tax for the storage fee!! Totally nuts.

2014-05-07 12.09.52

Baggage Arrival Area
(with Storage in
the background)

Finally I got everyone paid, confirmed the duplicator was still in the box, and started leaving to find a place to wait for the next seven hours until my flight left. But no, they would have none of that!

A Customs agent had to accompany me to the baggage check-in to make sure I didn’t walk out the front door with the duplicator. So this young guys walks across the airport with me to Lufthansa’s check-in counter. But, of course, no one is there because check-in on the evening flights didn’t begin until around 7:00 pm. He looked at me and said, “Why didn’t you tell me your flight didn’t leave until 10:30? Now we have to go back and put this back in storage until tonight.”

At this point I thought I would never get the duplicator back. I figured they finally got me.

We walked back across the airport and checked my box BACK into storage. The agent assured me I wouldn’t have to pay any more fees to get it back out, but at this point I wasn’t believing anything.

So I waited out the next six hours in the empty front terminal of the Addis Ababa Airport and had a Coke and a piece of pizza.

When the Lufthansa counter finally opened for my flight check-in (now 8:00 pm), I went back to the Customs area – and was very happy to see the same young guy who had checked my box back into storage. He got it back out with no charge, just like he said he would, and walked me back to the Lufthansa check-in counter. I finally got it checked in and sent home to Orlando.

In the big picture, adding $100 to my trip expense wasn’t the end of the world. And the guys who will be distributing the mobile phone pastor training will have to copy 100 memory chips one at a time. They will eventually get it done. But it will be a long time before I attempt to bring another memory chip duplicator to Ethiopia!

First Amharic Training


Training today went outstandingly well! A couple of these men had seen the English language mobile course previously, so it was really easy to teach them how to use the Amharic language course. They also all had their own smartphones, so they knew how to use them and didn’t need to be taught. We were done in about an hour.


Bereket Bekele 2014-05-11_205200

Yesterday I met Bereket. He helped me try to retrieve my confiscated piece of equipment from Ethiopian Customs. As we were driving across town he told me that he had been a staff member with Great Commission Ministry (Campus Crusade for Christ in Ethiopia) for two years. Prior to that he had been a volunteer online missionary in our online ministry center here in town. Someone from his church encouraged him to consider being an online missionary full-time, so he left his government job and joined our ministry!

Indigitous and Ekko

Indigitous Panama using Ekko 2013-11

Indigitous using Ekko

Last month I participated in a Cru conference called, “Indigitous” in Canada. Shortly following this one, another Indigitous conference happened in Panama City, Panama. It was at this second conference that our new mobile learning platform, Ekko Mobile, proved to be a useful tool for many of the digital outreach missionaries there. The simplicity of creating a discipleship course was exciting to them, as they need a way to lead students through some structured materials while they work with them toward spiritual growth.

One of the workshops led participants through the process of creating courses and developing plans to use them in either an evangelistic setting or in one of the Bible studies they lead. They were excited to use the system and created the start of a series of short courses in just a couple hours. We plan to continue developing this system and should have the Ekko app in the Google Play store and Apple App Store soon.

PTL in Cameroon

2013-05-11 Yaounde Cameroon Launch

First Mobile Pastor Training in Cameroon

Saturday morning marked the launch of the first mobile phone pastor training in Cameroon. About 20 people came for an orientation session and, if ready, to purchase their “PTL smartphone.” (PTL = Pastors Training in Leadership). Ernest, the technical coordinator for this program in Francophone Africa, set up this launch in his home city, Yaoundé, Cameroon. Zarc, my coworker from Nairobi who is the overall tech coordinator for this project, and I traveled there to help Ernest get things going and to see how things are working on-site.


Ernest, the PTL Tech Coordinator
in Francophone Africa

Getting phones and memory chips here was a non-trivial task that took many months. The phones are almost too expensive already without import tariffs, so our African leadership has chosen to avoid adding on any other costs and hand-carry batches of phones to the various countries. Keeping these two critical ingredients (phones and memory chips) in sufficient supply will be a challenge here.

Cameroon is a bilingual country (French and English), but I think Zarc and I were the only two other English speakers in the country besides our “Campus Pour Christ” coworkers. My bad high school French confused just as many people as it worked on. And half the time my fading Hungarian would come out, and I couldn’t remember if the word I just said was actually Hungarian or French. This didn’t earn me any smiles.

It is good to be heading home!

Cathy begins chemo treatments soon, and I am traveling on Mother’s Day today. So this trip was expensive in more ways than one. Cathy assured me the trip would be OK, and her sister came down for a visit while I was gone. But I will be happy to be home.

mLearning in a new era

On Wednesday two events marked a new era for our mLearning project.

First, we had the launch event of a major new version of the software we have been using, Allogy Digital Press. This new software will make it possible for non-technical people to publish their own mobile learning course for smartphones or tablets.

The second event was a planning meeting where the 8, or so, member mLearning team identified ten projects that are either under way or in the developing stages.

We are now out of the initial development stage of this project and into a growth stage. I’m excited about what this new phase will bring!

Training Team On The Way

Orlando Training Team

Training Team

Today three of our team left for Accra, Ghana and Nairobi, Kenya to train the technical coordinators who will be teaching the orientation sessions for our mobile phone pastor training course. These are most of the people who developed the training. It took a lot of work, but we expect it will pay off when we see the first wave of 2400 pastors-in-training start this course!

600 memory chips coming right up….

Last minute software bugs are now fixed, so today we begin copying the first 600 memory chips that will go into each student phone. We will ship another 1800 blank memory chips, along with two mass duplicators, to the program coordinators in Ghana and Kenya. It is these memory chips which hold the content that each pastor-in-training will go through during their training. Without an Android smartphone, though, these memory chips are useless. Each one must be installed into a phone and activated before the training course will be available on the student-pastor’s phone.

For those interested in the geeky details; each memory chip is a 16 Gb Class 10 microSD flash memory card, similar to the ones that come in nearly every new Android smartphone these days.

Three trainers going now….

Today our team decided to send three people to do the training in Ghana and Kenya instead of two. This will increase the number of people on our team who can lead other mobile phone training projects in the future.

At the same time we are working on some minor last-minute bugs in the mobile phone training system. It seems that when you submit a quiz from one country to the “system” in another country the quiz answers get dropped. D’oh.

(I thought I’d start the new year by writing more about the smaller details that go into making a larger mobile phone pastor training course work.)

Training for Accra and Nairobi

Today we confirmed our training dates for the coordinators who will be facilitating the mobile phone pastor training. Looks like two people from our team will conduct two days of training in Accra, Ghana and two days in Nairobi, Kenya.

It looks like I probably won’t be going on this trip, as it will be during Cathy’s second week of chemo treatment.

Mombasa Class 2 Completion

Mombasa Interview

Jerry Interviews a Mombasa Pastor

Actually none of the pastors we interviewed today were from Mombasa, but that was where we met them all. They took the final exam for the Institute of Christian Leadership course and told us about how their ministries changed as a result of the class and how they had grown spiritually through it.

Philip said he was so grateful for the class because he could not afford to pay for training at a seminary and couldn’t leave his ministry and family. He is a perfect example of why we developed this type of training.

Mombasa Pastor

Pastor Philip

And this is where we landed for the night; Mombasa Beach. No complaints. Back to Nairobi tomorrow.

Mombasa Beach

Mombasa Beach

Mombasa Singing

My favorite music is African, and hearing it sung live is the best. I recorded this at a church gathering of pastors in Mombasa using my video camera, so the audio quality is terrible and the men are only visible halfway through the video. But the music is pure enjoyment.

Mobile Learning in Mombasa

Mombasa Class

Zarc Teaches a Group of Pastors

Class #2 of our mobile phone pastor training included a group from Mombasa, Kenya. While Mombasa is not exactly a remote location, having another cohort of pastors there allows us to learn how to run multiple classes in parallel.

Mombasa is like Orlando in the summer without air conditioning; warm and muggy. The culture was closer to Orlando, too; casual and relaxed. I didn’t have to wear my suit. The church in which we met had a dirt floor and a corrugated steel roof that was open to the sky in some parts. Fortunately there was an electrical outlet that kept our batteries charged long enough to register the new students.

Not only does the student learning application run on a mobile phone, but parts of the computerized learning system run on mobile phones as does the student administration program. Registering new students only requires access to the Internet on a smart phone.

Mombasa Pastors

Jerry with some of the pastors

As with the other groups that have started using this mobile phone training, this group learned how to use their new phones in a short time. Most of them had never used a touch screen device before, so they all had to learn new concepts. Eventually they all learned how to run the training application on their phones before we left.

Flight to Mombasa

Flying To Mombasa

We flew into Mombasa from Nairobi early in the morning, and we flew back to Nairobi in the afternoon. So I never got to see the coast of Kenya. What I saw of Mombasa looked the same as what I have seen of Nairobi. Maybe next trip to Kenya I’ll be able to spend some time in Mombasa on the coast, something every Kenyan tells me I should do.

Review of mLearning Class 2 Launch

[We did this analysis a couple weeks after the launch of mLearning Class 2, but I dated this post earlier, so it wouldn’t show at the top of the page.]

Post Launch Review
(a very internal look at how we did)

What Did We Set Out To Accomplish?

  • Affordable course payments
  • Course locking
  • Communication module working
  • Effective educational materials
  • Achieve cost efficiency
  • Bookmarking
  • Note taking feature
  • Working quiz system

What Actually Happened

  • The software enabled affordable partial payments by the students
  • The course locking as designed didn’t work, but as implemented worked.
  • Communication module works but with some questions.
    • Possibly non-Safaricom quiz and communication not working
    • SMS Gateway communication became unreliable during student registration
    • SMS Gateway software needed frequent restarts to keep functioning
    • SMS Gateway software ran on a regular Android mLearning phone.
  • Note taking, bookmarking worked, media played
  • It cost 2000 KSH to register 10 students in Nairobi (students #10 – #20)
  • 1000 KSH in account went away Thursday night March 3
  • Safaricom account was blocked after money ran out for SMS Gateway Thursday night March 3
  • Troubleshooting remotely using Email, Skype, and phone communication was sufficient.
  • We encountered situations/conditions that had not been tested; e.g. registering lots of students in a short time.
  • Quiz system worked.
  • There is some question about whether different network are causing problems.
  • Backend worked very well

What Went Right

  • Backend – Allogy Admin
    • Student registration
    • Student payments
    • Quiz tracking
    • Facilitated a side-install
    • Quiz creation/course building
    • Lightweight enough for easy mobile phone use
    • Facilitated a testing environment
  • Bookmarking – passive mode was good
  • Progress bar is good
  • Note taking – worked as advertised
  • SMS-based communication
    • Eliminated the need for student data plan for all necessary communication
  • Quiz results easy to view
  • Client worked
  • Updates on Client, SMS Gateway, and backend were timely and addressed the problems
  • Rooted SMS Gateway phone worked as intended (able to bypass 100 SMS/hr limit)
  • Zarc teaching new students how to use their new phones and Allogy
  • Test sites worked well. Easy to test and throw away.

What Could We Have Done Better

  • Testing
    • test real situations
    • needed more testing time
  • Process for pushing updates that involves local and remote testing.
  • Client stability
    • Changing orientation
    • File decryption
  • Correct home screen display
  • Support different screen sizes and resolutions
  • Additional visual indicators of progress through list of lessons
  • Remove initial client authentication layer (“Verify” step)
  • Cost – arranged data service with Safaricom immediately upon turning new SIM on Android.
  • Eliminate noisy SMS updates
  • Using SMS technology better


mLearning Trial Class Ended Well

The first mLearning class is complete, and it was a success!

33 students registered for the Institute of Christian Leadership class, and 32 of them completed the class on their mobile phones. All 32 returned to Nairobi for the final exam with a class average of A- on the same exam that the ‘reference’ group of in-class students took. We are excited and amazed.

Pastor Robert, from Rongai, returned with two of his lay church leaders and told us about the changes he experienced in his own life and the changes he observed in his two lay leaders. I smiled when he referred to the class material as ‘this gadget.’ Clearly it made a difference in his life.

What They Said

mLearning Student Portraits Collage

mLearning Students

Here are some of the things we heard when we interviewed these present and future church leaders after they completed the first mobile phone training class, the Institute of Christian Leadership.

I love Jesus more and have a deeper desire to share the love of Christ to others.

I have been personally helped to grow in the Word. I am adequately equipped to bring about changes in church.

I have grown in reflecting on the word of God, and knowing how to prepare and preach and study the Word.

Contrasts in Kenya

Some things in Kenya form an interesting contrast compared to life in America.

Audrey and I took a walk through the Kibera slum, today, with our friend, David. In order to dress as close to normal African garb as possible Audrey wore a skirt, and I wore my nicest pair of dress shoes. I almost never wear them back home, but they just looked normal here. With them I walked on the dirt roads in Kibera where the pot holes were filled with garbage and there is no sewage system. Same with Audrey. She never wears skirts in Orlando, but it was the most normal thing she could wear here. In order to look normal in one of the poorest parts of Kenya I had to wear my nicest pair of shoes and Audrey had to wear one of the nicest outfits she has ever worn in years.

My phone provided another irony. In this same slum is the highest concentration of mobile phone users in Kenya, as I understand it, and it seemed there were more ‘M-PESA’ shops than anywhere else in the city. M-PESA is the cell phone money transfer system that most Kenyans use to send money between people and between small businesses. The M-PESA shops are where you make cash deposits and withdrawals from your account, like a bank. For 2011 they estimate that 15% of the Kenyan GDP will flow through M-PESA.

My high-end Android smartphone, like the ones we gave tomorrow’s graduating mLearning Class students back in September at the start of the class, was not completely out of place in one of the largest slums in Africa. But since it has no “M-PESA” program on it, it couldn’t even perform one of the most basic functions that most Kenyans depend on for doing business.

Many Americans expect the rest of the world to follow the same development path America is on, but the reality of life today is that each place will find a development path of its own.

A Trip to Rongai, Kenya

My Friends in Rongai Town

My Friends in Rongai

When I arrived in Kenya a couple weeks ago for the launch of our first mobile phone-based pastor training class, I spent a day with my colleague driving out to a distant village to see if our mLearning phones would work like we expected.

We drove up the Rift Valley, about 100 miles away from Nairobi, and found a small village called Rongai. We wanted to find a local pastor, show him a working model of our mLearning phone, and see if our idea made sense to him.

Along the way I had one of the most enjoyable travel experiences ever. We were walking down a road behind the main part of this town when I heard a little girl say, “Hello Sir, how are you?”

“I’m fine. And how are you?” I replied.

“Fine, thank you,” was her answer.

“May I take your picture?” was my next question.

I took her picture then showed it to her on the camera’s display. She pointed to it and laughed with a sweet, innocent little girl laugh. Then she called her sister over and asked me to take another. Then both of them laughed and pointed and called their other sisters over.

“Take another! Take another!” was all they said after that.

Then the silly poses and hysterical laughter started. I have never had so much fun with total strangers!

Rongai Town Friends

Hamming It Up in Rongai

After leaving these girls we finally found the local pastor. We showed him a working model of our mLearning phone and explained the idea to him. He quickly understood the concept, and it made sense to him.

Not only did it make sense to him, he asked how he could sign up for the class! He leads 12 congregations, and he has a lot of elders to train. Some of his elders are oral learners, meaning they don’t read, and he thought these phones would work for them as well since all the training material is video and all the phone navigation is done using icons and a touch screen.

We returned a few days later and gave him three complimentary mLearning phones; one for him and two for him to circulate among the elders in his various congregations.

Rongai Pastor

Rev. Robert from Rongai (center),
Dr. Ngaruiya, my colleague, and me

Rongai has a warm place in my heart now.

Here are a few more photos from my trip.

mLearning Class Launch

mLearning Studying

Studying on an mLearning phone

Our first mLearning class started today. It was a bit different than we anticipated, but it started.

The biggest challenge to overcome was the failure of the memory cards we brought with us that contained all the training material. All 50 memory cards were incapable of playing video after just a couple times, so we had to use the smaller memory cards that came with the phones. There were other challenges, too, but we found similar alternate solutions for them as well.

The students are all excited to begin studying this new course. None of the students owned a touch screen phone, so everyone was learning something new. A few felt instantly comfortable and were navigating phone applications like a pro right away, a few followed along with our training and picked things up quickly, and a few needed some additional help.

I think we have a winning solution, and I look forward to seeing how students respond after a couple months of studying this way. The final exam will be in November.