Organizations like the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) regularly develop approaches and tools to understand and tackle tough problems. Feeding livestock is one of these challenges and scientists at ILRI and the
International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) worked with partners to produce a feed assessment tool (FEAST) to guide decisions on relevant feed interventions.In late 2014, to extend the use of this tool, ILRI created an e-Learning course on FEAST. It also upgraded the existing tool to an enhanced data application with a set of updated manuals and guides.
Across Africa and other developing countries, livestock provide livelihoods to millions of smallholder farmers. To feed themselves and their families, and to benefit from increasing demand for livestock products in developing countries, livestock keepers must have consistent access to good quality feed for their livestock.
Many farmers however, struggle to source sufficient feed, year round, to increase livestock productivity.
To address this big issue, researchers are working on better animal nutrition, improved nutritional quality of feeds, and new breeds of high-producing forages. To ensure that technical solutions are locally-appropriate, ILRI and CIAT sicentists in 2008 created a Feed Assessment Tool (FEAST) to help researchers, government and development agency staff and others better respond to actual feed constraints and opportunities.
The FEAST tool – www.ilri.org/feast – has a growing band of users, creating demands on ILRI for training and other support to use the tool in dozens of countries.
To help meet these demands, ILRI’s Capacity Development Unit began working on a set of blended learning materials that could help people understand and use FEAST to its full potential.
The blended learning approach combines classroom training with online learning and will provide learners, and future trainers, with ways to master content and develop and refresh their skills.
Using standard best practice approaches, the team (ILRI and Sonata Learning) identified the skills required for effective use of the FEAST toolkit, met with typical course participants to find out how many of these skills they already had, and then designed learning experiences which would help a course participant develop the skills required.
Given that the people who commonly use the toolkit are adult learners with conflicting demands on their time, course developers drew heavily on adult learning principles to produce an engaging course that is highly interactive, connected with their existing knowledge and skill sets, meshed with perceived professional development needs, and based on relevant and practical examples.
A comprehensive set of teaching-learning tools (PowerPoint presentations; interactive online activities including games, videos and online quizzes; instructor guides; and training preparation checklists) was developed. Furthermore, insights from the subject experts were included in course documentation. This meant that the course could be presented by less experienced trainers while maintaining the quality of the learning experience for participants.
A new platform
Alongside the development of the learning materials, it was important to have an online platform where they could be made accessible. In 2015, an ILRI learning management system (LMS) was set up where the FEAST learning materials and other courses could be run. Beyond the online dimension, it delivers content to places with poor or no Internet connections. Developed with Sonata Learning, the LMS features include:
- Simple, clean, intuitive user interface;
- “Blended first” approach to delivery – allows instructors to grant or restrict access to lessons in the LMS during a classroom training session and give scores for attendance and participation;
- Integration of social learning –can require that users post to discussion forums in order to proceed with a course, then notifies them of responses;
- Branding and sub-portals –with options to share or separate content for different audiences and set different preferences for each;
- Ability to scale with the growth of ILRI programs –allows for more advanced course design including multi-course sequences, awarding credits for classes etc.;
- A unique approach to grading – includes support for conducting and analyzing pre-assessment and post-assessment tests and assigning weightings to different assessments;
- Reporting features –including generation of HTML5 graphs and dashboards;
To deliver training in low-bandwidth environments, Sonata Learning also developed a stand-alone offline player module that:
- Runs on a USB drive without the need to install any software on the learner’s hard drive;
- Plays any type of content in its own self-contained browser, avoiding any complications that might arise with the computer’s default browser (Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox, etc.);
- Saves learner assessment and progress data to the USB drive from which it can be copied to a central computer;
- Provides a program to automatically install the player to multiple USB drives making it fast and easy to prepare for training workshops.
On 22 May 2015, Iddo Dror presented this approach and the lessons learned at the eLearning Africa conference:
This new initiative combines innovation in feeding with innovation in learning. The FEAST course offers an innovative way to make a practical feed toolkit accessible for use by the wider livestock community. The platform offers an innovative way to deliver targeted learning materials, even to people off the digital superhighway. Together, they aim to help rural communities feed and sustain their livestock, making good use of locally-available resources and innovation.
The FEAST web site at https://www.ilri.org/feast gives access to all the various tools and documents.
All reports, documents and other information materials are accessible through the FEAST repository at https://cgspace.cgiar.org/handle/10568/16490.
ILRI and partner work ad news on feeds is reported and shared at http://feeding-innovation.ilri.org. See especially the many reports on the development of FEAST at http://feeding-innovation.ilri.org/tag/feast.
ILRI’s new e-learning platform that hosts the FEAST blended learning course is at learning.ilri.org.
FEAST was originally developed by ILRI and CIAT. It has been tested and further developed together with many partners and projects in South Asia as well as East and West Africa. Supporters of the ongoing testing and development of the tool include ACIAR, the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, the Humidtropics CGIAR research program, the Water, Land and Ecosystems CGIAR research program, and USAID (through the Africa RISING program). Development of the e-learning course was supported by the Humidtropics CGIAR research program.