FrontlineSMS let users send, receive and manage SMS over a mobile network.

This morning I woke up wondering: why build FrontlineSMS:Learn? What are the challenges to which this software might be a solution? I have a few thoughts, but I would love to get answers from everyone else involved in the community. Here are my initial ideas...

  • Student engagement: Can integrating the use of mobile phones & SMS into the learning process - in the classroom, dormitory, on the bus, at home - lead to higher levels of engagement?
  • Knowledge retention & behavior change: Can simple, targeted assessment, repeated at regular intervals (see lead to improved knowledge retention and long-term changes in behavior?
  • Appropriate instruction: Can real-time and more regular assessment lead to improvements in the appropriateness of the level of instruction, allowing teachers to focus on particularly difficult topics where students need more support?
  • Behavior modeling & attitude development: Can creating a social learning environment (i.e. a mobile community of learning) - where facilitators and participants share information and experiences, provide guidance and mentoring, and learn from each other - lead to the development of a culture of learning and improved educational outcomes?
These are just of a few of the things that came immediately to mind. But I'm sure you all can come up with plenty of your own challenges and barriers to which a tool like FrontlineSMS:Learn might potentially be a solution. And it would be great if you could share them here!

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I just had another thought...

I have been envisioning the use of FrontlineSMS:Learn in higher education and professional development, simply because that is the focus of my work. In that context, I have seen mobile ownership rates that are regularly over 90%. This is great because it means that there is little need to provide hardware to those who would use & benefit from something like FrontlineSMS:Learn.

I just found myself thinking about early childhood, primary & secondary education, though. In that context, chances are high that students will not own their own devices, but it may very well be the case that one or both of their parents do. That line of thought led me to an additional challenge that FrontlineSMS:Learn could potentially address: family involvement. Can parents of students be more engaged in their child's learning if they were the conduit for information, assessment, Q&A, etc? There is evidence that shows that getting a family involved in education is a predictor for student achievement, so could FrontlineSMS:Learn be a tool to facilitate this involvement?

And to take it one step further: what if the family didn't own a phone? Could a Hope Phones campaign be used to provide one for them & for others in the community who didn't have access to the technology? And what potential ramifications & impact, beyond the child's education, might such an introduction and infusion of phones lead to?

But I'm probably getting ahead of myself! The main point is that FrontlineSMS:Learn could be a solution to the challenge of family involvement in education and help create a culture of learning in the home.
For us frontline sms has been a tool for awareness raising and mobilisation. Concerned about the performance of primary education in Rushenyi County, our association, Rushenyi United Association initiated an education improvement programme. The tool has helped us recruit members, educate them about the project and mobilised some resources. The community responded well. Although the project has identified more and more complex issues, we hope the platform will continue to provide an opportunity for "communication for change"
So the status is? You still in exploration mode or starting to plan out functionality?
Hey, Wayan. This discussion is focused on identifying the specific education/training challenges & barriers that a tool like FrontlineSMS:Learn could address. Specific functionality is being covered in another thread, FrontlineSMS:Learn - an education & training module, under this group. Both are exploratory in nature - no development is being undertaken, yet. But we'd love to have your input on both topics!
Thanks for the input, Gilbert. You're addition of community mobilization around improving education is a great one! I think in some way, it's also related to family involvement in the education process (though the nature of the involvement is different).
Hello James, yes the two in away related. We are now exploring the possibility of using the tool to address teacher abscenteeism in our partnner schools. Pupils will be able to send an sms whenever a tacher is abscent, late or leaves classroom earlier. Abscenteeism is the single biggest challenge to education in Uganda and hope to provide lesons not just to the district but country as a whole. However, given that pupils do not have phones we will discuss with them how to overcome this challenge. In picture is Uganda's Vice President visiting the schools where I am Chairman of the Board of Governors. We have increased enrollment from 183 in 2007 to 615 today.

I posted this on FrontlineSMS:Learn - an education & training module but wanted to pub it here as it covers the training/funding barriers too (also tweeted about it from @whymandesign...
(could all the discussions be hosted on a website that frontline own so there is no risk of the content being deleted? We would like to set this up with you and can be done for less than 1k if you have the funds. Or can you do this cheaper?

Can we create free open source education and learning software & spaces with you & FrontlineSMS? and are prototypes we would like to work with you on to create free public services for everyone. This could link in nicely with your great FRONTLINE:learn software. As the space is moving and growing so fast I suggest the FRONTLINE genii (is that plural for genius?:) set up the FRONTLINE:learn asap now using the existing frontline software as a working prototype to prove the concept and help draw attention and therefore get funding. May I also present the business structure (cooperative but where any surplus funds generated in the future are invested into new innovative solutions to human problems... so creating institutional innovation:). Can FRONTLINE:learnt/medic/sms be run as not for profit cooperatives that do this?

Also would it be possible to work with you to make a re skinned
version of existing software so we can help the public to solve other
social issues (Ideally using that business
structure)? Maybe working with someone like or which
is closing so maybe this is something I could help you take on so
everyone can share local knowledge? Also can
share video's and create with your

Do get funds so you can pay people like Brendan O'keefe (and many more hopefully including me:) to create incredibly efficient and cheap public services for multiple countries across the globe. The question is why are funders not desperate to fund projects like this?! What is wrong with the funding process? Can any public service or charity funding organisations step in and help? Maybe @nesta_uk or @4ip (I have been trying to get funding for do good projects but maybe someone here will have more success than me?)

Maybe the Nokia foundation, the android foundation, the Vodafone foundation, they Symbian foundation, or others can contact the FRONTline team and give them funds if they or someone they know reads this?

Ed @whymandesign
I'm only documenting now what is maybe the most obvious reason for FrontlineSMS:Learn... because learning shouldn't be confined to the classroom! Learning is not a single event, it's a continuous process that unfolds over time & place. FrontlineSMS:Learn could help extend opportunities for learning - supporting & strengthening traditional approaches & moving us toward the "anytime, anywhere" promise of mobile learning.
Hi there, we (smsweb) run a service in South Africa which enables schools to communicate with parents using SMS, I admire what you guys are trying to do with frontlinesms:learn and would be happy to assist with advice or guidance.

We sent out over 7 million messages in 2009 to parents and are on target to send 10 million in 2010. The feedback from our schools (pre-primay, pimary and high) is that the service increases parent involvment which leads to better education for the learner. It also reduces truancy, improves discipline and saves schools time and money.
Thanks for the input & offer of assistance, Salah! BTW, the results from your project sound impressive - do you have this documented somewhere? I'd love to see some data :)
I've always felt that Frontline SMS would make a great resource for educators. I can think of a lot of great applications that tap in to the inherent capabilities of low bandwidth technologies like SMS.

My initial idea is that a centrally located group of Subject Matter Experts or Instructional Designers could create lesson plans for various regions/age groups/subjects and have those available for educators around the world to download to their phones via SMS. Every day or week a teacher could text FrontlineSMS:Learn for a few text messages on lesson plan ideas for his or her classroom. Now that FrontlineSMS is operational with MMS, it would be really cool to be able to download graphics or images to use in a lesson as well. If a teacher had a projector available, he or she could connect it to a projector via USB to display what is on the phone.

Another similar idea that comes to mind is allowing teachers to query FrontlineSMS Learn for specific topics such as lessons based around holidays or cultural events.

Students might also use Frontline SMS for language training. On Facebook and other social media sites around the world, I have seen people do an "idiom of the day". FrontlineSMS:Learn could engage an audience by sending out a daily text with an idiom from a specified language.

Just a few thoughts, really interested to see where this space goes. Keep up the good work!
Interesting ideas, Matt! Potential fodder for future Learn versions :)


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