Mobile Soft Skills Training

Get it on Google Play

The University Support and Workforce Development Program (USWDP) –  funded by USAID and implemented by FHI 360 – aims to bridge the gap between universities and the needs of the labor market. The in-person soft skills courses created through the program are oversubscribed. To meet student demand, FHI 360 decided to transition to a blended model with students completing mobile course modules on their phones before attending in-person classes.

Ustad Mobile has created an open source app called ‘Mobile Soft Skills Training’ which enables students to experience interactive video-based simulations that work on smartphones and feature phones. The app content is based on the existing in-person soft skills course materials and contains four pre-employability modules (CV writing, cover letter writing, job search skills and job interview skills) and five post-employability modules (communication skills, workplace values and ethics, time management, report writing and entrepreneurship). Each module contains a short introductory video which explains the learning objectives and relevance of the module to the students. Summative and formative assessments are conducted on a rotating basis as the learners progress through the modules choosing how to respond to simulated situations.

Afghanistan is an ethnically and linguistically diverse country and this is reflected in the module content. All modules are available in Dari, Pashto, and English. We anticipate that some students may be preparing for interviews in English and choose to complete the modules in English irrespective of their native language. Actors and actresses of different ethnicities were cast by DNA Media Productions Ltd. to provide positive role models for all Afghan students.

The app enables the use of text, images, audio and video without requiring any connectivity. Usage data – such as time spent on each module and quiz scores – is logged to devices offline and automatically uploaded securely to a cloud server when a connection is available. An in-app peer-to-peer feature enables wireless offline sharing with nearby devices at high speed.

A pilot was conducted to ensure the app is easy to use for students and USWDP staff who assist students in installing the app on their devices. Feedback was solicited from both male and female students to be certain that the app serves both genders equally well. The pilot evaluation found that student outcomes increased from an average of 32/100 prior to using the app to 71/100 after using the app. There are no excess equipment costs as the students complete the modules on the devices that they already own.

While the mobile modules serve as a passport to attending USWDP classes for eligible university students and recent graduates, Mobile Soft Skills Training is freely available to download via the Google Play Store and the Ustad Mobile website.

Going to the Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit? See Steven Ehrenberg (Associate Director for Learning and Technology, FHI 360) speak about how the University Support and Workforce Development Program is using mobile technology to increase access without compromising learning outcomes on September 27th at 2:20 pm.


This post was co-authored by Steven Ehrenberg Mike Dawson and Benita Rowe. Many thanks to Abdul Basir Quraishi, Gul Mohammad Hamad, Afifa Qurieshi Shams, and Abdul Malik Wafa from USWDP and the USWDP Translation Department, to Mohammad Atif for his translation and voice-over services, to Shoaib Shirzai for his translation services, to Varuna Singh for his work on the reporting system, to Lukundo Kileha for his work on the offline peer-to-peer functionality, to Mohammad Zeytter and the cast and crew from DNA Media Productions Ltd. for filming the video simulation, to Andrew Guy, Isabelle Amazon-Brown and the USWDP staff and students for their feedback on the UX. 

Mobile Learning Data: It’s a tossed salad (MLW 2014 Reflection)

Mobile Learning Data (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
Mobile Learning: Healthy, tastes good, but now you got so many apps on your plate… all working independently… how do you bring all this data together? (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

At Mobile Learning Week I saw presenters from all over the world describing how they are picking and choosing applications to deploy mobile learning like they would pick up good healthy stuff from the salad bar. We get App A for one thing, App B for another, and then ask students reflect and share it with App C. But if now at the end I want to figure out the total nutritional value I put on the plate I am out of luck. Every tool has it’s own portal, it’s own stats, and trying to combine them is about as much fun as asking a fundamentalist vegan to work their way around the chicken.

There were a few projects that were not collecting usage data logs and based their research outcomes on self reporting.  This is in my opinion totally unacceptable when using mobile devices that are built to record, process and transmit data. Self reporting is fatally flawed; to expect bottom of the pyramid beneficiaries to say anything negative having been given a new mobile phone and likely transportation money for attending workshops is insanity.  We found this in Ustad Mobile projects; some students would tell us about how great they found the program in spite of the fact the usage logs clearly showed they weren’t actually using the program.  These insights are valuable but meaningless without data.  We can get informed consent from users on this; just as handing in a piece of homework represents informed consent that the teacher will judge it, possibly share it with the principal.

It is essential that we standardize around sensible technical standards: and that standard is the Experience API (aka TIN CAN).   To start with learning objectives first technology second is correct, but you need to make some sensible technology standards choices otherwise one is very soon going to get a massive indigestion problem.

UNESCO is to be commended for getting that many serious Mobile Learning practitioners together in one place. That particular place being Paris might have made it that much easier to attract them, but ultimately people running everything from small experiments to some of the biggest school districts in the United States came together in one place.

Photo Credit: mEducation Alliance
Photo Credit: mEducation Alliance

I was greatly encouraged by the attendance of the session we ran that was a practical lab. It was bring your laptop, and let’s create a course. Trying to get the authoring environment installed on all the laptops was the trickiest part given the connectivity situation. I also see how we really need to focus on getting down to having one click, one button publishing – make that course appear on my mobile. No folders, copy/paste, find it, move it there stuff is acceptable these days.

We at Ustad Mobile, having worked in Afghanistan and the like are very much aware that the world is not always connected together at super high speed. UNESCO together with the IBIS hotel down the road made sure that everyone else also understood this and I remember how much better my connectivity situation had been even in remote Afghan districts than in the middle of Paris.

There is a definite authorware problem for the mobile learning space. Creating content by purchasing each student, teacher, and others a $1,500 per year subscription to licensed tools like Captivate and Articulate storyline is clearly not an option. Educators are not looking for a one way create and consume model; they are looking for ways to enable creation and sharing as well.  That is where the beauty of eXeLearning comes into it’s own: 10 years of work on a great open source authoring platform from Spain, New Zealand, Afghanistan, Dubai and more…

Anyhow… it is one thing to criticize; another to try and do something about the problem at hand.  With that thought in mind it’s back to design and code to make publishing courses to mobile easier.