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How to Guide: Teaching on WhatsApp for Grassroots Community Organizers

By Guest Writer on January 12, 2022

whatsapp teaching benefits

Grassroot, a civic technology organization based in South Africa, launched a first-of-its-kind leadership development course over the messaging platform WhatsApp in 2019. The distance-learning course, Leadership through Storytelling, was designed to build the capacity of organizers for sustained community activism. Grassroot collaborated with the MIT Governance Lab to research course effectiveness and develop an educator guide.

The Teaching on WhatsApp for Grassroots Community Organizers Guide provides instructions on how to design and deliver an interactive training course through an app-based messaging platform. It shares tips on pedagogy, participant engagement, and the technical aspects of launching a distance-learning course.

Deciding on a WhatsApp Messaging Course

The decision tree below can help determine if teaching a messaging app-based course on a platform like WhatsApp makes sense for your organization.

1. Identify your teaching goals and audience.

What do you want to teach and who is your target audience? What concrete knowledge, skills, or experience do you want participants to come away with? Is there an intrinsic link between your teaching goals and your intended audience’s incentive to learn? Ensuring there is demand for the course, and motivation to participate, is essential to building a virtual classroom.

2. Determine if teaching goals align with existing goals and activities.

Is there a direct link between the online course and your current plans and strategy? By design, online courses don’t have a physical classroom to help maintain accountability. You need to have dedicated time and energy to build a credible team, develop the material, and adapt the course to hold participant energy.

3. Decide if online makes sense for your goals and audience.

Teaching online has benefits and drawbacks. Grassroot didn’t have the capacity or geography for an in-person course. At the same time, many users were using mobile devices to interact with the organization and their communities and that there might therefore be an appetite for a message-based course. WhatsApp is also widely-used and that data requirements would make a course difficult on other platforms.

WhatsApp Teaching Challenges

Developing an engaging course on WhatsApp is challenging both in terms of the technical aspects (how to create rich course content in a data poor context) and also pedagogically (how to maintain interest without face-to-face interaction).

A key difference is designing online content to keep people engaged and using WhatsApp as a social messaging platform to effectively build connections. Setting expectations for online participation is also tricky because there is no in-person social pressure and the course is free. The nature of messaging platforms like WhatsApp compound this problem because they are designed for quick interactions, not a sustained class.

Please review the guide for more tips based on the lessons from the pilot.

A lightly edited excerpt from Teaching on WhatsApp for Grassroots Community Organizers Guide by Katlego Mohlabane and Alisa Zomer 

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