The Thomson Foundation is a media development not-for-profit organization based in London, United Kingdom but operating worldwide. It was founded in 1962 and was the first charitable foundation with the specific aim of training journalists in developing countries.
The Thomson Foundation was an early leader in online learning, training journalists all over the world, even in countries with restricted freedom of the press. But in Sudan, ranked 175th in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, and a territory where Thomson has been on the ground since 2012, online learning had made little headway. Why?
"In Sudan, it’s very hard to find people who are not on WhatsApp 24/7 — that’s where they do news and shopping. Everybody opens it compulsively and they already know how to use it."
When Hosam found Arist, he was excited at the potential of using instant messaging as another experiment in mobile training. For the past 5 years, WhatsApp has been filling the information and free media gap in Sudan.
He knew that the problem was not that they were disinterested in the mobile app, but that the power cuts and lack of consistent WiFi connection made online and video content inaccessible.
"It went viral, because they have huge appetite and no means to access the information with the power cuts, the internet connection...
... but somehow everyone has a phone"
The COVID cases were rising and a health crisis became apparent. The Sudanese citizens needed to receive accurate and reliable information, and learn how to avoid spreading misinformation. UK Aid provided funding in partnership with the British Council and Sudan's Ministry of Information to develop and share a course on How to Cover COVID-19 for all media in Sudan.
So Hosam and his team set out to build the course, and created a curriculum of scenarios and interactive questions.
"Arist is a rapidly evolving tool that has unleashed the potential of engaging with users where they are … literally. And as a creator you can just immediately pick it up and go, it's so easy to set up."
The course blew expectations out of the water. Hosam credits this both to the medium and also to using multiple choice questions, "getting to the heart of issues through learners interacting with questions rather than just answers."
Within 1 week of the course being launched, 71% of the first 1,450 participants chose the WhatsApp option over their online and in-app LMS curriculum.
"Suddenly there's a lot of possibilities.
What Arist is providing is that intimate connection with our learners, re-engaging those who have become passive consumers of information."