Adapting e-Learning to Developing Countries
Jesus Martinez-Mateo, Susana Munoz-Hernandez and David Perez-Rey
Facultad de Inform´atica, Universidad Polit´ecnica de Madrid, Spain
Educational methods, e-Learning, Thin clients, Cooperation for the development, Satellite connection, Internet
access, Teleconference, Videoconference, Off-line courses.
From the educational point of view, the most widespread method in developing countries is on-site education.
Technical and economic resources cannot support conventional distance learning infrastructures and it is even
worse for courses in universities. They usually suffer a lack of qualified faculty staff, especially in technical
degrees. The literature suggest that e-learning is a suitable solution for this problem, but its methods are devel-
oped attending to educational necessities of the First World and cannot be applied directly to other contexts.
The proposed methodology is a variant of traditional e-learning adapted to the needs of developing countries.
E-learning for Cooperation and Development (c&d-learning) is oriented to be used for educational institutions
without adequate technical or human resources. In this paper we describe the c&d-learning implementation
architecture based on three main phases: hardware, communication and software; e.g. computer and technical
equipping, internet accessing and e-learning platform adaptation. Proper adaptation of educational contents
to c&d-learning is discussed and a real case of application in which the authors are involved is described: the
Ngozi University at Burundi.
Modern research in cooperation for development is
led toward innovative solutions for (institutions and
people’s) problems at developing countries. Tradi-
tional technical problems at educational institutions in
these countries have been identified. There are many
proposals to use e-learning tools at developing coun-
tries, but in general they are only affordable for the
most advanced universities in the Third World. A
crucial goal of cooperation is to improve education
at developing countries. Research on learning, and
specifically on e-learning, is one of the most produc-
tive research fields at occidental universities. Never-
theless, advances in these areas are made regarding
educational needs of developed countries, where the
situation is quite different from developing countries.
Those differences are not only technical, but also at
the human and communication level.
Universities of developed countries have a num-
ber of agreements with universities of developing
countries, but these collaborations are with the most
important universities of those countries. In gen-
eral, cooperation is oriented to improve the teaching
or develop research. It is difficult to find relation-
ships of occidental universities with poor and small
developing countries universities to help with their
main deficiencies. Many e-learning collaborations
arrangements are established between universities of
the North and the South, but they are based on north e-
learning tools and conventional requirements. In gen-
eral, they are not suitable for small universities with
low resources from developing countries.
The cooperation group TEDECO
has been study-
ing the necessities of a group of universities of Cen-
tral Africa (Ngozi, Mwaro and Bujumbura universi-
ties at Burundi; and Bukavu University, Peace Uni-
versity, High Pedagogy Institute at Congo Democratic
Republic). Some common problems have been iden-
tified such as damaged wires, irregular electric sup-
ply, outdated hardware, lack of internet connection,
lack of specific software, lack of technical faculty
staff and, of course, economic problems. In addition,
the situation is completely different to occidental uni-
versities. In conventional e-learning the professor is
Technology for the Development and the Cooperation,
Martinez-Mateo J., Munoz-Hernandez S. and Perez-Rey D. (2009).
c&d-LEARNING IMPLEMENTATION ARCHITECTURE Adapting e-lear ning to Developing Countries.
In Proceedings of the First International Conference on Computer Supported Education, pages 89-96
DOI: 10.5220/0001976900890096
working full time at the university and the students
have Internet connection at their houses. They may
study in an asynchronous timetable using e-learning
platforms. At our target universities the situation is
completely different. As the students do not have
computers at home they need to go to the university
facilities to get Internet access. Regarding the lack of
teaching staff, students may attend to the university
following a fixed schedule without professor guid-
Attending to these differences it is quite obvi-
ous that conventional e-learning cannot be applied to
developing countries universities. An adaptation of
hardware and communication conditions is needed to
use e-learning applications in a different way. Con-
tents should be also adapted thinking about the spe-
cific context of the classes. This paper aims to cover
the majority of these tasks.
During the last two years, TEDECO has been
working with the University of Ngozi at Burundi
thanks to Technical University of Madrid funding
(TESON, 2006; TICAMEN, 2008). We illustrate this
proposal with some explanations related to our exper-
tise implementing the architecture that we propose at
the University of Ngozi.
In first world countries Information and Communica-
tion Technologies (ICT) are applied to the majority of
daily life fields, in professional and scientific environ-
ments but also in social and cultural ones (figure 1).
They are powerful tools, essential for modern devel-
opment. However, specific necessities in developing
countries produce that ICT are applied in a different
way or with slightly different objectives (Blogs ICT,
2008). Although there exist other application scopes
of ICT in developing countries, the main areas are
health (e-health) and education (e-learning).
In a first approach, it may seem that these coun-
tries have other priorities related to “survival” before
education. But from a long term perspective, the de-
velopment enhanced by education produce these ba-
sic improvements. Any development concept is each
day more relate to ICTs (Oswalder, 2003). There-
fore it is necessary to apply sustainable actions to im-
prove Internet and telecommunication accesses and
to improve knowledge about information technolo-
gies in general, so the development of local Web
content (UNCTAD, 2004). In fact, these infrastruc-
Figure 1: ICT cross-impact (Oswalder, 2003).
tures are growing at a faster rate than expected in de-
veloping countries. In some cases such as Internet
access through mobile technologies, these countries
are adopting cutting-edge technologies that developed
countries do not implement yet, since traditional ones
are still widely extended (UNCTAD, 2004).
E-learning may be defined in its widest meaning
as: electronic or based in technology learning”. This
e-learning interpretation may lead to several applica-
tions, but nowadays, e-learning and TICs are gen-
erally used as tools for (Ardizzone and Rivoltella,
make a more visible and modern University,
as an extension of the learning offer,
or as a learning virtualization.
Our proposal aims to take learning beyond a
global market, heading towards the idea of a univer-
sal learning. The e-learning can be the tool that allows
the multiplicity of professors, transporting their effort
also to developing countries. Within the application
of ICT in developing countries, e-learning is specially
interesting, since it permit to overcome the physical
limitations of traditional learning, promoting educa-
tion as the main remedy for poverty. These countries
lack of resources and infrastructures to implement
appropriate learning methodologies, therefore, tech-
nologies that permit distance education are very im-
portant. There exist a special lack of human resources
with skills in science and technologies, which to-
gether with an increment of students make e-learning
suitable to be implemented in developing countries.
Finally, as an added incentive, e-learning facilitates
the technological transference from first world coun-
tries to developing countries.
An appropriate technological and economic in-
frastructure is required to exploit e-learning correctly.
This infrastructure must cover three resources listed
below (Kamel, 2006):
Financing. In most cases, developing countries
CSEDU 2009 - International Conference on Computer Supported Education
governments have a limited budget for education,
where usually, not every student has access to a
free university education.
Infrastructure. Closely related to financing
problems is the lack of infrastructures: public
works, teaching staff and communications among
Content. It is essential to provide a teaching
staff that evaluate the student learning and include
adapted content to e-learning platforms.
As a result, to implement an e-learning applica-
tion in developing countries a coordinated effort in
these three requirements is needed. Many countries
do not have a proper communication network, espe-
cially outside big cities. And where the communi-
cation network does exist, there is not financing re-
sources to pay the connection. And when these two
conditions are satisfied, there is usually a lack of ed-
ucational contents. To solve the former problem, e-
learning may profit from open course programs such
as the MIT Open Course Ware (MIT, 2008). How-
ever, this content cannot be included directly, but af-
ter an adaptation to each situation. Although some
basic subjects are universal, others include social and
cultural aspects, or they must be adjusted to the ed-
ucative level of these universities.
The e-learning is being disseminated more and
more in developing countries through different
project, such as:
Programa de Actualizaci
on de Maestros en Edu-
on, AME, funded by Fundaci
on Cisneros in
Latin America (Fundaci´on Cisneros, 2008),
the Global Learning Opportunities On the Web,
GLOW (Challenge, 2008),
and the African Virtual University, AVU (Wolff,
The former organization, AVU, use ICT to offer
sub-saharan countries access to some academic re-
sources over the World. The final goal is to allevi-
ate the technological gap due to the lack of scien-
tific, engineers, technicians, and other professionals
that would facilitate the economic and social devel-
opment of Africa through the information society.
In a real case where the authors are involved,
a traditional distance educational method has been
adapted to special necessities and limitations encoun-
tered during development at University of Ngozi. Due
to innovative elements of the proposed method we
refer to it as cooperation and development -learning
(c&d-learning) (Escudero et al., 2008).
We propose a three-phase architecture that should be
implemented starting by the bottom one. We explain
details about each phase in the rest of this section.
Figure 2 provides a detailed representation of the im-
plementation architecture (in particular, the one that
is being introduced at the University of Ngozi).
TEDECO group has already finished the imple-
mentation of the first and second phase at the Uni-
versity of Ngozi during the execution of the TESON
project (TESON, 2006). Nowadays the third phase is
progressing thanks to funding through the TICAMEN
project (TICAMEN, 2008). We illustrate each of fol-
lowing sub-section using our experience in these two
3.1 Hardware Phase
Due to technical problems that target universities use
to suffer, the implementation of the c&d-learning is
extremely important to ensure that the hardware in-
frastructure would work properly. This process has
been divided into three sub-phases listed below:
electric current stabilization,
installation of several computer classrooms for
teaching (e-learning),
installation of a local network (intranet) to con-
nect computers within the university.
The hardware phase was finished with techni-
cal equipment adaptation and training of human re-
sources. These resources were needed for a local net-
work that should be built and maintained by qualified
local staff.
3.1.1 Electric Supply
Frequent shutdowns and lack of power stability, are
two facts that pose the following question: are devel-
oping countries ready for solutions designed at devel-
oped ones? The answer is probably no, but we may
adapt these solutions and solve some of these prob-
lems developing alternative technologies. For exam-
ple, one of the most promising solutions to palliate the
electric supply problems is using solar energy.
Solar panels are a good alternative to common
power supply in those regions where shutdowns are
frequent. However we found a new limitation: the
complete shutdown—the number of systems able to
operate with a solar power supply is very small. How-
ever, solar panels may also be used to stabilize the
c&d-LEARNING IMPLEMENTATION ARCHITECTURE Adapting e-learning to Developing Countries
c&d−learning Phases
Solar Pannels PCs reparation Intranet
Hw1st phase
2nd phase
3rd phase c&d sw
Internet connection
Maintenance training
Maintenance training
Satellite dish installation
Figure 2: Detailed c&d-learning Implementation Phases.
power supply. The stabilization of the electric cur-
rent is essential when the entire educational model
depends on a technological infrastructure.
The main drawbacks when using technologies in
development are the major constraints that appear im-
plementing a solution that should be stable over time.
3.1.2 Computer Classrooms and Maintenance
A sustainable solution must be based on the use of
available resources, so before purchasing new com-
puters and other hardware, the analysis of the current
state of the equipment at the University of Ngozi was
carried out (Osin, 1998). The second major limitation
of these countries arose then: outdated hardware—
solution: thin client technology.
These two limitations, problems with the electric
supply and outdated hardware, forced us to design a
different strategy to rebuild the new computer-based
classrooms. Following a thin client approach, out-
dated computers may be reused as terminals. This
solution also allows a fast recovery of user computers
after a power outage (Mart´ınez et al., 2008). Actually
this was our first work, computer reparation, selecting
the most powerful computers to be used as servers in
a thin client-based network. The sacrifice of a high
performance computer —which in a developed coun-
try would be used as a simple PC
allows reuse a
number of old computers. The number of terminals
connected to a single server (i.e. number of old com-
puters reused per available server) will depend on the
performance of it. The installation of a thin client-
based solution requires the development of a special
software for the resource sharing between client and
server (Mart´ınez and P´erez, 2008). Communication is
Personal Computer.
accomplished by sending the desktop from the server
to the client, which entails a mandatory network con-
sumption, which will depend on the content displayed
by the client.
3.1.3 Intranet
The main purpose of a local network is to enable a
shared access to Internet for employees and students
at UNG. For general Internet access, the maximum
bandwidth required by the local network is not a crit-
ical parameter (as will be shown later). The band-
width provided by a local network is in any case far
greater than the bandwidth available for Internet. Cur-
rent networking technologies use gigabit connections,
although 100 or 10 Mbps can be found yet. However,
the implemented network is indeed a bottleneck due
thin client technologies (exposed above) that require
significant use of network traffic.
3.2 Communication Phase
Developing countries generally do not have a
large deployment of conventional infrastructures for
telecommunications, traditionally implemented by
telephone networks. Non-standard connection tech-
nologies must be used to overcome connection prob-
lem in these countries. For this project with the Uni-
versity of Ngozi we have installed and tested a satel-
lite connection.
3.2.1 Satellite Connection
The use of satellite communication implies some lim-
itations that are important not only from a technical
point of view, but also from an academic perspec-
tive regarding educational content preparation. The
CSEDU 2009 - International Conference on Computer Supported Education
most important characteristic of a satellite connec-
tion is the asynchronous communication, i.e. the
information is sent and received through independent
channels (downstream and upstream). The bandwidth
of the upstream channel (or return channel) is quite
lower than the bandwidth of the downstream channel.
In addition, the return channel is limited by other
and more important— effect: the latency
All these problems are predictable and known in
advance, but there is an additional problem that can-
not be always controlled: the performance of a satel-
lite connection depends on external factors. Unset-
tled conditions may imply certain instability in the
satellite connection—i.e. weather. The number of
satellite connections in a region also affects these con-
nections; in general, the total bandwidth of a territory
is shared by all the connected users.
3.2.2 Connection Sustainability
It is crucial to guarantee the sustainability of the every
infrastructure deployed in these developments. Other-
wise the whole project will fail. The lack of sustain-
ability in solutions adopted is one of the main causes
of useless cooperation efforts. We included training
for the local team to maintain PCs and intranet infras-
tructures. At this point a similar training process is
necessary for the communication infrastructure.
However, the sustainability related to satellite con-
nections includes an economic component. Satellite
connection should be paid and the local institution
(University) should make sure this payment. In the
University of Ngozi case we encouraged the installa-
tion of a cyber within the campus to collect the satel-
lite connection fee. A viability plan was prepared at
the beginning of the implementation of the project to
guarantee its sustainability.
3.3 Software Phase
Although some software applications have been al-
ready developed in two previous phases, a third and
final phase is being carried out which works exclu-
sively adapting and developing a learning platform.
3.3.1 Learning Platform
With several open and available learning platform, ev-
ery day is more difficult to justify the development
of this software from scratch. Free solutions such as
are suitable for multiple operating systems
and are backed by a large community—i.e. forums,
Delay to transmit any information.
documentation, updates, etc. Consequently, these so-
lutions can be adapted to every user requirements.
In our case we are currently working to adapt
Moodle to developing countries requirements, opti-
mizing an asynchronous education model with three
new features:
an automatic content synchronization avoiding
the use of the Internet connection in periods with
high demand of bandwidth (working hours);
an enhanced off-line courses management system,
and a new role, the local professor as a content
facilitator to local students.
A learning platform adaptation is needed. First
world countries demand other characteristics from
these software tools and after review the state of the
art, there are none that cover all these issues.
3.3.2 Support Software and Digital Ink
More and more applications are available on the mar-
ket in relation to e-learning support software. Fre-
quently, these tools are referred to as digital ink when
they are used in a live environment, e.g. Classroom
(Anderson et al., 2007). The value of these
applications seems fairly interesting for e-learning,
but our experience —mainly in the communication
channel— shows us that this software is still far from
its application in developing countries.
Two main possibilities may be considered to present
educational content to a group of students:
using a single device visible by all the students
(e.g. by using a projector) is the first approach to
transmit educational contents,
distributing the content to every student using a
computer-based classroom.
Communication systems based on conferences
cover the first option. The second one requires con-
sidering resources available at the institution. This
paper describe a situation that face the former option
together with thin client limitations.
4.1 Conference
Direct communication may be essential for some ed-
ucational activities such as tutoring. Videoconference
is certainly the best solution to transmit information
c&d-LEARNING IMPLEMENTATION ARCHITECTURE Adapting e-learning to Developing Countries
over long distances, but its requirements do not allow
the use of this technology in several circumstances.
Reduced bandwidth, a connection frequently inter-
rupted or delayed because of network traffic are some
issues that may prevent using videoconferences for
teaching when scenarios with a minimum quality are
required to transmit information properly.
The satellite communication cause the main lim-
itation considered in our situation, i.e. asynchronous
connection, high latency in the return channel, and
shared bandwidth. Therefore, we are compelled to
explore all possible alternatives for communication,
such as teleconference or videoconference described
4.1.1 Teleconference
The minimum technology required for an on-line
communication is teleconference, i.e. a communica-
tion where only audio is transmitted. Even for this
simple communication, problems caused by an asyn-
chronous connection and the delay of the return chan-
nels due to latency must be considered. However, it is
not mandatory that the audio channel is synchronized,
and can be transmitted following just one direction
(the downstream direction). The return channel can
be text-based, e.g. chat. The teleconference can be
easily enhanced using a mixed system where audio is
complemented with images updated by the speaker:
slides, or a webcam picture of the professor among
4.1.2 Videoconference
Videoconferences only requires a higher bandwidth,
so it is also affected by the same problems in com-
munication: synchronization, latency, etc. For exam-
ple, in a satellite communication the videoconference
should be also transmitted in one direction. In fact,
videoconferences are similar to enhanced teleconfer-
ences where images are updated in higher frequen-
Using this strategy a priority management must
be carried out ensuring audio rather than video, so
the communication should be divided into two dis-
tinct channels. A reduction of bandwidth will cause a
reduction of video quality, but not audio, essential to
understand the communication content.
Nowadays, Google Inc.
offer a free solution with
these two possibilities, teleconference and videocon-
ference, with an acceptable quality, Google Talk. It is
particularly interesting with asyncrhonous communi-
cations between sender and receiver, providing possi-
bilities of sending audio and video only in one direc-
tion, using a written reply for the other direction.
4.1.3 Off-line Courses
When there is no guarantee in sending audio or video,
it is strongly recommended the use of an alternative,
such as the off-line exposure of a subject. This option
is specially interesting in those partnerships where
there is a significant time difference, such as in co-
operation between universities in Europe and Latin
4.2 Content Presentation
Educational content adaptation has meet some tech-
nological limitations. For example, a solution based
on thin client technology has remarkable limitations
inherent to its structure, mainly focused on network
usage. This should be also taken into account when
different options for e-learning are considered. For
example, the graphic below (figure 3) shows two
curves with the bandwidth consumed by thin clients
in different scenarios:
60 120 180 240 300 360 420 480 540 600
Time (seconds)
Bandwidth (kbps)
Web Browser
60 120 180 240 300 360 420 480 540 600
Time (seconds)
Bandwidth (kbps)
Figure 3: Bandwidth consumption in a thin client-based
In the first scenario, the terminal is playing a
video. The bandwidth consumed is shown by a
continuous line, which appears at the top of the
In the other scenario, the terminal is visiting web
sites through a web browser. The consumption is
shown with a dotted line, which can be observed
at the bottom of the figure.
CSEDU 2009 - International Conference on Computer Supported Education
The difference is quite significant suggesting that
video, and multimedia content in general, should not
be included within the information transmitted to ev-
ery student. Since we have assembled computer class-
rooms with low-performance equipment, and the in-
ternal network does not allow the transport of a high
bandwidth, there are some limitations that suggest
some rules to create educational content, such as:
remove multimedia contents (video, animations,
etc.) to avoid permanent desktop updates consum-
ing the bandwidth,
slide resolution reduction, i.e. less content by
slide and more slides.
In summary, any bandwidth reduction is an im-
provement in these situations. Specially those related
with unnecessary visual effects.
During many years the survival of universities with
our means at the south depends on the charity of for-
eign professors that travel to these countries to teach.
Depending on help received it may be an unsustain-
able solution, so it is not acceptable.
A number of universities at developing countries
are in a difficult situation for economic problems. E-
learning could be widely used at these universities to
overcome some economic issues. Nevertheless, the
minority of centers that use e-learning in south coun-
tries are the most advanced ones. It is a paradox, but
classical e-learning is not adapted to these countries
due to specific needs and technical characteristics. E-
learning is oriented to facilitate things to occidental
students with technological possibilities but it is not
oriented to help students without means.
We have proposed(Escudero et al., 2008) a variant
of e-learning adapted to developing countries limita-
tions. In this paper we provide an architecture to im-
plement the so-called c&d-learning. It is a complete
proposal that cover from hardware details to software
adaptation issues or communication infrastructures.
The most important characteristic of these implemen-
tation should be always the sustainability.
Our architecture is backed by our experienceat the
University of Ngozi. Where the two first phases have
been completed within TESON project (TESON,
2006) obtaining promising results, and we are cur-
rently working in the third phase in the framework of
the TICAMEN project (TICAMEN, 2008).
Thanks to the Universidad Polit´ecnica de Madrid
(particularly to the Cooperation for the Development
direction) for its economic and logistic support, and to
the Bishopric of Ngozi and to the University of Ngozi.
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