Gateway Academy: Rethinking digital learning in Sub-Saharan Africa

CGAP and MasterCard Foundation

What was the project background?

The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) and the Mastercard Foundation (MCF) were looking to create an online learning initiative connecting financial service providers to training service providers. Through such partnerships, financial service providers would be able to train their staff in new and existing skill sets to strengthen their capacity to promote financial inclusion in the region.

What was the big project question?

How can we build the capacity of banks in emerging markets to meet the needs of the poor? 

What was the objective?

CGAP and Mastercard Foundation were looking at the problem from a financial inclusion perspective on how can we build better training within financial institutions at scale so that those financial institutions could better serve and provide products designed for the poor. 

Our objective was to design a new type of learning experience, specifically targeting learners in emerging markets in order to empower them to design new financial products in their own countries.

Villiage in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo by Erick Kiarie
Villiage in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo by Erick Kiarie

How did we work through the challenge?

User Research and Digital Transformation

In the early phases of the program, we identified that understanding how people learn would be just as critical, if not more so, than getting the technology right.

Our target audience, Banks in Sub-Saharan Africa, have traditionally done learning in person and for a select few individuals, but with the growing youth boom in Africa, bringing digital learning is the most scalable and effective way to build the capacity of their employees. Similarly, very few courses were ready for digital learning that reflected African learning experiences, so we partnered with local Training Service Providers to build their capacity and understanding of digital business models.

Key insights

Learning is different, everywhere

The way people learn has evolved by leaps and bounds over the past decade. Digital platforms have allowed learning to become more decentralized, accessible, and scalable, though it has been largely developed for highly educated, affluent learners in developed economies.

Gateway Academy to respond, instead, to the needs of learners in emerging markets so that the learning experience is consistent regardless of the technology available, and access to the internet.

Proliferation of mobile devices

We ran a design workshop in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with users and partners to really design and focus on the needs of Gateway Academy’s target users. We learned that most users would benefit from being able to take courses on their phones.

Access to computers is usually only available at the place of work, but all learners had smart phones and limited data plans. Learners also wanted to learn on their commute, and in response we designed both an offline and mobile experience.

Training traditionally happens in person

Very few courses were ready for digital learning that reflected African learning experiences, so we partnered with local Training Service Providers to build their capacity and understanding of digital business models.

Business Model

CGAP and Mastercard Foundation had the goal of spinning off Gateway Academy after our assignment to become a self-sustaining entity. In order to achieve this, we designed a new business model and approach that reflected the impact of focus and mission driven goals while being financially viable. We designed various models and growth strategies to expand into various markets including Francophone countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and potential expansions into South Asia and Latin America. 

Content Modeling

We developed the content model and navigation flow for courses over several iterations, with contributions from our UX, development, and e-learning teams. Each course is broken down into a series of “modules” composed of lessons, tasks, and discussion prompts. The navigation sidebar, at left, displays your progress so far, with icons for each lesson to indicate completion. Our design goal was to give users a clear sense of their progress within the overall course while minimizing distraction.

Design-centered content architecture and structure

We designed the platform to be able to respond to three types of courses:

  • Self-paced
  • Cohort-based
  • Workshop-based

We architected the platform to provide data analysis on learning, offer white-labeling and allow for learner data to be portable so that their data travels with them as they switch organizations. We developed the content model and navigation flow for courses over several iterations, with contributions from our UX, development, and e-learning teams.

Each course is broken down into a series of “modules” composed of lessons, tasks, and discussion prompts. The navigation sidebar, at left, displays your progress so far, with icons for each lesson to indicate completion. Our design goal was to give users a clear sense of their progress within the overall course while minimizing distraction. 

The most interesting thing was the research tools and talking to clients. Coffee with clients. The assignment was to talk to customers and staff to get their views on savings accounts. It gave me interesting insights and we are launching a new program as a result, to address a need. In talking to our clients during the assignment, the need to have a kids savings account came up. We are now looking to launch.

— AB Rwanda

Technology for offline digital learning

No shortcuts were taken. To build an app that is simple, enjoyable, and fast, we envisioned a new strategy for cross-platform mobile app development. We ran a design workshop in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with users and partners to really design and focus on the needs of Gateway Academy’s target users. We learned that most users would benefit from being able to take courses on their phones. Access to computers is usually only available at the place of work, but all learners had smart phones and limited data plans. Learners also wanted to learn on their commute, and in response we designed both an offline and mobile experience.

We developed iOS and Android simultaneously. In order to speed up development and reduce maintenance, we created a shared layer of business logic for all platforms. So when we have to make a change, it updates across every platform.

What were the outcomes?

Since its launch, over 1,000 learners have taken Gateway Academy courses,  with a 90% completion rate on average across all courses and users using the platform. The platform is also available in 12 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. In June 2020, Gateway Academy merged with Digital Frontiers, a Bill and Melinda Gates funded learning organization based in South Africa.