Designing a course model for distance-based online bioinformatics training in Africa: The H3ABioNet experience
Africa is not unique in its need for basic bioinformatics training for individuals from a diverse range of academic backgrounds. However, particular logistical challenges in Africa, most notably access to bioinformatics expertise and internet stability, must be addressed in order to meet this need on the continent. H3ABioNet (www.h3abionet.org), the Pan African Bioinformatics Network for H3Africa, has therefore developed an innovative, free-of-charge "Introduction to Bioinformatics" course, taking these challenges into account as part of its educational efforts to provide on-site training and develop local expertise inside its network. A multiple-delivery-mode learning model was selected for this 3-month course in order to increase access to (mostly) African, expert bioinformatics trainers. The content of the course was developed to include a range of fundamental bioinformatics topics at the introductory level. For the first iteration of the course (2016), classrooms with a total of 364 enrolled participants were hosted at 20 institutions across 10 African countries. To ensure that classroom success did not depend on stable internet, trainers pre-recorded their lectures, and classrooms downloaded and watched these locally during biweekly contact sessions. The trainers were available via video conferencing to take questions during contact sessions, as well as via online "question and discussion" forums outside of contact session time. This learning model, developed for a resource-limited setting, could easily be adapted to other settings.