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  • Member Since: August 4th, 2018
  • Location: South Africa
  • Website: www.mindcraftlearning.com
  • Find me on:

Bio

I am the CIO at GIBS, a leading business school in South Africa. But I’m also the founding director of an online eLearning startup called Mindcraft Learning. I love technology, and I believe very strongly in it’s role in education. South Africa in particular has immense potential, but has many challenges to overcome and I feel that education is key to our success, Mindcraft is my contribution.

WordPress Origin Story

After watching my kids and their friends struggle with the outdated schooling system my wife Imke and I decided karma had decided we had bigger things to do and have started an online learning solution for kids, particularly in South Africa and Africa.

Imke’s background is corporate Learning and Development, with a lot of eLearning consulting. I come from corporate IT, but have spent eight years in charge of IT at a business school, mostly Microsoft stack, but have also been asked to take over the digital learning portfolio. Can you see why the karma comment now?

Last year we started Mindcraft Learning. We are self-funded at this point. Out mission is to develop content for school kids based on the South African curricula, but also aligning to broader African context as much as possible. Our intention is to launch a product which can be delivered to less privileged children at little to no cost, our model being sponsorship and cross-subsidisation.

Our content is looking good. We use authoring tools like Articulate to build the material, and we have a few tricks up our sleeves in terms of contemporary engagement “apps” which we will launch iteratively once I am able to secure more funding.

My biggest problem was that the “modern” content delivery platforms just don’t feel modern. I come from corporate and the academic LMS platforms I use in my day job feel rigid and poorly designed. The more I’ve searched, the less impressed I’ve been with what was out there. We originally started with Moodle, which was at least customisable; but eventually I found that I would be over-customising and it felt like I was goign to be pulling the wheels off a car, filling the holes with silicone, adding an outboard and removing the engine, and calling it a boat.

I am an engineer at heart and I love knowing how things work from the ground up. So when it comes to coding, I want to write the stuff from first principles. So a website will be HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Node.js looked good as a server-side tool, and I was prepared to compromise with React because of the responsive features.

I very quickly learned that running your own, self-funded business, isn’t charitable to this approach and realised I needed to get the non-core stuff up as fast as possible, so I started tinkering with flexible CMS platforms. It didnt’ take me long to realise that there really was only one platform which could flex to do what I needed – WordPress.

Since I started, I’ve built up our delivery platform using WordPress on Google Cloud, and then moved to AWS. I find these platforms to be more flexible and affordable than the managed service providers.

I’ve used LearnDash, Grassblade, ACF Pro, WPForms, and a variety of other plugins to accelerate the basics, but what I’ve loved is that I can actually customise, even if it is Php, and not Node :-).

At this point I’ve build up a proprietary “family” registration and student sign up process, which takes into account the sensitivity of children’s private data, and prohibits communication with them. Online interaction is tracked very granularly through a protocol called XAPI and pushed to a data system called an LRS, from which we can tell parents and teachers in micro-detail where and how their kids are doing.

I used WooCommerce to handle commercials, as I didn’t want to have to worry about the detail of handling tricky financial transactions, but once again, I have found the need to leverage the flexibility inherent in WordPress to cater for less standard processes, such as having special ways for parents or sponsors to pay for kids subscriptions.

Most of this work was done over my December holiday and We launch in a months. It will be an MVP, but I’m hoping to use this to secure further funding so we can get more people on-board to build. There is absolutely no way I could have got a system of this complexity up and running without WordPress.

I’ve been completely converted. I still don’t love Php but it’s not that it isn’t powerful and I’m prepared to compromise. I think this is a phenomenally powerful and flexible architecture which is not being done justice with the legacy concept of being a blogging CMS; I think WordPress can be used as a foundation for pretty much any online presence, especially now that the REST API’s are being opened up. I can see myself using the same framework as the basis for IoT transactions from devices like Raspberry Pi’s, and for integrating with other API platforms.

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