Yusra Laila Visser (1975-2020)

Yusra served the Learning Development Institute from before its inception until her death in May 2020. We lived and worked continents apart. Yet, she was my closest collaborator and interlocutor when discussing, in the late 1990s, the state of human learning and its inadequacy for our current epoch, imagining what would be required to bring about fundamental change. It's the discussions we then had--mostly conducted via email and, on occasion, when professional travel opportunities brought us together for a couple of days--that eventually led to the idea of founding the Learning Development Institute. She was my natural first choice for Vice President. We all miss her dearly. She was, quoting Abraham Zalzman Miodownick from Caracas, Venezuela, an "exceptionally gifted woman in intellectual matters, very sweet, smiling, pleasant, explorer of new paths, with outstanding personal and professional talents that remain in the memory, now fueled by the journey she has undertaken and that physically separates us, although we keep her close and present."

A tribute to Yusra can be found on the 'Meaning of Learning' blog.

Below is the personal page she created long ago (last updated in 2006) to describe herself, her history, and her interests.

Jan Visser, President

Most people begin a casual conversation with me by asking where I am from. "Yusra" is a name that does not sound familiar to most ears, so it is usually assumed that I come from some exotic location. My well-rehearsed reply to this question is, "I was born in The Netherlands, but I grew up in Africa." This naturally brings on the next question: "Oh, so your name is Dutch?" And, I dutifully respond; "Actually, it's Arabic."


The diversity and confusion in my vital statistics is ironically quite reflective of the overall nature of my life and interests. It complements what you can read in my CV. On this page I include a few more personal reflections and details; the kinds of things which are harder to identify on a CV.
Earliest Years
I spent 18 years living in southeast Africa, traveling through some of the most interesting and impressive parts of the southern hemisphere. Throughout my childhood years I learned about the wonders and the difficulties of the postcolonial states in Africa. I witnessed the beauty of the optimism and commitment of a newly-independent country setting up its first social, political and economic systems. I saw the splendor of the diversity of lifestyles and cultures in those regions of the world. Concurrently, I also witnessed the ravaging effects of war, poverty, and disease as the fabric of these nascent southern African states was strained through the processes inherent in the postcolonial era.
As a teenager, I was given the opportunity to learn about the complicated political and social challenges in the global context by attending a very unique school. At age 12, I went to the Waterford Kamhlaba United World College, a boarding school in Mbabane, Swaziland. During those years I learned much about the values of a solid education. More importantly, I learned about the importance of political action and consciousness, about social service, and about the use of systematic inquiry for interpreting the attributes of the world around us. Waterford was created to provide interracial schooling opportunities while the Apartheid regime was active in South Africa. The school, therefore, promoted a strong focus on addressing political dynamics in the southern African context of that time. In addition, the school strongly emphasized community service work. As a result, I was able to serve as the local chapter president for Amnesty International. In addition, I was gaining experience in working with physically and mentally challenged children and adults and taught in the public school system. While completing the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme at Waterford I conducted a research analysis (in conjunction with the Swazi Ministry of Works and Transport) titled "Footpaths to Development." The research reported on the impact of urbanization on the patterns of footpaths in the suburban areas of Mbabane (the capital city of Swaziland).
University Studies
Upon completion of my secondary education, it was clear I would be well suited to a life in dedication of social service. After spending a brief period working at the Chapungu Shona Sculpture Garden in Zimbabwe (a venue for the development and display of top-level artistic expression in stone by Zimbabwean artists, mainly of the Shona tradition), I relocated to Washington, DC, where I completed my undergraduate degree at the School of International Service. While I specialized in Africa Studies and Political Economy, I also took a variety of courses in Spanish and French literature, Latin American studies, and US foreign policy. I even took a course that focused exclusively on the continent of Antarctica!

To round off my postsecondary studies I enrolled in Florida State University's Instructional Systems program, where I completed my graduate studies. My dissertation focused on comparing Problem-Based and Lecture-Based instructional strategies on problem solving performance and processes, as well as attitudes, in high-school Genetics. Simultaneously, I gained valuable work experience in the design of distance learning curricula and courses, the development of electronic performance and training systems, and the training of educational practitioners. Through these experiences and my involvement in professional associations, I worked with colleagues to define more clearly the nature and implications of the "unknowns" in the areas of education and learning.
Instructional Systems and Responding to Learning Needs
My passion for understanding the mechanisms mediating learning stems from both an innate curiosity about - and commitment to - addressing the vast human development needs. Given my background, I have developed an intense appreciation of the vast and complex challenges facing the global community at the dawn of the new millennium. This has been an integral foundation for my work as a research fellow and member of the Board of Directors at the Learning Development Institute, where I have focused, among other things, on the organization's activities in Problem-Oriented Learning and The Scientific Mind.
I have spent the last decade focusing on impacting policy, research and practice in learning systems and technology. I have designed and deployed a wide range of education programs at institutional, national and international levels. Recognizing that traditional approaches have failed to show the requisite sustained impact in a rapidly changing global context, I have focused on innovative, collaborative, and research-based interventions which enable lifelong and life-wide learning and development. Being proficient in five languages (Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, and English) I have had the unique opportunity to work (in collaboration with stakeholders, communities and practitioners), on virtually every continent on the globe.
Much of my work has focused on creative and research-informed integration of technologies for learning. As a very critical consumer of research in education, I advocate the use of research-based approaches and the evaluation of technology based education. I am committed to innovative approaches for leveraging technologies for learning, and seek to harmonize technology with innovative designs, so as to achieve something qualitatively different from "business as usual" in educational practice.
As Program Assistant for the International Development Division of the Education Development Center in Washington, DC, I worked on the implementation of programs responding to basic education needs of traditionally underserved audiences in low-income countries. Our focus was on the use of radio (an often overlooked medium), to improve quality and access in developing countries.
On the other hand, I have worked on the development of fully online University curricula, implementing professional development programs for teachers, and applying advanced technology-based designs for the delivery of SCORM-compliant, Object-based flagship training programs for clients such as the World Bank, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the U.S. Navy.
In 2003 I accepted a faculty position at Florida Atlantic University's Instructional Technology program, where I served the university through my contributions in teaching, research, and service. From 2007-2011, I served as the Program Coordinator for a K-20 collaboration between Florida Atlantic University and the Broward County School District (one of the largest school districts in the U.S.). As part of this high-impact program, I oversaw the design and delivery of graduate-level courses on technology integration and data-driven decision making to some 1200 in-service K-12 teachers annually.
Presently, I teach online at Nova Southeastern University, focusing on doctoral courses in Instructional Design and Technology (in Spanish and English). In addition, I continue to teach undergraduate and graduate courses in Educational Technology for Florida Atlantic University. I also I serve as a long-term technical expert/consultant in learning design and performance improvement for the World Bank.
Making the Connection: Practice, Research and Policy
While I have been keenly aware of the role of formal and informal learning for human development from my earliest years, my work experience in International Development Education was the foundation for looking more systematically at learning as a phenomenon and at education as a mechanism for meeting critical learning needs. As I explored this further I found that in learning and education there seem to be more questions than answers. Yet, strangely enough, we - as members of professional communities involved in international human development work - appear to have stopped asking some of these critical questions in spite of their importance to the advancement of the knowledge at the foundation of our profession.
As a member of the Instructional Systems community, I draw on a strong multidisciplinary foundation (including learning psychology, information communications and technology, educational research, and systems theory). Contemplating the contributions in each of these varied disciplinary areas, I explore the use of learning technologies to develop global networks for (a) knowledge building and exchange and (b) establishing meaningful and mutually enriching collaborative efforts between teachers and students across the globe.
I have sought to contribute consistently to the scholarly foundations of my discipline. In addition to publishing four books and some 15 chapters and journal articles, I have delivered over 20 presentations at international conferences (including three Presidential Sessions and four Special Sessions), and supported the planning and implementation of four instantiations of the Advanced International Colloquium on Building the Scientific Mind (2007 in the Netherlands, 2009 in Canada, 2011 in Egypt, and 2013 in South Africa). I am a member of the Consulting Board of Editors for Educational Technology Research and Development (2005-present), the flagship journal for research and development in Educational Communications and Technology. My scholarly contributions have been formally recognized with the James W. Brown Award for Outstanding Publication in Educational Technology (2006 and 2009), which was awarded for publications in which I have been involved as book editor (2006), and as chapter contributor (2009).
In all of these roles, and in my involvement in various professional communities, I look to the state of validated knowledge and consider what we might be able to add to the knowledge base so that we can be more effective in our teaching and learning. I consider how we can make schools a more integrated aspect of the community, so that we can apply our energies to leaving the world behind in a better state than in which we found it. And I try to question the things that we have grown to accept as "stated fact", so that we can look at alternative explanations for phenomena, and so that we can develop learning paradigms and systems that reflect the complexity of the world and of the individual learners.
Below are links to a small selection of my academic writing:
I can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected].