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Is online training THE thing?

For the past five years under the “Spaces for engagement: using knowledge to improve public decisions” programme from GDNet and CIPPEC we have carried out different capacity building (CB) activities using a wide range of mechanisms. We were fortunate enough as to be able try out diverse CB strategies. Thus we have worked as a live lab where we could test different ways of developing capacity, ranging from regional face to face conferences and workshops to peer assistance, technical assistance and online courses.

Courtesy of renjith krishnan at freedigitalphotos.net

Thinking about what has been most effective from our experience online courses quickly show up as our golden star. Through 13 courses we have been able to “train” 212 researchers and policy makers from 44 countries, including Latin America, Asia and Africa. After trying out other mechanisms, we have decided to strengthen online training due to its diverse advantages:

1)      Larger scope with less money: reaching such a diverse group by any other face to face mechanism would have implied an enormous amount of funds, plus environmental implications of having all people travel.

2)      Longer process to incorporate knowledge: going online has allowed us to carry out 6 week courses where participants were able to digest more knowledge within a larger period of time (a face to face interaction would have required sharing that knowledge in much shorter time), assess how to apply it in their organizations, and also share it with colleagues (practical exercises required them to discuss inputs with others)

3)      Horizontality and co-production of knowledge: these courses enable more horizontal relationships in terms of learning through the exchange of concrete experiences, challenges and practices among peer organizations. The traditional trainer becomes more similar to a facilitator. Also, we constantly detect new examples, tools, etc. that participants share through the course that can be used in future ones.

4)      Continuous adaptation of best literature and knowledge available to developing countries´ realities by learning through questions, concerns, needs and challenges posed by participants in ongoing forums.

5)      Better understanding of topics as well as how to apply what has been learned in their daily work by participants thanks to the permanent assistance and engagementof tutors, who provide written feedback to exercises, responde to questions in forums, etc.

6)      Detection of emerging trends and themes on which CB is mostly required by direct interaction with participants and written evaluations to assess interest in future similar activities.

7) Participants can accommodate participation according to their own agendas since modules are sent at the beginning of the week and they can read, participate in forums and do exercises when feasible for them. This is important if we think about how difficult is to find time to invest in this type of activities.

However, even though satisfaction rates have been high (average 90%), we cannot ensure that these courses have effectively built lasting capacity  in individuals and their organizations. One of the ways we think we could improve this is to select a group of the most committed and promising participants to: 1) provide them with technical assistance/mentoring to develop some specific change/s related to what has been learned after the course has ended, and/or 2) provide them with co-funding (some funds should come from the individual/organization to promote buy in and sustainability) to develop this change.

Therefore, if I were able to choose how to move I would be inclined to continue improving virtual learning and have a specific follow up incentive (if it´s a face to face one even better) to continue the process of building capacity with most engaged candidates.

You are welcome to comment on these points but I would also love to learn about other type of mechanisms. What are you doing or thinking about doing? What would you never do again? What are your criteria for assessing which is the better mechanism to apply?