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Online training is THE thing!

This post was written by Ravi Murugesan, INASP  Associate,  as a response to Vanesa Weyrauch’s post titled “Is online training THE thing?” in this website.

I work in the AuthorAID project at INASP, an international development charity in the UK that is dedicated to putting research knowledge at the heart of development.

Courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

AuthorAID’s mission is to support developing country researchers in publishing their work. Since 2007, when we started out, we have conducted numerous workshops on research writing in our partner countries in Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. In 2011, we initiated e-learning by installing Moodle and developing an online course in research writing. Following the success of the pilot course late that year, we have conducted 3 more courses.

About 150 researchers from over 30 developing countries have so far taken our online courses on AuthorAID Moodle. I wholeheartedly agree with Vanesa’s list of advantages of online courses. Reading points 2 and 3 in her list was an “a-ha” moment for me: I’ve been trying to communicate pretty much the same thing in different words at different times but I think Vanesa has said it best. I must remember to give a link to her post the next time I want to point out how online courses can actually be better than on-site workshops.

I would like to add two more points to the list of advantages:

  1. Evaluating the participants’ work: If the goal of the training is to enable the learners to produce something that’s seen on a computer (like a document or video), handling these “productions” on a computer is easier for both the participant and the trainer. If, on the other hand, the training is meant to help the learners do something face-to-face (like public speaking), face-to-face training wins.

At AuthorAID, we run courses in research writing and proposal writing – it’s all about writing! We ask learners to submit abstracts or short proposals, and we give them brief evaluations. Also, many learners make very good use of the discussion forum to ask questions and post responses and views. So during the course they get practice in writing to communicate, which is related to the goal of the course.

2. Reaching out to more women: Let me state now that this point is based only on my observations (could be flawed) and my opinions (could be just my own!).

Both Vanesa and I have seen good gender balance in our online courses, and in a recent email exchange we reflected on the reasons for this. She felt one reason could be that women may find it more difficult than men to travel to or commit to attending workshops, which usually have fixed schedules. But I wonder if there’s something more to explain this. I think for many people the opportunity to attend a workshop or training program is a matter of prestige: time off from work, maybe the chance to travel to a different place (and have expenses taken care of), and so on. If a workshop is not preceded by an objective and competitive selection process, could men who work in male-dominated environments or cultures have more access to “prestigious” opportunities such as workshops?

Whatever the reasons may be, online learning might indeed present fewer barriers to women than classroom learning.

With the rise of MOOCs (massive open online courses), online courses are now more firmly part of mainstream education and training. At one point online courses might have been seen as a poor relation of classroom or face-to-face courses, but I don’t think that’s true anymore.