New Platforms Promote eLearning for the Humanitarian Sector


SEATTLE — It is no secret that the eLearning industry has been growing. Given its ability to avoid geographic and financial barriers that hinder more traditional forms of education, eLearning has become an increasingly vital tool for both professional and academic development. As a result, expansive online learning platforms such as Coursera, MasterClass and Udacity have grown in popularity. They offer learners the resources to expand their knowledge and skill set without the financial burden. In light of this success, eLearning has been implemented more and more in order to assist with humanitarian aid.

Kaya is one of these new platforms for eLearning in the humanitarian sector. Kaya was developed by the Humanitarian Leadership Academy in order to assist in its mission “to enable people around the world to prepare for and respond to crises in their own countries.” The platform functions as a centralized location in which humanitarian organizations can provide courses that they developed. Many of the courses are free for the user. The courses provide tools in order to address a variety of issues ranging from manmade and natural disasters to relief for marginalized groups and securing access to food and health services. Courses can be accessed via computer, phones or tablets.

eLearning for the Humanitarian Sector Helps Fill in Knowledge Gaps

The Borgen Project had the opportunity to speak with Amanda Warner, a learning designer who worked on two courses currently provided on Kaya. Communication is Aid challenges the learner to make decisions about how best to help a community that has been subject to a natural disaster. Preventing Corruption in Humanitarian Aid examines the impact of corruption on relief efforts and provides the learner with strategies for detecting and preventing corruption.

As a learning designer, Warner focuses on skill building and modifying behavior patterns through interactive experiences. Warner begins by conducting a series of interviews with project stakeholders, members of the target audience and subject matter experts. This allows her to garner a better understanding of the current situations, its present challenges and the changes that need to be implemented.

The initial research involves not only an assessment of the gaps in knowledge, but other factors affecting the targeted audience’s decision-making process. In fact, Warner told The Borgen Project that “almost always, the problems we attempt to address through learning (digital or otherwise) are not just related to a lack of knowledge. Someone may know that they should take a certain action, and even want to take that action, but resource constraints, misaligned incentives, organizational barriers, etc. prevent this. This also isn’t unique to humanitarian projects.”

Courses Demonstrate the Complexities of Real-Life Aid Situations

Undoubtedly, transferring online content into a real-life application is a necessary challenge for many learning designers. Warner explains that oftentimes the “right” choice is obvious in online scenarios because the right choice is the moral choice. Be that as it may, real life rarely offers the same clarity.

Warner gives the example of an individual who is responsible for the completion of a community development project. However, for construction to continue, the individual must pay a bribe. Warner explains that “as a learner within the safety of a course, you might be tempted to say that you should just stop paying the bribes. But then how do you complete the project, which is really important to the community? So you have to find ways to build community support, enlist the help of a community leader, etc., to find a way to both disengage from the bribe-paying but also complete the project.”

By introducing such complexities in the course, Warner believes that the course becomes more effective. The learner immediately sees the impacts of their decisions. This way, the learner may learn from their mistakes, rather than merely reciting content from the course. This crucial component can, therefore, make eLearning for the humanitarian sector uniquely effective at training volunteers in the field.

Thus, learning designers are in an excellent position to address some of the complaints about foreign aid services. Having heard stories of corruption and improper handling, many believe that foreign aid is entirely ineffective. Instead of trying to address these issues, they use it as justification to not contribute at all. Online courses have the chance to respond to these grievances. While eLearning for professional and academic enrichment is improving lives in developed countries, eLearning for the humanitarian sector may save lives just about everywhere else.

– Joanna Dooley
Photo: Flickr


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