WASHINGTON— Launched in February 2013, the Learning Lab is the result of USAID’s adoption of a collaborating, learning, adapting (CLA) approach to global development.
Part library and part forum, the Learning Lab invites professionals to join an online learning community that provides a wide variety of resources and discusses ways to facilitate global development. It is free to register and open to anyone interested in joining. An online account grants access to hundreds of studies, articles and knowledgeable professionals.
Note: If you’re not very familiar with USAID’s policies and techniques, a helpful tool to check out before diving into the rest of the website is the Glossary listed in the Learning Guide’s table of contents.
The Learning Guide
The Learning Guide is step-by-step description of USAID’s key policies and goals. It explains the Program Cycle and how a collaborating, learning, adapting (CLA) approach will facilitate the implementation of USAID programs.
According to the Glossary, the Program Cycle “refers to the various stages of USAID’s approach to delivering development assistance.” Its components include Agency Policies and Strategies, Country Development Cooperation Strategies, Project Design and Implementation, Monitoring, Evaluation, Learning and Adapting, and Budget and Resources.
Each of these steps is discussed in depth in the Learning Guide, which gives a three-part analysis on each major topic. Each of the key terms mentioned is defined in the Glossary at the end of the Guide. This page provides a foundational understanding of USAID’s goals and projects.
The Lab Notes section of the website is a feed of announcements, research, updates and other news regarding learning approaches to development. This is the place to find news on USAID and other global development programs and studies.
Some of the resources currently listed on this page include “What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why: Notes From a Discussion with Partners on Operational Issues with M&E,” and “Learning in Action: How Learning Networks in Kenya Are Strengthening Health Systems.”
The events page lists conferences, seminars and other events around the world, including online events. Events currently listed include a seminar offered by KM Reference Group titled “Good Practices in Webinar Facilitation” and the Asia Regional Civil Society Experience Summit.
The resources tab encompasses the Learning Library, Ask & Answer, Media Gallery, Learning Networks, Technical Library and Programnet. Programnet is open only to USAID staff, but all other features are available to any member of the Learning Lab.
The Learning Library is similar to Lab Notes, but covers a much wider range of topics. The resources listed can be organized and filtered by the kind of resource it is (newsletter, reference, policy document), the learning approaches it covers (adapting, facilitation, methodology), or the USAID program cycle component it falls under (evaluation, monitoring, project design and implementation).
The Ask & Answer page allows professionals to discuss different strategies for learning-based development and program implementation. Several questions currently on the site include, “How to measure knowledge application and its benefits,” and “How do you ‘incentivize’ learning?” Both USAID staff and members of the community partake in the discussions. An upcoming feature called Office Hours will allow site members to join live chat discussions with USAID staff from the Policy, Planning, and Learning Bureau.
The Media Gallery is a multimedia collection on learning development.
The Learning Networks Resource Center includes library resources about building and maintaining learning networks.
The group feature of the website allows professionals with similar goals to network and discuss solutions in their given field. There are currently 13 groups, most of which require approval to join.
Though fairly new, USAID’s Learning Lab is a useful tool for discovering, revising and sharing global development strategies. Its intuitive interface makes it easy to navigate, allowing users to focus their energies on networking and collaborating with other professionals. It also produces an opportunity for the agency to receive feedback, prompting the agency to adapt to new ideas in positive ways and further facilitate global growth.