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Lesson #10: the many advantages that online courses brought about

Online courses have enabled us to efficiently reach a wider and more diverse audience, ensure longer processes to share knowledge in a more horizontal and collaborative way, use debates and exercises as a strategy to continuously adapt and update training materials with examples from developing countries, and detect emerging trends and themes for the future.

We have already shared why we are convinced about the value of online courses in this post.

Many of these advantages and further ones have also been shared by contributors to P&I. For example, Clara Richards has stated in a recent post that “one of things I appreciate the most about online learning is the opportunity to meet with different kinds of people working in all sorts of development activities. It is an especially unique opportunity to expand our creativity by dealing with problems that are foreign to us, as they go beyond our daily routine, making us learn and find innovative solutions”.

She also highlighted the opportunity that they bring to the own trainer: “Regarding my role, I think this type of course allows me to behave more as a facilitator than as a tutor. This tone encourages the group to learn from each other instead of it being a tutor-participants vertical course. The truth is that we, as facilitators, may know about strategic plans, theories, useful readings, tools, etc., but we don’t necessarily know or understand every single context in which people work. Our job is to ask the right questions, something that only comes by having a genuine interest in each participant’s story. However, the answers come from them, therefore creating a dynamic that is much more interesting and gives real meaning to the content of the course. “

Moreover, Ravi Murugesan has added in his post two very important advantages:  the first one is the possibility to evaluate participants’ work: “If the goal of the training is to enable the learners to produce something that is 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.” A second one is reaching out to more women. Reasons for this are still to be detected. As a first step, he ponders:  “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?”

We should also begin to be more aware about limits and disadvantages of this type of methodology. In fact, some types of online courses (MOOCS) have been quite controversial the past year, for example, the New Yorker featured a very interesting article about the limitations of massive classes taken from a distance vis-à-vis the interaction between a teacher and a student that can be built through a continuous face to face relationship. Food for further thinking…