Why e-learning in the NGO sector should be different

The NGO* sector is struggling with its e-learning strategies. Aside from a few exceptions, this is what the current e-learning landscape looks like:

  • Organisations look to the corporate sector for expertise and end up with a range of one-hour individual training modules.
  • Further inspired by the corporate sector, NGOs run webinar programmes – usually the expert-centred type with a short Q&A at the end.
  • NGOs have partnerships with universities so staff can upskill by doing one of the university’s online courses (management and leadership are the most popular subjects).

Yet corporate and university style e-learning is only effective for a very small part of the NGO sector’s learning needs. This sector has a very different mission and unique challenges, which should be reflected in how staff and target groups are supported in their learning.

Simply put, the foci of e-learning programmes in the different sectors could be set apart like this:

E-learning in educational sector → assessment
E-learning in corporate sector → compliance/systems
E-learning in NGO sector → … (empowerment)

Based on the NGO sector’s missions, I believe the focus of most learning events in this sector must be empowerment, regardless of the fact that non-profit organisations usually need some basic compliance and systems training as well to support efficient work processes.

However – looking at current NGO e-learning programmes – it seems many NGOs lost track of their mission when devising their e-learning strategy.

For their main capacity building efforts, the NGO sector shouldn’t emulate the e-learning approaches used in corporate or educational sectors. To develop the employees through staff training or to bring about a positive change in society at large, this sector needs distinctly different methodologies.

I have written before about the need for more social constructivism in the development sector. The arguments are valid for a broad range of NGOs.

The NGO sector needs its own approach to e-learning which focuses on empowerment, instead of emulating corporate and university style e-learning.

These approaches aim to empower people rather than just train them. The difference between these concepts is important. When we empower people, they become real change agents and have/take the authority to make a difference, to do something to address problems – within their organisations or communities.

In fact, across all sectors we could achieve so much more with e-learning if the focus is on empowerment (an interesting article here), but I feel it’s even more urgent to get this right in the NGO sector because this is at the core of their missions. Ignoring this focus means they are doing a considerable disservice to their staff, target groups and funders.

*To keep it simple I include non-profit, not-for-profit and charities in this group.

The one-right-answer problem
‘Discussion forum’: don’t let the name of the tool put you on the wrong learning design track


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