Online Training: Survey Results
In this issue of The Drum Beat, we take a hiatus from sharing network information and, instead, highlight the intriguing results of the survey recently hosted by The CI regarding the interest in and need for online training in communication for development.
People working in development, including development communication, are increasingly turning to the Internet to improve their knowledge and update skills. Participatory communication, programme evaluation and campaign planning appear to be the priorities for people in development communication.
These are some conclusions from a three-month survey conducted by Communication and Development Studies (CommDev), a post-graduate programme at Ohio University (U.S.A.), which was supported by The Communication Initiative through its online technologies and engagement with The CI network. From January to March 2004, more than 500 people from over 50 countries responded to the 17-question survey. CommDev is now developing online courses on communication for development and social change to be offered in early 2005.
"Over the past few years, we've had frequent inquiries about online training," said CommDev Director Dr. David Mould. "Many people simply can't afford the time or the money to spend a year or two in a graduate programme, away from their jobs and families. We decided to find out - in a systematic way - if there was a real need for online training, and what it would take to do it."
Of the 559 responses, 73% came from individuals based in developing countries; the rest were from the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand. Although the U.S. had the single largest number of respondents (17%), significant numbers also came from Nigeria (9%), India (6%) and South Africa (4%), followed by Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Peru and the U.K.
The survey results indicate that even professionals with advanced degrees are interested in online training-7% of respondents had doctorates, 43% master's degrees, and 8% some post-graduate education. Another 19% had a bachelor's degree and 7% some university education. Some wrote that they wanted courses because their degrees were in fields unrelated to development or communication, or because their education had become outdated. "I have this urgent need to update my know-how since I have been too immersed in hands-on work," wrote a respondent with over 10 years experience in development work in the Philippines. An international NGO (INGO) staff member in Nigeria, also with over 10 year's experience, wrote: "Am really interested. I need to know the state of the art in development communication, but do not have the time and resources for full-time campus-based training." An INGO staff member in Uganda wrote: "Online training eliminates all the costs and hassles that go with travel - No visa restrictions, etc. So it would be most convenient for us from the developing world."
The survey was completed by people at all career levels, indicating that even senior staff and managers are seeking professional development. Indeed, 90% of the responses were almost equally split between young professionals (1-4 years experience), mid-level managers (5-9 years) and senior staff (over 10 years). Of these, 19% work in NGOs, 17% in INGOs and 17% in international agencies; the next largest categories were independent consultants (13%) and government (12%). When asked about their level of expertise in implementing programmes and conducting research, 60% reported that they were "somewhat skilled" and 20% "very skilled." However, irrespective of skill level, over 65% said they would be interested in online courses.
Potential barriers to online education are slow download time and unreliable connections over dial-up telephone lines in some developing countries. "Who's going to bother with an online course if you have to spend half your time waiting for material to arrive?" asked Mould. "You want to be reading, writing and learning-not 'Connecting to.'"
The survey indicated better-than-expected levels of Internet access. Over 60% of respondents indicated they have high-speed (DSL or cable) Internet access at work, and 50% at a public facility, such as a library, resource centre or cyber café. Almost 42% have dial-up access and 23% have high-speed at home.
There were marked differences in access between the three countries with the largest number of respondents-the U.S. (N=85), Nigeria (52) and India (33). Over 75% of U.S. respondents and 60% of those in India have Internet access at home, compared to only 25% in Nigeria. However, over 50% of Nigerian and Indian and 70% of U.S. respondents have high-speed access at work, and in all three countries over half the respondents have high-speed access in a public facility.
Despite these results, the CommDev team is cautious about over-reliance on the Internet, especially for large data files. "Please take special consideration," wrote a religious organisation staff member in Kenya, "of those in resource-poor countries who cannot stay online for long periods because of the expense." When respondents were asked how they would like to access course material-in printed format by mail, on the Web, or from a CD-ROM-30% said all the options were acceptable. However, almost a quarter said they prefer reading materials in print format. "We've got to make courses available to people who have the most basic access," said Mould. "We'll be taking a no-frills approach that stresses content and learning over packaging."
Which are the areas where professionals want most to improve their knowledge and skills? The top three-favored consistently by respondents at all career levels-are programme evaluation, participatory communication, and campaign planning. There was also interest in other areas-media for advocacy, technology for development, social marketing, grant-writing, audio and video campaign production, and Web-based campaigns. "I would like practical, fairly short courses that enhance skills, rather than longer term academic courses," wrote a staff member from an international agricultural research center in Peru. "I have looked for this type of online course but failed to find any."
How much time are people prepared to put into online learning on a weekly basis? Almost half the respondents (46%) said they would devote 4-6 hours, and one-third said 1-3 hours. Almost 20% were prepared to put in more than eight hours a week.
Cost is a key issue for many in the developing world. Fewer than half the respondents (41%), mostly from the U.S., said they could pay for online courses from personal funds; others, mostly from developing countries, said they would seek grants or scholarships, or ask their employers to pay. Apparently, some agencies are willing to do so. "The need is increasing rapidly, especially in my organization, which has increasing numbers of staff in field offices," wrote a manager from a multilateral development agency in the Philippines. "Our organization may be willing to pay for staff to take these courses electronically."
For many respondents, academic and professional recognition of their learning is important; an educational qualification may lead to a promotion-or a better job. Two out of three (65%) said they were interested in receiving post-graduate credit for an online certificate, and 38% said they would consider enrolling in a full-time master's program in the U.S. after completing a certificate. However, 24% said they did not plan to go on to a master's programme; according to written comments, many do not have the resources to leave their jobs for full-time study.
At CommDev, a three-person team is analysing the survey data, and designing courses on the three topics most heavily in demand-programme evaluation, participatory communication and campaign planning. Team members are doctoral mass communication student Ketan Chitnis (India), and second-year CommDev graduate students Emmanuel Adugu and Phyllis Dako-Gyeke (Ghana).
From the survey results, other research, and discussions with possible collaborating organisations (for example, the Communication for Social Change Consortium), the CommDev team defined key objectives. The courses will:
- Focus on communication, rather than specific development sectors. Courses will be designed so that sector specialists - for example, in public health, agriculture, human rights, conflict resolution - can apply them to their work.
- Stress participatory approaches, using the existing communication capacities and networks of communities.
- Be based on principles of adult learning, relating material to the professional and personal experiences of participants.
- Build learning communities where traditional teacher-student relationships are challenged, and all participants are encouraged to contribute their knowledge and experiences.
- Provide critical perspectives on current theory and practices.
- Apply research and theory to the real-world development issues participants face in their everyday work.
- Make use of problem-based learning methods, e.g. case studies and current issues/problems.
- Use easily accessible on-line sources and materials, with a balance between Western and non-Western sources.
A major challenge in online learning is to build relationships that encourage the sharing of knowledge and experiences. "Peer learning, as an important source of learning in on-campus courses, is a major missing element in most distance learning courses," noted a development consultant from India with over 10 years of experience. The team is studying two approaches:
- Building virtual, multinational, and multidisciplinary teams, so that participants work with colleagues from other countries, cultures and development sectors through online discussions and group projects.
- Working with universities in developing countries to provide public access Internet sites where participants from a country or region can work together, helped by a local trainer/facilitator with teaching and development communication experience.
CommDev plans to invite applications for short courses later this year, and launch the programme in early 2005. To comment on the survey results and the subsequent plan for courses, or to indicate your interest in further information, please contact CommDev at email@example.com
This issue was written by David Mould, Director, Communication & Development Studies, Ohio University.
The Canada-based Chum Television Network, with the support of the Canadian International Development Agency, is currently producing a 4-part series on development media to be aired on its internationally syndicated programme Mediatelevision.
The series will focus on the various uses of media in development in Africa and the Indian subcontinent in such areas as HIV/AIDS, human rights, gender, environmental sustainability, conflict resolution, rural development, economic empowerment, etc.
If you are aware of any development media projects in Africa or the Indian sub-continent that receive support from CIDA or any of its partners, please contact minute:thirty productions at: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Call for Jurors
Scenarios USA, a NYC-based non-profit organisation, would like your help selecting the winning script for the New York City 'What's the Real Deal?' Contest. Deadline for jury selection: April 29, 2004.
If we can just get the message out there, things will get better, regardless of context.
[For reference, please see The Drum Beat 242]
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