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Posted by on Dec 12, 2015

Open Learning as Professional Development: Iterating on Organizational Culture

openlearningI am reposting this here from Panoply Digital.

This post emerges from conversations we have been having with clients regarding partner networks, how best to serve them, how best to make use of their technological practices, freely available tools, etc. Several of our clients serve large networks of partner organizations surrounding a particular activity: literacy, public private partnerships, education, and so forth. Often these networks have wildly divergent capacity for attending to these activities. Some with basic knowhow and a reliance on SMS and the occasional social media for all their outreach and advocacy, some with sophisticated tracking tools, advocacy and outreach programmes, and a professional polish to their online presence. We feel that Panoply Digital is best positioned to serve the former. So, we look for opportunities for building capacity through professional development and education.

As such, this post is also building on a previous post I did on open learning opportunities as many of these partner networks are citing a need for professional development opportunities for which they often lack a budget. Not only is there a need to develop capacity for listening in to discussions surrounding best practices, partnerships, and general knowledge exchanges, but there is a need for a more proactive, systematic professional development structure to allow these partner networks and organizations to expand. To build their own capacity, to attend to their own needs. To achieve that self-reliance that they strive for. So, we look a bit further in this post into open learning opportunities that might fill this professional development need.

A loose structure that might be employed internally in an organization looking to take advantage of these open learning opportunities would be simply to have teams or individuals review existing open learning courses, develop a yearlong professional development plan of no less than three courses over a year, take the courses, get the certificates as needed, and report back in after the course to the larger team or organization about takeaways and applications at the local level. It could be much more sophisticated than this, but having some autonomy over the process helps in empowering employees to see this as personal as well as professional development. There are certainly enough courses available to break it down across teams: Communications, Outreach and Advocacy, Business or Organizational Management, Research, and so forth. What follows are just a few, but consider the potential here and the need to organizationally plot this out a bit before plunging in. Each learner creates their own learning plan, composed of courses they should take (professionally) and courses they want to take (personally); from there, the director of each team maps these individual learning plans into organizational learning goals. Yearly reviews determine gaps in capacity and adjustments are made. The difficult part isn’t necessarily the access to opportunity; the following list alone should dispel that fear. The larger issue is organizational culture, or more specifically transitioning an organizational culture into a proactive, knowledge-based, collaborative environment. That takes discipline and that takes leadership.

  • World Bank Group– full disclosure is that I work on these open courses, but that shouldn’t detract from their relevance to professional development particularly for those organizations working in development (ICT4D or otherwise). They offer month-long courses in Finance for Development, Public Private Partnerships (PPP), Risk Management, Citizen Engagement, and Climate Change. This suite of courses is ideal for practitioners, those working on the ground in these areas, or those organizations looking to expand their outreach and advocacy efforts.
  • For those working in development, Stanford, Columbia, and the University of Edinburgh offer courses in democratic development, sustainable development, and ethical development, respectively.
  • For something more pragmatic, the always relevant Manchester offers courses in water supply and sanitation policy in developing contexts, public health, and population health
  • Health itself has a large range of offerings: Global Adolescent Health (from Melbourne), Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (Lund), Community Change in Public Health (Johns Hopkins), Epidemiology (North Carolina) and many more.
  • While I might take some umbrage with their structuring towards a paid model, Coursera does offer specializations for those organizations wanting to improve their capacity for operating their own organizations; they have specializations (series of courses leading towards a certification) in Leadership and Management, Finance, Marketing (highly recommended for those wanting to improve their capacity for engaging their audience with advocacy and outreach), Project Management and more. Imagine having one member of each team (Outreach, Admin, etc.) working towards a specialization yearly; hard to imagine that this wouldn’t have at least some impact on the organization’s capacity for increasing their impact.
  • For those wanting to get more involved in mobile for development (M4D), there are specializations directed at mobile app development. While much of this might not apply to a developing nations’ context (in particular as they virtually ignore SMS), this can be counterbalanced with training in FrontlineSMS, Text.it, or some such service.

These are just samples and they were all taken from Coursera. FutureLearn and edX have many more as well, as do smaller platforms like Peer2Peer University and others. There will be some hurdles to clear in terms of connectivity as many of these are highly video-oriented (a trend that I would like to see evolve a bit). Many are not as mobile friendly as they could be, but they are there. And many, at least for the time being, are free. Panoply Digital works with organizations towards developing these types of learning approaches, but it begins with a willingness to experiment, to brainstorm, to make mistakes and iterate. The learning programme will change from year to year as your organization evolves and respond to evolving opportunities. That is to be expected. Professional development of this sort assists in that regard by allowing organizations to foresee change, manage it, and benefit from it.

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  1. Open learning: migratory practice as opposed to problematic structure | Michael Sean Gallagher - […] I readily extol the virtues of open learning as a means of developing professional capacity. I just wrote a…

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