#02 Business
Christian Gmelin

Only for Geeks

A modern way of learning, collaborating and sharing

"E-learning is nothing more than reading a text on the screen or downloading PDFs and printing them out". This is one stereotypical answer many people give when asked what they know about and their attitude towards e-learning. Others simply feel uneasy dealing with computers in general and this kind of distance learning in particular. Furthermore, some people feel quite strongly that web-based training makes students lazy and asocial. When it comes to computers as crucial tool for learning and communicating, an image of geeky guys usually comes to mind, trapped in puberty forever, wearing wire-rimmed glasses and sitting in front of the screen all day long, totally cut off from the outside world.

As a matter of fact some e-learning courses entail little more than flipping through pages. There is also no doubt that spending all day in front of a computer tends to reduce the number of social interactions. And lastly, computer technology can at times seem quite mysterious to the user.

But that is not the point; the emphasis here is not on the e but rather on the manifold ways and possibilities for learning. Ideally, e-learning course designers aim to promote a learner's interactivity with the course material, instructor and fellow learners. This makes e-learning very engaging, rich and instructionally powerful. Putting lecture notes online does not discourage students from coming to class; instead it frees them to listen to lectures more attentively. Students who are reluctant to speak up in class are often more comfortable communicating electronically because they will not be ‘seen'. Various differences, due to gender issues for examples, are minimised, and students may take their time in preparing a response. The diverse cultural backgrounds of many e-learning groups foster a high degree of intercultural sensitivity and social interaction.

E-learning also presents a new learning model for teachers and students. It is not true that e-learning completely drops the idea of teaching and learning. But instead of instructor-centred teaching it favours independent students and tutors who see themselves as students' sparring partners rather than as traditional authorities. This approach calls for a high degree of ownership on the part of the students. It's an upgrade on the Enlightenment's slogan sapere aude! – dare to e-learn!

For more than 10 years, the German capacity building institution InWEnt has been an active player in e-learning worldwide. With its brand new portal, the Global Campus 21 (GC 21) E-Academy , the organisation is both strengthening and upgrading its online programmes, opening them up to the worldwide global community of experts and executives. Around 50 first-rate online trainings follow international quality norms and comprise courses on all the subject areas relevant to capacity building for development. In addition to fields of expertise like Health and Health Management, Education and Gender, Peace and Human Rights, the Management Modules are the centre of the E-Academy. After all, the basics for Operations Management or Leadership Strategies are the same whether in Johannesburg, Hanoi or Honolulu. Through all these courses, the E-Academy is able to address culturally diverse groups in an individual way and at a reasonable cost.

Many users wish to seize the opportunity for further education while still working a job: "I've learnt so many useful things in the online course on Operations Management", says Minh Thu, an advocacy manager for micro-crediting in Vietnam. "The well wrought instructional design, the lecture methods, the active participation of all fellow students and a supportive tutor have helped me to work more efficiently and to better meet the challenges of my organisation." Minh Thu wants to go on studying online parallel to her job. This individual approach is supported by the modular design today's online courses; instead of booking a whole course, each client may select the modules that he or she deems interesting and review them whenever he or she wants.

Global availability, value for money, accessibility and interactivity – both between student and machine and student and tutor - are just some of the benefits e-learning has to recommend it. One other major advantage is how easy it is to cultivate contact with others, wherever and whoever they are, as long as they share similar interests and ideas. That already happens in the self-paced courses without any involvement by a tutor or facilitator. Participants find each other on their own – supported by the technical capabilities and carried by the idea of collaboration and sharing knowledge.

Participants whose performance is first-rate will be chosen to participate in the E-Academy's "Management Skills Group" - a community of experts from all over the world looking to gather experience and collaborate on the crucial issues involved in Management and Leadership. This peer-learning approach enables an independent and dedicated student to connect with the like minded, which benefits both the student and the community. This theory of learning is based on the premise that knowledge exists in the world instead of in the heads of individuals. Learning is the process of creating connections and developing a network. The "know-how" and "know-what" are being supplemented by "know-where", and, in a best-case scenario, the "know-why".

Women at Inwent E-Academy (Inwent gGmbH, Christian Gmelin)

What will be next? The portal languages English and Spanish will be joined by French and Portuguese by the end of this year. Russian, Arabic and Chinese are in the planning stage as well. New courses like Cross-Cultural Communication, Corporate Sustainability or Negotiating Successfully will be included in the portfolio by the beginning of next year.

The E-Academy will also enter the booming and rapidly expanding market of mobile learning. The mobile phone is the ideal tool for informal knowledge transfer. It is a personal medium for the masses, almost always on hand and on stand-by. This makes it especially interesting for developing countries with bandwidth problems. Content can be delivered by the users themselves: Motivated alumni from the Management Skills Group produce Knowledge Nuggets on innovative topics like Marketing or Financial Planning - prepared for easy access by mobile phone e.g. while waiting at the airport. This concept is based on the concept of knowledge as the evolution of small and micro learning units. Through this process of short learning activities – ideally accompanied by the direct feedback of a tutor - mobile learning perfectly complements the E-Academy's more extensive online courses.