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Humanitarian U Report Finds Evidence of eLearning’s Impact on Aid Workers

By Cait Etherington
February 07, 2019

Humanitarian U (HU) was founded by Dr. Kirsten Johnson in 2011 with a mandate to deliver professional certification and training to humanitarian aid workers around the world. HU’s blended approach, which includes web-based and face-to-face training programs, targets universities, emergency medical teams, NGOs, and individual aid workers. A report released in early 2019 reveals that the organization’s eLearning solutions for aid workers are having an impact. The report also exposes some of the challenges that continue to affect training in the humanitarian aid sector.

The Challenge of Measuring Impact

As Johnson explains in the introduction to the study, “Pilot evaluation to assess the impact of e-learning on humanitarian aid work,” after five years of overseeing HU, she wanted to know if the organization’s online training was having an impact. But measuring the impact of online training for aid workers turned out to be particularly challenging. “How does one measure the impact of competency-based training in terms of better programs, individuals affected – or even lives saved?” she writes.

To carry out the research, Johnson eventually opted to work with the Humanitarian Leadership Academy. “I am pleased that after having envisioned this project over five years ago that we are finally able to produce this novel, rich and innovative report on the impact of eLearning on humanitarian aid work,” writes Johnson. “We have made several recommendations based on our findings that should generate some reflection and discussion as the sector looks towards standardized competencies and assessment strategies for professional development and certification.”

Johnson adds, “It is also my hope that this report serves as a platform for future research on learning in the humanitarian sector using some of the tools and metrics that we have employed to attempt to qualify and quantify impact – something that will benefit practitioners, organizations, donors and most importantly beneficiaries.”

Summary of Humanitarian U’s 2019 Report

Humanitarian U’s study is one of the first report to explore the impact of eLearning on humanitarian aid work. Among its key findings are strong indications that humanitarian organizations and aid organizations need to ensure that appropriate training is available to strengthen and support learners in the field. The report also emphasizes that there is a need to better educate funders about the need to support and strengthen training for aid workers.

Another key finding from the 2019 report is that online training for humanitarian workers is on the rise. In 2014, only 38% of aid workers were participating in online training. By 2015, this has surged to 54%. In many respects, this is not surprising. The report notes, “The global reach of eLearning can help to improve the quality of humanitarian response.” But the report warns that “a gap exists in committed assessment of the impact of eLearning on humanitarian practice.”

Despite the study’s stated methodological challenges, it offers strong evidence that aid workers who train online do increase their ability to deliver impactful aid in the field. Among other measures, the report evaluated learners’ perceptions of their competencies three months after completing an online training course with Humanitarian U:

“Overall, when surveyed 3-months after participating a Humanitarian U training program, cohort respondents expressed that they have a comprehensive new knowledge level directly applicable to their work with an understanding that this experience would result in positive changes to the outcomes of their work.

“According to an analysis conducted 3 months post-training, 80% of cohort respondents indicated they were partially to extremely confident that their knowledge and skills changed as a result of their experience with the Humanitarian U online training.”

In addition, the report found strong evidence to support standardized, competency-based training across the humanitarian aid field:

“Overall this pilot study has demonstrated the positive outcomes of standardized, competency-based training and certification. It shows a positive impact on performance, credibility and confidence. Programs are delivered more efficiently, teams are managed more effectively and individuals feel better about their work. Finally, beneficiaries feel that their voices are being heard.”

The full report is available on the Humanitarian U website.

Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash.