Innovative capacity development through
e-learning with a special focus on Africa

The United Nations University Vice Rectorate in Europe in collaboration with the Vice Rector in charge of e-learning at the UNU Headquarters, Prof. Govindan Parayil, and the UNU Media Studio hosted a strategic workshop on 26 and 27 November 2008 at the UN Campus in Bonn.

This workshop explored the role of e-learning at UNU, how to respond to the need for UNU to focus more on the African region, and how to build a consolidated approach to e-learning for capacity development.

The two-day event brought together 33 UNU academic staff from different institutes as well as external stake-holders, including educational experts from Africa. Participants discussed the role of e-learning in better fulfilling the strategic goals of UNU: knowledge dissemination and sharing, teaching, and capacity development.

The workshop was an opportunity for participants to conceptualise a common vision for e-learning which could lead to the pooling of resources, capacity, and expertise to better address today’s development challenges. Participants explored ways to strengthen the development, implementation, and quality of capacity development methodologies using e-learning and ICT and how to disseminate them effectively.

An initial vision for maximising the availability and quality of e-learning was developed, and participants shared their current work to surface organisational strengths and gaps. African colleagues contributed to the discussion and provided valuable insights to test UNU's assumptions and match its strengths to the needs of its stake-holders.

Three key messages emerged from this meeting:

There is a need to broaden our definition of e-learning. This results from the realisation that changing technologies, and the processes used with technologies, can be a catalyst for deeper learning, a higher quality of and increased access to learning. This can also improve internal and external communication and collaboration.

E-learning is not simply a UNU project or stream, but a tool for advancing research and teaching in service of the UN goals. We should examine how it can support our work in all we do and apply it thoughtfully and well. This means building our own understanding of and capacity to apply e-learning.

UNU has planted seeds of innovation in the recent past with successful e-learning projects. Now we need to share the fruits of those seeds by looking at scaling of those seeds across UNU while continuing to nurture innovation and development of ideas that respond to local contexts.

The following suggestions emerged as the group discussed the relevance of UNU's work for African universities.

Partner with local institutions or where needed, support the creation of open universities, particularly to build capacity as many African countries face a large bulge in student populations.

Help establish quality standards and ways to assess those standards, with the neutral reputation of the UN.

Draw on existing expertise within UNU and from the field. Share experiences across institutions to give a line of sight to what others are accomplishing. Promote the circulation of learning. For example, draw on what the RCE's have done on sustainable development and spread the learning.

Take the lead in content expertise in key areas such as environmental security. Make it modifiable.

Develop and spread innovation in e-learning and create a platform for this work. Nurture networks of professionals working on learning issues both through offline and online strategies.

UNU must learn about the range of strategies appropriate in different contexts and then engage deeply to get a serious understanding. Local capacity must be build to make it sustainable.

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