In our latest interview with a humanitarian learning expert, we speak to Leonie Meijerink, Learning Organisation Manager at War Child Holland.
So Leonie, can you tell us a bit about your role? What does an average day look like for you?
My day is very diverse. It ranges from giving didactic support, building content on the Kaya platform and being the helpdesk for the War Child Learning World on Kaya, to more strategic work related to our learning strategy.
My favorite role is to provide guidance to teams of specialists who are working on the development of a learning path; how to set up learner profiles, how to design learning using a storyboard, how to set up relevant activities, etc. This also means working on Kaya, trying to figure out the best settings, and when I’m lucky, finding the right external provider to help us with user and instructional design.
I also facilitate virtual meetings, for example with the Global Learning Promoters’ team, or any of the other working groups we have set up to implement our learning strategy. The learning promoters represent all our country offices and together we conduct learning needs activities and promote a culture of learning.
More challenging, but strategically very interesting, is the process of negotiating with managers in charge of the prioritized topics on our ‘Learning Map’ to start allocating resources to develop new learning initiatives.
I am also responsible for choosing which new courses (external or our own learning paths) need to be reviewed by the Quality Assurance Learning team. We have developed our own quality assurance tool and have just started using it.
War Child has recently developed a learning strategy – what are you trying to achieve?
Our long-term vision is for War Child to be a recognised Learning Hub in which we connect, inspire, share, learn and continuously improve our practice, with the aim to improve well-being and increase resilience among children and youth affected by conflict.
The main reason for having this strategy is that we want to be able to reach more children, by scaling our expertise. Learning is one of the leverages that can be used to be able to do that, and by offering our evidence-based expertise in learning paths to our implementing partners and networks at large, we feel we will be able to scale.
We have a clear vision of what we are trying to achieve, but it will take time for us to get there. We are just starting to develop our first in-house learning paths. In practice we have to start with offering learning on the ‘basics’, without reinventing the wheel. This is why we are very pleased to be able to curate the great courses that are available on Kaya and encourage our staff to learn. We are strong advocates of the principle of ‘70/20/10 learning’ in our strategy and use this as guidance for the development of our learning paths (70% of learning on-the-job, 20% of learning from others and 10% of formal learning).
What kind of learning opportunities do you currently offer your staff?
We have developed our own War Child home page for our staff on Kaya, which is based on four main learner profiles. Through our home page we have pre-selected courses from the Academy, which have then been quality reviewed by our Quality Assessment Learning Team.
We have also developed ‘personal learning journey’ courses, in which we encourage our staff to reflect on their professional development, by selecting the type of learning that is most relevant to them and meets their short-term and long-term learning goals.
We are currently piloting our in-house developed learning path on Child Safeguarding which uses an alternative approach by providing the learner with very practical activities with automated feedback, and a few activities that will be assessed by Child Safeguarding specialists. We are expecting a few other learning paths to be available online soon: including our own onboarding programme and our learning path on Conflict Sensitive Education. We have also been running an online pre-training ‘TeamUp’ for volunteer facilitators who will be working with refugee children in asylum seeker centers in the Netherlands.
What kind of learning is in most demand? Are you seeing greater engagement with online learning?
We really value face-to-face learning and the common model we use for learning in our programmes is through Training of Trainers. However, we also know that our sector has a high turnover rate, which means that those who were trained yesterday, may not be around tomorrow. We can also only reach small groups of learners at a time and want to be better able to assess and monitor the quality of what people learn, so we have to come up with new and alternative approaches. We hope that developing online learning paths on Kaya will ignite this type of learning. We are working towards a clever blend of online and face-to-face learning.
Now that we have started offering learning through Kaya, we do see that people are often surprised by the amount of free, high quality online learning available within the humanitarian sector. We have noticed that our staff are starting to find their way on Kaya but also other learning platforms.
Of course, we are also encouraging other methods of learning, such as participating in the Across Organisation Mentoring Programme, organizing learning lunches and Masterclasses.
You’ve been using the Academy’s Kaya Platform to train your staff. Can you tell us a little about your experience?
War Child Learning World went live at the end of January 2019. Our learning promoters are currently working with their teams to register on the platform and explore what learning is available and most relevant. We now have about 450 users that have registered onto Kaya through the War Child Learning World, of which about 250 have gone through the ‘TeamUp’ pre-training (which started earlier). In the reports we see that some people are finding their way to the online courses. The most popular courses so far are the Introduction to the Core Humanitarian Standard, Introduction to Coaching and Mentoring and some more technical courses such as Psychosocial Support and Child Protection.
We have started to connect the personal learning journey guidance in the War Child Learning World to our human resources processes, by encouraging staff and managers to develop themselves professionally and reflect on their learning journeys.
What would you say are the greatest challenges surrounding humanitarian learning today?
Accessibility to learning is still a challenge. We need to come up with good solutions through which learners can easily learn offline and/or on their mobile. I don’t think we have yet found the right model to reach people who are most in need of learning. I believe we need to dive deeper and explore different options to be able to reach rural places for example. This links to another challenge, which is the limited funding available for developing and offering learning in the sector. We need to get better at promoting the impact of learning to donors as we are developing as learning organisations.
What can organisations like the Academy do to support the sector to overcome these challenges?
The Academy can spearhead initiatives and set up opportunities and networks to come up with good solutions for offline, low bandwidth, and mobile learning. The Academy can also spark discussions with donors and measure the impact of online learning on behalf of the sector.
Finally, I believe that we need to look into the methods we use for online learning. It is often limited to click-through modules and it takes clever design and learner support to promote deeper learning.
There are different alternatives we can think of. One is to look more into how to connect to ‘learning experience’ platform initiatives such as Degreed, EdCast and Pathgather. These platforms encourage personalised learning, which is very much focused on quick learning on the job. At the same time I think there is a need for more moderated learning in the sector. We can learn a lot from universities that are spearheading this through platforms such as edX and Coursera. Offering Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is a good way to do this, but we should also develop moderated online professional learning. We need to find a cost model that works and collaborate with each other to make this beneficial for the entire sector.
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