e-Learning as an Unexpected Key Step in Resilience


Resilience is a sticky and often misunderstood term because at the simplest of definitions, resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from misfortune or change. Theoretically, any group that easily anticipates, adapts, and addresses potential challenges is heading in the right direction.

For the international development community, resilience is much more than that. Resilience is often about survival; in other words:

The ability of people, households, communities, systems, and countries to mitigate, adapt to, and recover from shocks and stresses in a manner that reduces chronic vulnerability and facilitates inclusive growth.

USAID policy and program guidance December 2012

In this context, we must ask critical questions: what creates an environment of resilience? Where do we start?

The answer is surprisingly simple. Start with the most adaptable resource you have: people!

Resilience starts at an individual level and leads into larger community, organizational, and national groups. For communities and nations to be resilient, the people who make up these groups or supporting organizations must be able to adapt in the face of obstacles.

People need to feel confident, informed, and empowered for successful collaboration. Dialogue and shared understanding are critical, regardless of an individual’s role within the larger group. Whether local actors, non-governmental agencies (NGOs), or governments, getting information to stakeholders is the key gateway to success when considering multiple participants and impacted audiences. Similarly, progressions in technology offer new ways for people, organizations, and communities to grow and evolve. 

As an adult learning professional for the last 20 years, I’ve seen teams who excel in creative adaptation and others who suffocate in seemingly well-planned frameworks. The difference in whether these teams are successful often hinges on a few points:

  • Fostering brainstorming and problem solving
  • Encouraging teamwork and collaboration
  • Communicating, communicating, and more communicating

e-Learning becomes the fastest path to quick information distribution and adoption. Consider learning as a journey with multiple ways to get to your destination. There may be several paths that take you where you need to be, such as reading, visualizing, interacting, reinforcing, and testing to gain knowledge or improve performance. e-Learning often uses all of these pathways at once.

If learning is a journey, e-Learning is a superhighway.

e-Learning provides a critical outlet for information sharing and outreach to audiences who would otherwise miss out due to the costs and scheduling demands of traditional classroom training. If you need to educate or inform a broad, geographically dispersed audience, e-learning is the fastest way to distribute information expediently, efficiently, and effectively. Information sharing is where e-learning and resilience come together. Stakeholders need to be informed and energized to foster collaboration and engagement, which in turn leads to a sense of greater empowerment and reduced vulnerability.

Let’s consider how this works in practice. Together with USAID and partner C4EIS, our Integrated Learning Solutions team developed a training about resilience for key audiences and the general public. The main objective was to deepen user knowledge about resilience with timely and reusable material. The training targeted the international development community, including USAID staff in the United States and abroad, contractors, NGOs, United Nations agencies, and other donors. In this context, e-learning became an integrated component of building resilience rather than a simple training-only methodology.

Many organizations might have pursued traditional communication venues, but USAID’s Center for Resilience took a different approach. After conducting an initial assessment, USAID determined an e-learning solution provided an opportunity to fill the knowledge gaps of impacted parties. The resulting training, produced by our ILS team, is now available on Agrilinks.org, and takes learners on a self-guided excursion to better understand how resilience is measured, how it relates to traditional efforts to increase livelihoods in developing countries, and how it can help individuals and families to sustainably escape from poverty.

The results of these efforts show that we cannot get mired in traditional thinking. Advancements in technology require reimagining how we work. We can all agree that engagement and training have changed significantly over the last 20 years with the increasing availability and frequency of web, mobile, and other electronic communications. e-Learning fully embraces the way people communicate and absorb information, which ultimately sets the stage for helping people adapt to change and become more resilient.

In an era of information overload, 280-character tweets, complicated concepts expressed through small graphics, and ever-shortened attention spans, e-learning presents a flexible platform to accommodate different learning styles, whether kinesthetic, auditory, and/or visual. The best tool, product, or innovation has little impact if no one is aware of what’s coming or how to use it. e-Learning is an easily shared, accessible, and communicable approach that enables users to access the information they need when and where they need it.

Let’s get people informed. As they say… the more the merrier!