Impact of e-Learning on Humanitarian Aid

January 22, 2019 Tina Bolding

In 2012, the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation established DisasterReady to respond to a critical need to use online learning to quickly prepare first responders in disaster response. Since that time over 250,000 aid workers have used our free online learning resources to better prepare them for the challenges they face in the field. While it is easy for us to report on how many people sign up for DisasterReady and how many courses they take, it is far more difficult to determine the impact any online learning program has on the individual learner and his/her organization. Today, our partner, Humanitarian U, collaborated with MEDAIR and the Humanitarian Leadership Academy to launch a new report examining the perceived effect of online learning programs for aid workers around the world.  The report ‘Pilot evaluation to assess the impact of e-learning on humanitarian aid work’, is the first of its kind to research the impact e-learning has and enables us to improve e-learning for humanitarian workers and improve aid delivery.

In summary, the study serves to better understand how competency-based eLearning training programs are having an impact on humanitarian work. Not only ‘how’ these have an impact, but specifically in ‘what ways’ the transfer of learning from these training program experiences are ultimately contributing to strengthening and/or improving coordination and service delivery in the system of humanitarian field work. 

The study specifically addressed learners’ perceptions of how online training impacted:

  • Level of competency from learning engaged
  • On the job performance
  • Programmatic effectiveness
  • Programmatic efficiency
  • Feelings of personal well-being and security
  • Perception of professionalism
  • Future career advancement
  • Greater impact (lives saved)

The report found that humanitarian organizations and aid organizations need to:

  1. Ensure that appropriate training is available that will strengthen and support a learner’s experience in learning. 
  2. Better educate funders regarding the essentiality of supporting and strengthening organisational capacity to manage and coach learning processes.
  3. Organisational commitment to the individual learning process is necessary if transfer of learning is to successfully contribute to changes to the individual learner’s quality of work.
  4. Ensuring greater value of donor support not only by increasing investment but also assuring greater influence by donors to strengthen the sector for training & evaluation.

Kirsten Johnson, MD, MPH, CEO, Humanitarian U commented on the research: “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. 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.”

To review these recommendations and download the entire report, please visit the study page on the Humanitarian U website. 


About the Author

Tina Bolding is the Director of and is responsible for the strategy, development and outreach for this effort to support the critical and demanding training needs of the global humanitarian community. Before joining the Foundation, Tina served as chief human resources officer at Food for the Hungry, an international relief and development organization, where she built a global HR department and implemented support services to assist HR operations across 22 countries. Tina holds a BA in Organizational Communication and Psychology from the University of Tulsa.


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