Many people view online learning as a second choice, suitable only when face-to-face training is not possible. However, many ministries of foreign affairs are making strategic and intelligent use of online learning for diplomatic training: Canada, USA, the UK, and Mexico are among the larger ones, but the number also includes smaller states like Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago. For some training needs, online learning may be the best option, offering real advantages.
Overcomes geographical challenges: Online learning allows diplomats geographically dispersed at missions all over the world, and in different time zones, to engage in learning, and to do so together with colleagues in different locations. In addition, diplomatic training academies normally have a limited resident faculty; senior officials and other experts can facilitate teaching and training activities via online learning regardless of their location, making better use of available expertise.
Optimises available time: The increasing pace of diplomatic work means reduced time for training, and makes it necessary to combine work and learning. Online learning supports this kind of flexibility, allowing diplomats to study whenever and wherever is most convenient for them, without taking time off work.
Capitalises on best learning methodologies: Online learning offers flexibility in selecting the most effective methodology for the type of learning objective. Technical matters, for example, can be covered through drill-type exercises (supported by multimedia). At the other end of the scale, where the learning objectives include analysis and application of knowledge (for example, learning how to plan and create a public diplomacy strategy), discussion, interactive and collaborative learning, and simulations support those objectives.
Optimises use of resources: Online learning can be cost-effective. Bringing together staff members spread around the world for classroom training can be very expensive, both in terms of travel costs, and the loss of productivity due to time off work. Electronic learning materials can also be quickly shared with learners all around the world (few or many), and easily updated to reflect latest developments.
Benefits the environment: By reducing the need for learners located in different places to travel in order to learn together, online learning reduces CO2 output.
Views from diplomats
At DiploFoundation (a training organisation which has offered online courses on diplomacy for the last 15 years) we recently interviewed alumni members about their experiences studying online, asking what were the key benefits for them. Here are a few excerpts:
Ms Setaita Tupua Kalou from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Fiji enrolled in the online Master in Contemporary Diplomacy offered by Diplo and the University of Malta to meet her needs in terms of distance and flexible learning, content, availability to international students, and affordability. The online programme exceeded her expectations: I did not expect the coverage of some issues to have so much depth. The substantive course content at DiploFoundation was demystified on a number of levels by the lecturers so it was relatively easier for students to understand, yet at the same time, it pushed our traditional boundaries to expand our body of knowledge beyond our comfort zones. Read the full interview.
Mr Kevon Swift, business analyst at the Ministry of Science and Technology of Trinidad and Tobago, choose the new Internet Governance specialization within Diplo’s online Master in Contemporary Diplomacy. This option offered the ideal frame for what I would consider to be my disparate pieces of knowledge about the Internet. The wide variety of courses to choose from for the online learning sessions meant that I could tailor the programme to advance my Internet studies while honing my diplomatic skills to match. We asked Kevon if he missed the face-to-face interaction of a traditional classroom-based programme. He responded: The online learning sessions are tremendously interactive, so much so that the one-hour chat sessions seem to be too short at times. While the flexibility offered by the programme was one of the deciding factors for Kevon in choosing to join, he says: The most valuable aspect of the programme has been the sharing and networking opportunities, both at the workshop and during online sessions. Participants come from all around the world and with such a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences that the learning process becomes certainly enriched at the end of the day. Read the full interview.
DiploFoundation is a non-profit organisation based in Malta and Switzerland. Diplo works with a number of ministries of foreign affairs, providing online training to supplement their in-house training programmes. Diplo also offers a Master in Contemporary Diplomacy in collaboration with the University of Malta. For more information about DiploFoundation please see www.diplomacy.edu or write to email@example.com.