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What else besides webinars? Digital educational materials

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E-learning, or learning through electronic media, is no stranger to grass-roots organisations, although it is developing much faster in universities and businesses. For several years now, courses offered individually by experts with strong personal brands online have also become increasingly popular. With profound changes in the market, both in school and adult education, e-learning has become even more important in the wake of the pandemic. For those who have moved their training courses and workshops online via webinars and live streaming in 2020, I suggest taking the next step and trying out some simple methods and tools for preparing learning materials for use, not only for live streaming.

E-learning potential for grass-roots organisations

For NGOs, both those primarily involved in education and those providing learning as an additional element (e.g. training volunteers, helping recipients to use a product or exercise their rights), e-learning is a way of transcending the time and physical constraints of providing education. For several years, this has been influenced by the rapid digitisation of services, the availability of networked devices, and increasingly cheap tools for creating and sharing educational material. This year, the FOR arguments were supplemented by the resilience of e-learning to changes in plans resulting from possible lockdowns.

Modern e-learning activities do not have to be boring, forcing recipients to sit in front of a computer for a long time and merely reading texts and solving tests. A proper choice of online education method, tailored to the needs of our audience and the use of easy and user-friendly tools, can help an organisation to achieve its goals, not only now, during forced remote activities. Investing in e-learning also means being better prepared for changing practices and needs in the near future, such as the significant increase in the number of elderly people actively using smartphones or the extremely rapid shift of banking and public services online.

How do adults learn?

Adults need internal motivation to learn. What does that involve? We are no longer subject to compulsory schooling, nor do we have special extra time to devote to learning (although this is increasingly the case in companies and organisations). In order to acquire new skills, to successfully complete a course, we need willingness and a strong feeling that it is as practical as possible for us. Adult learning is most often a response to identified needs, e.g. the need to acquire new work-related skills, the drive to develop passions, etc. Adults are oriented towards practical application of knowledge and problem solving (e.g. learning the language needed for promotion at work or communicating with relatives abroad).

Malcolm Knowles, adult pedagogy pioneer, has defined the most important learning conditions:

  • Ability to take responsibility for the learning process
  • Referring to different learning styles
  • Ensuring friendly, safe conditions
  • Use of previous experience, knowledge and skills of the learner
  • Ability to use knowledge and skills in practice (e.g. professionally)

During online learning, many of these principles work faster and more visibly. We select courses and training for the skills we want or need to apply while still learning. With a wide range of courses and trainings available (especially recently), our sense of responsibility for our own learning and our willingness to co-determine the course and our expectations also increase. At the same time, technological constraints are becoming increasingly smaller for both the developers and recipients of e-learning activities. Importantly, the threshold for the costs of developing engaging content to start with has also decreased, thanks to the availability of a number of free (or low-cost) tools and knowledge published by digital education companies and bloggers. Think of the instructions and tutorials we all sought out last year to quickly learn new tools for remote working. The easier it was to apply the relevant information to solve our challenges, the more willing we were to use it. If you have something important to share with your audience, something to help them solve a problem, write a better application, make an effective decision or implement change in their organisation, your digital materials should focus on how they can practically put this into action. Redundant information online leads to a much quicker channel change and loss of interest.

How to kick-start the development of exercises and digital educational materials?

If you want to start delivering knowledge to your audience online and go beyond webinars, you can start by preparing the materials you already use in a slightly different way. Take, for example, a text-based guide. Would its readers benefit if you added more educational tips and questions to test knowledge at the end? Maybe while delivering training on this topic you could suggest an assignment or case study that would also fit here.

If you publish such material online, you can easily turn it into something more interactive, e.g. by creating several versions of comments on different answers to be chosen by the reader. The development of such personalised tracks is now available for presentations, infographics and videos alike. When you want to make a video, think about what your audience will benefit most from, how you can help them not only watch it to the end, but also pay attention and remember the most important information. Perhaps it is worth stopping it for quiz? Allow your audience to choose different scenarios as they proceed with the content? Increasing the autonomy of the recipients of educational content leaves them feeling more involved, and they value more the time spent on learning, when they were making their own decisions.

Tools for an easy start

Canva,  a popular graphics and presentation tool allows you to record yourself on the webcam simultaneously with the display of your presentation to create an educational video. More information about the possibilities of the paid version of the program, Canva Pro, can be found on, a tool for creating interactive games, mini-lessons, infographics or animations, and for recording voice-over comments. Thanks to the community of users of this tool on Facebook, you can learn it very quickly and in a practical way, exchanging experiences with other creators.

Edpuzzle web service enables you to add questions and comments to any YouTube video (and more) at different points in the video. By establishing a closed audience group based on email addresses or passwords, we can also check who watched the video and how they answered questions. With such a solution, you can, for example, prepare video material to watch before a live training session and check whether it has been watched and understood.

Instead of just taking feedback and text answers from trainees or workshops, you can easily ask them to record a short video. It takes no special recording and editing skills. One free Flipgrid application is all you need. Once you have installed the app, created an account and joined a specific task created by the tutor, participants will easily record and send short video messages which will be visible only to the tutor or to the whole training group.

Simple tutorials, i.e. a video recording of an action performed on a computer screen or a smartphone, is often the fastest way to solve a problem (e.g. showing how to set something in a software, how to fill in a form). We can start recording of the screen (sometimes combined with recording of the image from our camera)  with free tools such as Bandicam, Ezvideo or FreeCam. Software such as Camtasia (paid but available at a discount to non-governmental and educational organisations) will be useful for more advanced video tasks.

With free versions of the Loom or CloudApp applications, we can also quickly record the computer screen, especially web pages with our commentary, with no additional software needed.

Video recording from the smartphone screen can be done using AZ Screen Recorder or tools built into the latest versions of Android and iOS systems.

Varieties, methods, e-learning tools

There is no single way to have a good e-learning course. The more we learn about the needs of our audience, the better we can choose the methods to do so, and only then decide on the form and tools (verifying this against our available budget, of course). Bartłomiej Polakowski addresses this issue excellently on our blog.

Other objectives will be better achieved by courses with a facilitator/moderator to help participants. However, such courses have their limitations. They should take place at a specific time and the number of participants must be compatible with the availability of facilitators. Automated and self-paced courses can have an essentially unlimited number of participants, but to ensure a high level of engagement we need to design very carefully the content and the elements that boost motivation among our learners. These can include personalised notifications and reminders, a progress bar, competitive elements such as points and badges (which we know well from popular language learning apps and others), or an interesting story that takes us through modules and tasks making learning about a seemingly boring topic more enjoyable.

On top of all this we can add the technical aspects of the course, e.g. whether simple text content is enough, or whether it is better to add video and audio content (this variety definitely helps and allows participants to choose between the best formats for a given learner). For video production, especially in the form of recording people speaking or presenting themselves, we can use standard computers, webcams and microphones to achieve quite impressive results. On the portal you will find practical technical tips and hints on both easy improvement of sound and image when recording at home.

Are you ready to create your first educational recording or digital assignment for trainees? Do you already have your own simple ways of digital teaching? Write to us and we will be happy to feature them on the blog.

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