Will the Covid-19 pandemic be the reason for online training to be trusted in Algeria?
The COVID-19 pandemic is a global phenomenon that has significantly affected how we interact, work and travel. It is a crisis that challenges the classical way of conducting business. Working from home using virtual online tools is the new desired and necessary trend. This change is beneficial for the booming of e-commerce for instance. However, it leaves the majority of other sectors in painful economic suffering.
How are training institutions adapting to social distancing?
Professional/academic training is one of the sectors strongly affected by the pandemic. Universities, schools and capacity building institutions were all constrained to adapt their courses in order to prevent long term interruption and perturbation of their schedules. For instance, in early March, IHE-DELFT (ex UNESCO-IHE), from where I’m a proud alumnus, were very quick to adapt to distance learning and save the remaining of their academic schedule. They not only switched to online classes but they also concluded more than a hundred online thesis defenses for all the graduating students. Even the official graduation ceremony was bittersweetly organized online.
The Algerian academic sector faced a similar challenge. Facing the shadow of the “année blanche”, the ministry of higher education instructed all universities to quickly adapt and pursue the last quarter activities using e-learning platforms. This decision should have been made a long time ago to introduce online teaching into an otherwise completely analog curriculum. Migrating towards virtual activities is no easy task both in terms of organization as well as acceptance from the concerned parties. However, this move remains a step forward that will definitely improve the Algerian education system.
Why is it better to use online training in Algeria
To illustrate the stated difficulties, I will talk in a bit more detail about a first-hand experience. An important part of our activities at Geomatic Solutions Company revolves around capacity development and training in GIS and spatial technologies GFOSS (Geo Free Open Source Software). Our activity has been impacted significantly since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Technically, there was no need for us to adjust to distance learning since we have been promoting online options since the start of our adventure in 2017 by offering one-on-one online trainings, webinars and an e-learning platform. Yet, despite the promotional discounts, our training activities have always been done in the classical face-to-face format. We noticed an obvious disinterest towards online training in Algeria. But where does that disinterest come from ?
The commonly perceived disinterest stems mainly from the following challenges:
- Face-to-face is just better: People in Algeria have a general mistrust towards e-learning under the mere speculation that e-learning provides a poor learning experience. I must admit that interactions with the instructor might feel more natural in a classical classroom, but for small groups of 3 to 4 people, the interactions can be manageable in an online setting. The advancement of video conferencing technologies allows for good control of the interactions by multiple screen sharing and in-meeting controls.
- Bad internet connection: One of the major issues that leads to a bad online training experience is the instability of the the internet connection. The relatively good quality of the service is usually centralized in the Algiers, the capital of Algeria, and worsens or is even nonexistent outside of the big cities or in rural areas. This puts a big chunk of our clients in a disadvantage to benefit from online solutions. However, this issue is less severe with the introduction of 4G services which provides more accessibility and a more stable internet speed in areas that were marginalized before. This could also be solved (as I usually do with clients) by scheduling sessions specifically outside of peak hours.
- Absence of online payment methods: Algeria is a cash-based society. Despite the necessary current emergence of e-commerce, online solutions are paralyzed by an outdated banking system which provides no solutions for online money transactions. This issue is bypassed by asking a course participant to make a wired transfer at their post office and then send us proof of the transaction. While this could solve the problem momentarily, the hassle of going to the nearest post office (which could sometimes be quite far) and waiting in long lines could be very discouraging.
The very few online training providers in all sectors in Algeria are familiar with these challenges. Despite this, it still is much better for training participants to choose online courses instead of classical face-to-face group format. But why is it better ? What will a course participant gain from choosing an online course?
- Democratizing high quality training opportunities: our approach in implementing online training solutions stemmed from the will to get closer to the training-participants anywhere in the country as well as in other countries. “Any where — Any time” becomes our motto. Online training will allow learners of all backgrounds, everywhere to have access to high-quality courses without leaving their homes or traveling long distances to attend the course in the capital of Algeria.
- The low cost of online training generates substantial savings compared to conventional face-to-face training. Additional costs related to transportation, accommodation, mobilization of classrooms will increase the cost of the training, whereas these costs are not applicable in an online format. Here is a price comparison for the course “Basics of QGIS” between an individual online course and a classic face to face training taking the testimony of some participants:
The cost of face-to-face training quickly becomes expensive, unlike online courses. Some clients still prefer the Face-to-face course and choose the cheapest transportation/accommodation options available. While the price difference in this case does not seem significant, coming all the way to the capital with the lack of good and comfortable transportation and accommodation is a hassle and could be very dissuading.
- Gender inequality: I had many female clients who hesitated or simply could not (or were not allowed to) attend the course in our office because of the many cultural disadvantages: a conservative overprotective partner/parent or the unavailability of accommodation that meets the conservative standards that is suitable for these women’s culture/belief. This is an ongoing cultural issue that unfortunately puts women at a great disadvantage with learning opportunities. Online training could provide more accessibility to science and technology trainings for women living in conservative households/societies.
- Flexibility in time management: Most of our (potential) clients have busy schedules. Even if they realize the importance of additional training to advance their career, they can rarely find the time to lock three to five working days to come to our offices for the training. That is why online training is very useful. Online training is organized depending on the customer’s availability in accordance with the availability of the instructor. We had some clients who preferred morning sessions before they attended their university courses and other who preferred evening classes after they finished work. The schedule is really flexible and adapts to the availability of the participant. Whereas the learning experience is the same if not better.
What do we offer?
Geomatic Solutions Company is the leading open source GIS solutions provider in Algeria. Parallel to our consulting activities, we provide professional trainings with a focus on spatial technologies and Geo Free Open Source Software (GFOSS) like QGIS, PostgreSQL/PostGIS …etc. We also invest a lot of our effort in promoting the use of FOSS. We always advocated virtual training alternatives. We have provided group and online trainings to almost 60 people from countries mainly in Algeria but also in countries like France and the Netherlands. We built an e-learning platform where we offer basic to advanced trainings in Geo Open Source software.
Implementing online training solutions has been quite a challenge. However the imposed social distancing is finally shedding the light on the advantages of e-learning solutions. We are certain that more people will shift towards online training as a useful tool that helps them not only gain time and money, but also solve deeply embedded social issues.
We stand with open arms to any change maker who wishes to join us in our quest to improve online learning in Algeria.