Virtual Learning for Nonprofits

First published in NTEN: Change (, March 2015, CC BY-SA 3.0 ( Virtual Learning for Nonprofits By Sophia Guevara, Social Media Fellow, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) Professional development is important to keep one current and marketable in today’s job market.  With my background in distance learning and interest in helping others grow, I have learned to be creative in the tools and techniques I utilize in developing virtual learning sessions.  How can you help your colleagues improve their tech know-how? The following are a few lessons learned that can help your nonprofit develop its virtual professional development. Google Hangouts About a year ago, I had the opportunity to present a learning session using Google Hangouts on Air.  Free and easy to use, I used this option and recorded the session on my YouTube account.  With the option to watch the live stream from my YouTube channel or my Google+ profile page, viewers could quickly access the content.  With almost 160 registrants, this was by far the most popular session I've put together so far.  Recording the content onto my YouTube account to make it available after the fact helped those who may have had scheduling conflicts not miss the opportunity to learn.  In addition, the recording was forwarded to others by those who wanted to share the content with their colleagues. But, if you are looking to provide tech training to a smaller and more private audience, Google Hangouts also has an option for you to invite up to ten other users over a free video call.  You can share your screen and watch a pre-recorded video together by adding the YouTube Hangouts app. Learn more about Hangouts here: Webinars If you are connecting with colleagues who may be away from the office or at remote locations, perhaps webinar software might be the right fit for you.  Often these tools require participants to create an account and require the downloading of software on each participant’s computer. Attendees are provided with the option to use their computer’s microphone or a call-in option.  While many of these tools are fee-based, there are a few opportunities to make use of webinars for free - although on a rather limited basis. An example of this technology being used to provide professional development on a larger scale is the Special Libraries Association’s Information Technology Division.  Libby Trudell, past chair of the division shared more about how the program was established: “SLA's Information Technology Division exists to help its global members stay abreast of technology trends and information products. In 2014, a webinar program was established to support members unable to attend the annual conference. While conference sessions may have 100 attendees, webinar registration exceeds 200 per session, and multiple sessions can be offered throughout the year. The webinar program has greatly expanded the learning opportunities for SLA members."  Develop an online course  Think about creating an online course for your learners.  Online courses can be part of a blended learning program with a few face-to-face learning opportunities or designed with no in-person contact.  Using tools like Wix or Google Sites, you can develop a learning program that helps professionals gain access to the material they need.  Course creation doesn’t have to be complicated.  With Google Sites, you can make use of templates to get your course started.  In addition, you can restrict access to the content you have developed.  As part of the course content, think about screencasting.  Screencasting software allows you to record what is on your screen and add comments to help those viewers learn.  Two free screencasting solutions are: Screenr and Jing Self-paced learning programs Think about creating a self-paced learning technology program to support the self-discovery of new technology.  Inspired by Helen Blowers’ Learning 2.0 Project, I developed a similar page on the Consortium of Foundation Libraries’ blog.  The page can be viewed here:  The learning program was broken up into ten weekly assignments.   Participants were encouraged to set up their own blog to compose their reactions to the potential use of each tool introduced and the weekly discussion questions. Develop an online learning community One tool that I have seen work in continuing the learning conversation is LinkedIn Groups. Groups are free to use and only requires that participants make a free account on the site.  Group managers can highlight topics to foster communication among members, and professionals can help each other learn by contributing to the conversation. You can learn more about LinkedIn Groups here: Marketing Learning Once you have the tools and content developed, what should you keep in mind when it comes to marketing the learning session?

  1. Be aware of the knowledge and needs of your audience and focus the learning opportunity appropriately.
  2. Be innovative and deliver content in a way that not only helps grow the technology abilities of your audience, but also allows them to try a new learning tool.
  3. Develop opportunities that reduce barriers like schedules or distance.
  4. If the professional development opportunity you are creating is for your employer, team up with fellow trainers or the staff development lead in your HR department to ensure that all employees are made aware of the opportunity.

In conclusion, don’t let a lean budget minimize your creativity in developing successful virtual learning opportunities. About the Author:  Sophia Guevara is currently a Social Media Fellow with Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy.  In addition, she is a member of the NTEN Change Journal Committee and chair-elect of the Information Technology Division at the Special Libraries Association.

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