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An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy

Many professionals have reservations about online learning courses, but new developments are making them an appealing alternative for time- and cash-strapped arts workers, argue Michelle Wright and Ben Walmsley.

Photo of person typing on laptopn

We know that there isn’t always a strong commitment to training and development in the arts. It can be difficult to take time out of the office, secure adequate budgets and assess whether a training course will provide enough value in the here and now.

Micro-learning is ideal for distracted or busy professional learners, or for the under-pressure arts leader juggling multiple priorities

The market itself can also be confusing, particularly as the explosion of online learning has created a dazzling array of offers. According to the cloud learning management system Docebo, the size of the e-learning market was estimated to be over $165bn in 2015 and is likely to grow by 5% in the next ten years.

Professional learners

There are many pros and cons to online learning. The most obvious advantage is that it enables learners to engage at a time and place to suit their own needs, whether geographical, professional or personal. This is particularly significant for professional learners.

When the University of Leeds started designing the curriculum for the Postgraduate Certificate in Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy, it did so specifically with professional learners in mind. So, for example, half the curriculum was based on a module that encouraged learners to reflect on their professional practice that was part of the face-to-face training delivered at the National Summer School for Arts Fundraising and Leadership.

The university supported this reflective thinking through a series of dedicated webinars, complemented by individual online supervision. So, online learning didn’t replace the face-to-face experience but added significant value to it.

Social contact

It’s important to recognise that often the most positive aspect of training is getting out of the office, engaging with expert trainers and meeting a new network. Undoubtedly, the key challenge related to online learning is the lack of regular face-to-face contact that limits the learner’s ability to engage on a sustained personal level with tutors and fellow students. Some learners find this physical distance both frustrating and isolating, which in turn can demotivate them and lead to drop-out.

Undoubtedly, the most effective e-learning platforms enable both tutors and learners to engage with one another in real time or at least as close to the original learning experience as possible – and this social learning experience is increasing all the time thanks to better and more interactive technologies. This means that learning becomes more peer-centred, more immediate and more fun.

Mobile learning

E-learners can choose to engage via their mobile devices – and from our perspective at Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy, surely the important thing is that we’re learning something, not how or where we are learning. After all, according to an American report by Zogby Analytics, 87% of millennials say that their smartphones never leave their side, so bringing training to their phones is surely a good move.

Phones can also enhance the increasing trend of micro-learning – short-length learning, usually three to five minutes in length, delivered in rich media formats. Micro-learning is ideal for distracted or busy professional learners or for the under-pressure arts leader juggling multiple priorities.

Worldwide learning

Via the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy programme, Arts Council England has invested in two e-learning platforms: a MOOC (massive open online course) and smaller bite-size chunks of two-hour modules via a partnership with Proversity.

MOOCs have been running successfully on a global scale for over a decade now, and they are attracting millions of online learners across the globe with the trend moving from free to revenue-based models. One key benefit of engaging in e-learning is that we can tap into different cultures and practices of fundraising and leadership, enabling our learners to share case studies from their specific funding environments and share tips and best practice from different cultural contexts.

A key benefit for the arts organisation investing in the training is that due to its flexibility, organisations can gather more detailed learning analytics. This means we have more information about whether the use of a training budget has actually been a good investment.

Following the trends

As we explore the trends further, game-based recruitment and job application assessments are rapidly gaining traction in the corporate sector. Studies have shown that games, and the use of virtual and augmented reality, have an amazing ability to engage long-term memory, by requiring numerous tasks to be performed simultaneously and engaging users in solving problems. Applications into the arts (where creativity is a driving factor) could be hugely exciting, creating performance-enhancing content that builds personal growth through challenging and provocative content.

We are definitely not at a point where online learning can replace the value of face-to-face training, and it will never be as rich and engaging, but we can’t ignore the trends. E-learning can be an important part of talent management, and it does present a tried and tested alternative mode of delivery for busy professionals who can’t always carve out the time to be physically present for training.

If learners have the requisite drive and self-motivation, e-learning offers an excellent opportunity for self- and professional development at a relatively low cost.

Michelle Wright is the Founder and CEO of Cause4 and Programme Director for Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy. Ben Walmsley is Associate Professor in Audience Engagement and Postgraduate Research Tutor at the University of Leeds.

This article is part of a series of articles on the theme Fundraising for the future, sponsored and contributed by Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy.

Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy’s first e-learning course Asking People for Money includes a number of practical videos, case studies and signposted resources for any individual or organisation wanting to devise an individual giving strategy. Click here for a preview of the programme or register your interest for access and more information.

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