A new year and already a brand new challenge: creating an online course that makes the magic of the NOW learning programs happen virtually. Not an easy task!
I’m an online learning skeptic. I see the huge potential it has to scale up access to education, yet I can also easily name reasons why online learning normally fails: procrastination, drop-outs, connection problems, boring online learning platforms, to mention only a few. Out of these, procrastination is probably the biggest challenge of all, which especially free online courses struggle with. Myself, I’m currently enrolled in the 3rd free online online course from Acumen – as usual very convinced I’ll see it through, until that to-do list resurfaces and the online course gets to the bottom of it.
So given this critical view on e-learning, it’s curious how I ended up suddenly co-creating an online course, isn’t it? This is how it happened:
We founded NOW in 2016 to rethink intercultural education. We wanted to create meaningful intercultural experiences that didn’t require our participants to travel across the globe. We wanted to highlight local diversity, and contrast the “voluntourism” industry with our offers. What we couldn’t imagine when we started off was that we would eventually try to bring our content directly into people’s lives. Our main focus last year was to create and implement our 6-month program, the NOW Journey. We set off to design a program that helps people create change in their local reality and experience the power of diversity. But as we embarked on the journey together with our 29 participants, we soon realized just how important personal development is if we want to create change in the world. That’s when the idea of our online course started to dawn on us. What if we could take these elements of our program and create a smaller, more accessible program where we would support people to find the space and time to become the person they’d like to be?
Whoever has tried to go from couch potato to running 3 times a week knows the feeling: It’s hard to get into a flow of things that challenge us and make that step towards change happen. But if we manage, there comes this magic moment of looking back and saying “Oh wow, I really have changed!” That’s why we decided to call our online course FLOW, because we would like to give a little support to make those turning point moments happen. No matter if the change you’re looking for is starting to recycle, turning your start-up idea into reality or speaking up for what you believe in.
Online seemed like the right way to go for FLOW in order to increase our reach and keep down the costs of the program. Let me share with you some of the learnings from the last year that are flowing into the creation of the online course:
- It’s all about peers: you stay or leave online learning depending on the people that are there. Just like in real life, they make all the difference. And when it’s about transforming your life, having a support community around you is crucial. That means that FLOW won’t be a solitary experience, we’d like FLOW participants to make meaningful and lasting relationships with like-minded people from around the world.
- Take online offline: If it only stays online, it’s worthless. We’re far from being tech-apostles. Our daily work at NOW happens mostly online but we’re trying hard to take our connections beyond that: sharing our lives and making real-life encounters happen whenever possible. That’s exactly what we’ll be proposing with FLOW as well: coaching and real-life activities will help participants to connect the online course with their real lives.
- A course that follows you around: We have very deliberately chosen not to use any online learning platform for NOW. You’ll never get the participants to go there, we told ourselves. Slack sounded like a good in-between: it’s easy to understand and has many familiar features people know from Whatsapp, but it offers a separate and closed space for a community. Also, it works amazingly well on your mobile which means FLOW will be able to accompany people on their daily commute, be accessible in your lunch break or when chilling the hammock.
- Less can be more: one of the indicators we used for the NOW Journey was to measure if participants spent more time on social change activities, such as volunteering, after the program than they did before. Now, truth is that less can be more: together with our participants we learned that self-management is key and doing too much can be harmful and reduce our impact. Take-away for FLOW: there’s one week about mindfulness and throughout the course we offer flexibility about how participants structure their FLOW time.
- Diversity first: FLOW is a product, a course that we are putting a lot of time into designing and that ideally has some financial return for us. Yet, we believe that it can only unfold its power if we have a diverse group of motivated participants. Yet, diversity is nothing without inclusion. That is why FLOW will continue our approach of flexible funding: each participant will know best what they can invest in the program.
- Choices: During the first NOW Journey, we learned with our 29 participants what diversity can mean. Of course we knew that everyone has different experiences, backgrounds and interests, but it took us a while to figure out what personalizing learning content can entail. In FLOW, that learning is translated into choices and giving each person a learning facilitator who will make sure that each participant gets the support, resources and encouragement they need to learn.
The first 7-week FLOW online course starts in March and will be bringing together all of these learnings. If you’d like to give it a try, join us for a free test lesson on “Creative Activism” from February 19th to 25th.
Rahel joined Impact Hub Fellowship in Spring 2016. Before that she worked on the program side with Impact Hub Zürich, implementing and running Fellowships locally. She has an interdisciplinary background with degrees in communication, global studies and education for social change. Besides working for the Fellowship Associatio...
Rahel Aschwanden, Managing director of NOW,