by HCBC member, Paul Arinaga of Grow Good LLC
With the prospect of an extended period of social distancing, many nonprofits are faced with the question of how they can continue to deliver services and serve their populations. The answer for many has been to move their programs to the online world. Many programs can be delivered via distance or e-Learning digital platforms. While this may sound like an onerous task for already over-stretched nonprofit staff, moving your programs online offers several advantages.
The most obvious advantage is that you can continue to offer your programs and engage with your program recipients. One of my clients runs after-school place-based programming for at-risk youth and their families. The COVID-19 crisis disrupted the program year, temporarily shutting down their operation. They quickly and effectively pivoted, however, to offer their programs via zoom, social media and telephone check-ins. In a next iteration, they will re-create their curriculum to be a full multimedia offering available online. Necessity is the mother of invention and as my client has stated: “A pandemic does not change our mission, it just forces us to think outside the box, rise to the challenge, and continue to serve.”
An Opportunity Disguised as a Threat
Far from seeing the need to go digital as a threat, my client and I realized that it’s actually an opportunity. An e-Learning curriculum offers several advantages over face-to-face interactions:
- Serve more people: you can effectively reach and serve more people than with face-to-face programming alone; the internet has a nearly infinite reach (in theory, more on that later).
- Reach people where they are: without wanting to sound like Big Brother (or Sister), with online programming you can reach right into people’s homes. They can engage with your organization from the comfort of their living room or take you with them when they’re on-the-go. Moreover, in the case of digital content that is pre-packaged and does not require intervention by your staff, your program participants can access it at their convenience 24/7.
- Supplement your traditional programming: your e-Learning materials can be used to supplement and complement your traditional, face-to-face programs. You could, for example, create videos that review whatever material was covered at one of your workshops. Workshop participants could use the videos to refresh their memories or even share them with their friends and families, thereby further extending your reach.
- Easier evaluation: measuring most things is easier online. It’s arguably much easier to get your “captive” audience to complete surveys. In fact, you can even make evaluation an integral part of your program modules by building it into them in the form of quizzes or assessments, for example.
- Create additional revenue streams: it may be possible to package your programs and sell them to other organizations or individuals. At the very least, this may enable you to share your work with a statewide, national or even international audience.
- Use it in your marketing: wouldn’t it be great to have a bunch of videos that highlight the value of what you do? Once you create an e-Learning body of content, you can extract bits and pieces of it to make promotional videos or other marketing material.
- Low delivery cost: while creating the e-Learning curriculum may require a substantial upfront investment of time and money, once it’s created the marginal cost of actually delivering the curriculum to each additional person you serve is likely to be lower than the cost of delivering your face-to-face programs. This is particularly the case for e-Learning modules that require little or no intervention by your staff in real-time.
How to Do It?
While a comprehensive “How-To” is beyond the scope of this article, here are a few things to look out for when moving your programs to the online world.
- First, plan: studies have shown that one of the main risks to technology projects is a lack of sufficient time spent assessing user requirements at the outset of the project. Don’t underestimate what’s involved in creating a true e-Learning curriculum. Figure out what your population needs, how they like to learn, and how they are likely to interact with your online programming
- Think digital: in moving programs online, it is important to not simply re-create your curriculum online but to also adapt it to take full advantage of the power of digital media. Take a multimedia approach using the optimal combination of video, audio, text, graphics/infographics, animation, slides, quizzes, games, and other elements. A multimedia approach can offer advantages such as increased learning effectiveness as well as interactivity.
- Pay attention to deployment: the way in which the e-Learning platform is deployed is nearly as important as the online curriculum itself. You will probably need to train and mentor your staff to work smoothly with the new technologies and your program participants may require some handholding as well.
- Don’t forget analog: just because you’ve rolled out a shiny new e-Learning platform doesn’t mean you should forget the analog or face-to-face world. Program participants may still require a ‘human touch’ even if it’s via Zoom. Moreover, members of the population you serve are likely to be delighted to receive a physical package from time to time. During this pandemic, some nonprofits have created ‘boxes’ that contain crafts for kids, educational material or other information, suggested activities, and even physical objects. These boxes are almost like care packages and show that you indeed care. With people – and especially children – glued to their screens even more than before, it’s important to offer some analog escape from the tyranny of the screen.
The one hiccup in all of this, of course, is the digital divide. Statewide a little over 10% of households have no computer and 13% lack an internet connection, with these percentages being much higher for lower-income groups. The only real solution to this problem may be to get donations of equipment or to raise funding to buy it.
Overcoming the digital divide will be well worth the effort, however, for the reasons shown above. Nonetheless, lest we forget, e-Learning will never completely replace human intervention. Several of my clients provide ocean experiences to youth and that type of encounter with the sea under the tutelage of an experienced water man or woman is priceless. Some things still need to be experienced in the flesh and blood so that they become a part of your body and soul.
Paul Arinaga is a fund development, communications and marketing consultant who previously worked in the information technology sector for Microsoft and Philips Healthcare Solutions.