29 January 2013, Geneva, Switzerland - The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) in collaboration with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) recently completed a successful joint eLearning course on ‘The Trade Dimension in United Nations Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAFs). The course not only started with a high interest and demand for placements, but it also ended with an immensely successful rate of completion as well as extremely good reviews from all that participated in the course.

UNITAR is particularly delighted by the fact that the participants, who came from 50 different countries and who work in areas that include developing countries’ government departments responsible for development assistance projects, civil society members, private sector representatives and other stakeholders in development strategies, or members of UN country teams involved in UNDAF design, were able to get so much out of the course, which is testified by the immense amount of positive feedback collected in the course evaluation.

The six week online course was conducted as part of a wider programme of training and knowledge-sharing initiatives undertaken within the context of the UN Inter-Agency cluster on Trade and Productive Capacity, and was designed to assist the cluster in teaching the importance of international trade and productive capacities within development processes, with emphasis on UN country level assistance strategies. More specifically, it aimed to demonstrate to the participants the real-world situations where international trade can support development and how current matrices in the United Nations Development Assistance Frameworks incorporate these principles.

The course participants benefited by expanding their knowledge and understanding of the aspects of trade and development, as well as by acquiring the skills required to critically analyse UN integrated projects, identifying suitable UN vehicles for trade-related assistance, as well as formulating UNDAF programmes with improved consideration of the trade dimension.

The aspiration for creating such a course came from the need for the aforementioned participants and stakeholders to understand why strengthening international trade and productive capacity is usually seen as one of the main engines for the socio-economic development of developing and least developed countries as it can bring about poor-inclusive employment growth and thus an increase in income. The course also explained that the link between trade and production with growth and development is however neither automatic nor simple, and thus needs to be carefully analysed and implemented.

Other learning objectives included that the course should improve the participants’ understanding of the role that trade and productive capacity can play in development strategies, their ability to distinguish the linkages trade has with other dimensions of development, their ability to explain the preconditions for trade to be effective in a development process, identify the most suitable UN vehicles to deliver trade-related assistance as well as to be able to formulate an integrated UNDAF development programme that better takes into account the trade dimension.

High Demand, Positive Results

The course was taught in the form of online learning over a period of six weeks and there was a huge interest in participation with nearly 900 registering for the course. Furthermore, the results, completion rates, as well as opinions of the course were very positive, with 107 participating - 89% of whom passed the course. Additionally, the results of the assessment quizzes were high, and comments in the evaluation showed that the quizzes were very effective and helped people understand the modules better. 

Other highlights of the course included the lively, informative and highly interactive discussion forums which were facilitated by the course mentor. These forums allowed participants to learn from their colleagues in a multicultural environment and facilitated the cross-fertilisation of ideas and opinions. Results from the Course Evaluation Questionnaire indicate that the forums were fully effective in helping the participants to learn the course content, which is further explained in the following statement given by one of the participants:

"I need to give my thanks to the mentor of the course for his valuable comments and efforts and to the e-learning support team. The participants of the course have given comments and opinions in the discussion forum which helped me to understand the different views and situations of different countries."

Other areas of the course which received such positive reviews include the materials that were provided to assist in the participants’ learning such as the interactive lessons, printable PDF versions of the materials as well as additional resources. For example, the inclusion of specific case study material involving UN integrated projects received praise for giving learners a more in-depth understanding of UNDAF processes, as well as giving them the chance to utilise and apply the skills that they had acquired in the previous weeks, as further described by the following quotation: 

"It was indeed an enjoyable six weeks. The reading modules were quite informative and the wealth of knowledge shared by course participants was overwhelming. Thank you to UNCTAD for yet another well put together course. The information gathered will go a long way in my personal development and that of our organization. Thanks to the course facilitators and participants!"

Furthermore, the overall methodology of the course was perceived to be of a very high standard as 95% of responding participants felt it to be ‘fully’ or ‘mostly’ effective, and the majority of which said they would use the information acquired from the course in the future. Overall, the satisfaction rate of the course was very high, with all respondents saying that it was entirely useful, and that it would have a tangible and beneficial impact upon their professional abilities, as underlined in the following quotation provided by one of the participants:

‘I am very positive that many of us are going to use this knowledge to enhance and take our research potentials to greater horizons.’

In a farewell message to the participants by Manuela Tortora (Chief, Technical Cooperation Service of UNCTAD), she commented that “… this has been the first online version of the course offered jointly by UNITAR and UNCTAD – in cooperation with the UN Inter-Agency Cluster on Trade and Productive Capacity - and I must say that our expectations regarding the number of participants and the active involvement of the participants have been largely exceeded! Having seen the many end-of-course messages that we have received from you I think we can now safely say that the course has been a success. I thank you all for your participation and hope that you will have learned new aspects on the way that trade can help in the development processes and the importance of including trade and related areas in national and UN development plans.”

UNITAR and UNCTAD will organize a follow-up meeting in February 2013 with a view of re-running the course and discussing other future potential collaborations.

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