Virtual Learning Centers (VLCs)
Training solutions tailored by the region, for the region
To ensure essential training for animal health professionals is available where and when it is needed most, the EuFMD has partnered with FAO decentralized offices in Southern Africa, Asia-Pacific and, more recently, East Africa to establish three regional Virtual Learning Centers (VLCs). The idea behind Virtual Learning Centers was a way to transfer the competences required to develop and deliver online training from EuFMD to FAO regional offices. This approach aims to increase regional capacity to train professionals and to better ensure courses offered are in line with the training needs of the countries in the target regions.
VLCs allow large and geographically disparate audiences to be trained at a low cost without having to travel from their duty stations. This enhances regional capacity, keeping the training needs of countries in the target regions. The end result is to strengthen the specific capacities that public and private veterinary services and frontline animal health professionals need to prepare for, detect and respond to outbreaks of foot-and-mouth and similar transboundary animal diseases (FAST).
VLCs also provide a platform to promote and organize regional virtual events and strengthen networks by assisting in the planning and coordination of regional activities against FAST diseases, such as surveillance, early warning systems, reporting and notification, and response to disease emergencies and progressive control.
The inherent digital engagement and networking aims to allow improved capacity of veterinary and other animal health professionals to deliver better quality services.
The VLC Concept
The VLCs act as regionally-based virtual learning hubs to support development and delivery of online courses, workshops and resources to build capacity through:
assessing and responding to the specific needs of the region;
providing tailored online courses;
reaching an increasingly wider audience of animal health professionals;
supporting virtual events and networking;
promoting national cascade of training resources;
encouraging continuing professional development.
The VLCs base their course delivery on an open source platform, a Learning Management System that enables educators to create personalised learning environments filled with dynamic courses that facilitate learning, anytime, anywhere and on any device.
Following EuFMD’s course configuration, the VLCs provide a combination of self-learning materials, live training sessions and online tutored discussion forums that enable the creation of a network among students and teachers.
At the same time, internet connectivity and a high relative cost of data are common challenges for VLCs and new alternatives are always explored. The lower bandwidth requirements of instant messaging applications, compared to standard web applications, has seen their increased use in support of virtual training delivery in multiple regions. Applications such as WhatsApp™ and Telegram™ can be used to improve audience engagement through broadcast messages and chat boxes, and also to complement the delivery of training courses, sending resources to participants who do not have access to a laptop or sufficient bandwidth.
The final goal is that trainees become part of a regional network and are able to exchange information, ask for advice and receive updates long after the actual training ends.
VLCs work with a system of training focal points who assist communication with Chief Veterinary Officers and trainees. Training Focal Points are usually senior officers of the veterinary authorities who play a crucial role particularly during nominations for courses and following up trainees in their respective countries to encourage course completion. In addition, the focal points play a key role in communicating regional training priorities and needs for incorporation into VLC workplans.
FAO programmes, such as Programme against African Trypanosomosis (PAAT) and antimicrobial resistance (AMR), have seen the benefits of the concept and are at various levels of collaboration with the VLC in Southern Africa (VLC-SFS) for capacity building through online courses. Similarly, the VLC for Asia and the Pacific (VLC-RAP) will support training for a range of FAO programme activities.
For trainees there is an arrangement to obtain continuous professional development (CPD) credit from select trainings delivered through VLCs. To this end, the VLC-SFS is now a registered supplier of CPD for the South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) with one of the courses delivered in 2020 already accredited for CPD by SAVC.
The way forward
The VLCs and established networks increasingly provide the framework and ideal platform to broaden the scope of virtual training programmes to encompass animal health priorities more broadly, to build veterinary service and animal health professionals’ capacities on a wide range of issues including One Health challenges such as zoonotic disease and anti-microbial resistance. In the future, other thematic areas outside of animal health of relevance to each region will also be able to be supported enabling a progressively wider audience and a broader variety of capacity development initiatives.
Furthermore, the VLCs will offer the opportunity to provide national training management support in order to develop or improve systems for promoting and recording certification and tracking of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) of Veterinary Service staff.