UNESCO organized the first in a series of online trainings on distance learning solutions for Central Asian countries

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic around 1 billion students and youth, including over 16 million learners in Central Asia, have been affected by school and university closures. While some of them could switch to emergency online learning, not all education institutions and teachers were prepared for this unprecedented educational disruption.

To support countries in providing quality online education, UNESCO organizes a series of practical trainings. The trainings will help various education actors to better address the current situation and ensure the continuity of learning. The Global Education Coalition, launched by UNESCO in March 2020, also supports the initiative.

The first training on main functions and limitations of LMSs (Learning Management Systems) and CMSs (Content Management Systems) was held by UNESCO Almaty, UNESCO Headquarters and UNESCO IITE on 2 July 2020. It brought together nearly 100 participants from four Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan – and other countries, such as Armenia and Moldova.

Ms Krista Pikkat, Director of UNESCO Almaty, emphasized that during a webinar series on education sector response to COVID-19 in the Central Asian countries education ministries identified three priority areas for improving distance education. They include improving the use of digital educational platforms, developing high-quality digital content, and developing teachers’ competencies for effective use of distance and online learning methods.

Mr Zhan Tao, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education in Moscow, in the opening of the webinar said that ‘Learning Management Systems are an exciting part of online education, which requires involvement of both education and technology sectors, while also involving Artificial Intelligence and big data’. He stressed that the use of LMS and CMS must be innovative, and this training could be an excellent opportunity to show where and how innovation can be created.

During his presentation, Dr Igor Belyanin, Lobachevsky State University (Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia), provided an overview of several LMSs and CMSs, among them WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Moodle, OpenEDx and eLearning Server 4G. Dr Belyanin outlined key features and functions of the systems, as well as their advantages and disadvantages. He also explained how to select the most appropriate platform and maintain these platforms.

In the second part of the training, country representatives shared their experiences in dealing with learning management platforms. While some of them, like Kazakhstan, have already experimented with LMS for secondary and higher education, others are still discovering this online distance-learning tool. Some participants mentioned that they are interested in learning more about distance learning solutions, in particular, how to adapt learning materials to online format and use open educational resources.

While the trainings focus on technological solutions, it is vital to develop teachers’ capacities to use these solutions. As underlined by Dr Fengchun Miao, Chief of Unit, UNESCO HQ, ‘In these trainings we will adopt human-centered approach, as people are at the heart of any type of such initiative. And we hope that participants will share the acquired knowledge within their countries and will start using it in practice’.

An evaluation survey distributed after the workshop helped to identify participants’ level of involvement and areas of interest, so that the next training sessions would be organized considering their needs.

The recording of the first training is available here.