Impact Story

Online learning about social protection, for everyone everywhere

Published on 12 July 2021

Even before Covid-19 prompted our shift to online teaching, IDS was already exploring the potential for broadening access for a wider range of participants through online learning. Launched in June 2020, ‘Social Protection: A Primer’ was a timely short course offered to professionals – and has become a core part of our building leadership work in this field.

Aimed at practitioners and policymakers in social protection, the free-to-access course was developed by the IDS Centre for Social Protection and the Knowledge Impact and Policy Cluster, and is supported by Irish Aid as part of our partnership with them. Such has been its success, the course will run at least until early 2022.

The impetus for ‘A Primer’ came from our growing awareness that in-person short courses were not reaching those without travel and training budgets – often those who work on the ground or in lower levels of social protection. Market analysis highlighted this gap and a desire for online learning about the basics of social protection.

The impacts of Covid-19 threw into stark relief the vulnerability of many people who live in poverty and the vital role of social protection in helping them to cope. Almost every country has expanded or introduced programmes to meet rising needs. Aside from fast-response interventions, the pandemic has underlined the need for long-term strengthening of social protection systems.

Course builds capacity

Achieving effective short and long-term responses – whether to Covid-19 or to other shocks and crises – rests on capacity-building. Those who devise and implement interventions need a solid understanding of social protection, from basic principles to innovations happening in the field.

Participant numbers for the course have far exceeded the early ambitions of course developers Keetie Roelen and Alistair Scott of attracting 100 participants. During its first year, more than 2000 people from around the world took the course.

Feedback has been extremely positive, with several participants sharing how the course has helped to build their individual and their team capacity. Senior staff in World Vision and UNICEF Lebanon recommended it to their staff for capacity-building and development of their approach to social protection. Team managers in Terre des Hommes Bangladesh included it in training for all their social workers and community mobilisers to build stronger links between their work and social protection.

One participant described the course as ‘extremely detailed, but also not filled with overly-technical and complicated terms’, adding: ‘I have acquired valuable knowledge on social protection, and better understand the need for the protection of vulnerable communities.’ Another spoke of learning ‘so much about social protection and the role it could play towards ending poverty’.

A wider online offer

With limited resources, Keetie and colleagues took the approach of building a modest but well-made course, where concepts could be understood and learned without human interaction. A specific module on social protection and Covid-19 was added later.

Care was also taken to ensure course content complemented that of partners’ existing offers. So the course works as a primer for subscribers to the e-TRANSFORM course, run by, with whom the Centre for Social Protection has long-standing links. It was also a prelude to the Economic Policy Research Institute (EPRI) South Africa Social Protection course in October 2020.

This is just one of the short courses for professionals that IDS runs online. Others include Shaping Policy with Evidence, Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation for Learning, and Pathways to Sustainability. In March 2020, IDS delivered its first Online Distance Learning (ODL) module, as part of the University of Sussex’s MSc in Sustainable Development. This online degree, launched in July 2019, has been attracting very high student numbers.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IDS.


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Programmes and centres
Centre for Social Protection

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