GHG Training v2.0: Upgrading and Rebooting the GHGMI Education Program

September 23, 2013, by Tim Stumhofer

Click here for an Executive Summary of upgrades to the GHGMI Education Program

In 2007 we launched the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute as a nonprofit organization with the unique mission to “professionalize” the emerging practice of carbon management. Our vision was grounded in two big ideas: (1) that attention to climate change policy implementation —versus policy development— and the individuals doing this work was critical for the success of carbon reduction efforts, yet was being overlooked; and (2) that capacity building and networking infrastructure using web-based tools (e.g., e-learning) was a superior mechanism to reach and support the professional development of this important global community of practice.

Looking back, we have come a long way from our humble beginnings. Foremost, we developed the world’s most rigorous course catalogue of practical GHG measurement and management curriculum, a library of public and program-specific technical online and in-person workshop coursework. Just as important, we are delivering this curriculum to learners from nearly 100 countries, filling thousands of course seats. Yet, the challenge of climate change remains —looming even larger than back in 2007— and, likewise, skills gaps and professional capacity development barriers still persist, adding to the roadblocks hindering the implementation of climate change programs around the world.

Against the background of this challenge —in a reaffirmation of our founding mission— we have undertaken a wide-sweeping improvement to our Education Program. This upgrade marks an inflection point in our organizational identity. Through a series of coordinated changes in our learning systems, tuition model, and credentialing we are actively targeting the linked goals of reducing barriers to training and streamlining our course delivery.

This important upgrade is the outcome of nearly a year of planning. To give context to these changes, we thought it would be illuminating to elaborate on both the drivers and some of the outcomes we hope to achieve.

Institutional learning

In 2002 one of our co-founders began a project for the UNFCCC secretariat to develop and deliver a new training and testing program for the global group of experts responsible for reviewing national GHG inventory submissions (initially under the UNFCCC and later the Kyoto Protocol). Significantly, the training for this geographically diffuse collection of applicant reviewers was delivered through a blend of e-learning coursework followed by an in-person workshop. These training activities —in particular, the model of training the emerging global community of climate change practitioners through e-learning— served as a “proof of concept,” forming the intellectual underpinnings for what, five years later, we launched as the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute. (N.B. GHGMI continues to host this training program for the UNFCCC secretariat.)

A few years ago, we sketched out a timeline of important milestones in the history of our organization. That timeline, and the report for which it was developed, provide a good overview of our history. But what is not necessarily obvious from dates on a chart, is our evolving relationship with online education. By the time of our 2007 organizational launch, e-learning had years of iterative development and road-testing behind it; by technological standards it was far from novel. Yet, we learned first-hand that the barriers to technology can be as much if not more cultural than technical.

In our early days we were fortunate enough to forge partnerships with forward-looking organizations who shared our vision for online learning: standardized curriculum, rigorous learning objectives and pedagogy, global reach, and the opportunity to scale at low marginal cost. But these partnerships were the exception to the rule. It would be more accurate to describe our experience as marked by scepticism from institutions whose risk averse cultures viewed online education as an unproven fad and rigorous pedagogy as something for students not professionals.

From our early days we blazed an entrepreneurial path, taking our curriculum and philosophy directly to the global market. The response can be summarized with a number of impressive metrics (a few of the cumulative figures are cited above), but more than anything our experience wholly convinced us to embrace the power and reach of e-learning. Indeed, that we were able to coalesce, from nothing, a global network around our online coursework turned us into advocates for the technology and its capacity to grow and empower a technical community.

Deconstructing the ivory tower

If our e-learning experience sounds familiar, it may be because you have been hearing a lot about online education lately. In 2011 Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, co-instructors of a Stanford University course on Artificial Intelligence, shocked the higher education world when they made their course available online to thousands.

The global acceptance of online education the Thrun-Norvig experiment uncovered has intensified interest in and catalyzed the development of new e-learning approaches and technologies. Thrun, for one, was convinced enough to step away from his research on self-driving cars to start an e-learning company called Udacity and two of his Stanford department colleagues also split off to found a separate online education endeavor, Coursera. What is even more convincing is the “who’s who” laundry list of top-tier global universities that have joined the movement, both in collaboration with higher education peers —such as the Harvard-MIT led EDx initiative— as well as under other programs. (GHGMI has separately worked with Harvard to co-teach a carbon management course offered through its Extension School to a mix of in-person and online learners)

So what is precipitating all this change? How did we suddenly get to a point where Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and many other major universities are falling over each other in a race to get their courses en masse to the internet?

Fundamentally, e-learning as a medium has the potential to dramatically extend the reach of educational programming. The sheer scale of the Stanford example, matched with the people and institution involved, raised the profile of the access online learning affords. Now the genie is out of the bottle, as it were. And the refrain that niche online education advocates (like ourselves) have been preaching for years has become the chorus. Mainstream education is now embracing the solutions to access online education offers.

Seeing this online revolution unfold in front of us is validating. Since our launch, we have been surprised and delighted at the reach of our technical climate change curriculum. Travel and geography, let alone the demands of a busy schedule, are enormous barriers to training. We are particularly proud to have reached a large number of learners in regions we could have never hoped to serve face-to-face. Likewise we are highly cognizant that even the learners taking our courses in our backyard of North America sought us out due to our flexible approach and high quality pedagogy. Thank you.

But there is a clear limit to how self-satisfied we should be by the uptake of our coursework. To date, we have only been able to accommodate but a fraction of the learners that have come to us looking for professional training. The critical limiting factor? Cost.

Upgrading and rebooting

Inspired by a growing cultural appreciation of the value of e-learning and corresponding technological advances that have allowed for substantially expanded class sizes, we last year began an internal initiative to re-engineer our course delivery model. We have long agitated to better leverage online learning tools to meet our capacity building mission and “democratize” knowledge by expanding access, but, to date, cost and technology have been prohibitive. Now, drawing on our experience delivering and hosting our e-learning coursework, paired with recent infrastructure innovations and a growing acceptance of the medium, we are optimistic that we have found a formula that will allow us to open our coursework up to a considerably larger population.

The changes we are announcing are structured around three key principles:

(1)   we are modernizing our delivery with upgrades to our technical platform and our administrative systems;

(2)   we are expanding our reach by substantially lowering financial barriers through a dramatic restructuring of our tuition model and capacity upgrades in our technical systems; and

(3)   we are streamlining our offerings with a new credentialing system that is more flexible, will increase access to coursework, and is better matched with the realities of today’s complex climate policy landscape.

Upgrading for right now

So what changes should you expect to see?

Credential structure: To better address the modern climate change workplace, we have established new Diploma programs, which are both more demanding and more flexible than our previous certificate programs. The three new diploma programs are:

Rounding out our offerings, we continue to offer a certificate of proficiency for passing an individual course exam, and support broader competency-based professional certification in the field through the EP(GHG) certification.

The new diploma programs are structured to reflect a number of new and forthcoming additions to our course catalogue, including:

You can learn more about our course catalogue here.

Curricular access options: New to our menu of education offerings is a “course library subscription” option. The new course library subscription provides access to our complete catalogue. You can learn more about this option here.

Tuition: Accompanying improvement to our delivery systems, we have dramatically changed our tuition model. We have substantially lowered course tuition across the board and, with the introduction of our new diploma programs and course subscription model, have made our offerings more flexible and convenient.

You can learn more about our new course tuition scheme on the following pages:

Course administration: If you have taken a course with us before, you may notice a new “look and feel” to our learning environment. These changes are the visual manifestations of a series of behind-the-scenes updates. In addition to software and infrastructure upgrades, we have also changed how our courses are administered. To provide greater flexibility, we now enroll learners on a continuous basis, meaning no more waiting or consulting the calendar for when courses “open.”

For a summary of key course administration changes click here. Or for any questions on our updated course delivery model, email our Registrar at [email protected]

Upgrading for the future

Since our founding we have eagerly watched as e-learning has gained acceptance as a high quality educational platform and, in the last few years in particular, we have been excited to bear witness to higher education’s e-learning revolution. As a mission-driven nonprofit focused on preparing a professional workforce, we are supportive of not just the technological side of this movement, but are keen to pick up the thread on the moral dialogue on access to education that these advances have brought to the fore.

We are pleased that the upgrades to our Education Program bring our offerings up-to-speed with the forward-looking state-of-the-art in online education and simultaneously better achieve our mission by expanding access to our course catalogue, creating a more convenient and flexible learning environment, and reorganizing our professional credentialing to better and more simply align with the state of climate change practice.

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