A journey in online course development

June 22, 2021, by Molly White

Tracking emissions is a key foundation to implementing effective climate action. Governments must be equipped to understand the process of emissions tracking in order to prioritise their climate actions and enhance the design of their emissions reduction strategies.

In partnership with the Climate Footprint Project, the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute (GHGMI) developed an online interactive course to support subnational governments in developing and mainstreaming their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions tracking capacity.

At GHGMI, we strive to unlock professional development in greenhouse gas (GHG) management for anyone, anywhere. Part of this unlocking is teaching individuals not only the information needed to conduct GHG management activities but, at the same time, equipping learners with the skills to apply this information.

GHG management professionals working within subnational government are often faced with a myriad of GHG accounting tasks. While there are a multitude of GHG accounting frameworks that professionals work within, these frameworks are usually categorized as either being attributional or consequential. Attributional methods are appropriate for allocating ‘carbon budgets’ to entities and generally provide clear rules for identifying a specific set of sources and sinks and allocating ‘ownership’ or ‘responsibility’ to different entities. Consequential methods do not define a scope of responsibility concerning an entity in this way, as they are instead concerned with the impacts of specific decisions or interventions. Most professionals become competent in practicing within one framework type. For example, a carbon offset project developer would train in the methods and programs of consequential accounting.

However, this is not the case for a practitioner working at a subnational government. In many cases, these practitioners may be responsible for managing within both of these framework types. For example, providing data to a national GHG inventory compiler, reporting subnational GHG inventory trends to a provincial program, and implementing a subsidy policy to reduce industry-wide emissions. This is no small task and increases the number of core competencies the professional needs to have.

Subnational governments also vary extensively in their structures and their country contexts. This means that the experience of applying an accounting framework in one state or region may vary considerably from another state or region. So, how do you develop a course for this magnitude of variation that still meets the needs of an individual trainee?

At the most basic level, the solution we applied to this training challenge was two-fold:

Learner characterization

At the outset of course design, two days were spent describing and elaborating the intended “course participant profile” to guide the development of the curriculum.

In the case of the Climate Footprint Project, this involved characterizing professionals in the first four project implementation states – Baja California (USA), Jalisco (Mexico), Yucatán (Mexico), and Pernambuco (Brazil) –  to develop a clearer picture of the “typical” learner-profile in the course. Traits such as educational background, employment, career achievement, entry point(s) to GHG management, language fluencies, IT access, demographics, and previous training of the target learner group were considered.

It was envisioned that the target learner would be government staff balancing the training alongside their existing professional commitments. For this reason, being able to log in to an online course and proceed with coursework anytime, anywhere was an important feature. The curriculum also needed to be developed in the prominent languages used within the project states – Spanish, English, and Brazilian Portuguese.

Applying the principles of andragogy

The course curriculum considered what learners needed to know, what their readiness and problem-orientations were, and what their likely intrinsic motivation was for taking the course.


Andragogy in its simplest definition encompasses the methods and practices for teaching adult learners. Developing a curriculum that can appeal to adult learners must go beyond just presenting the information. We have all attended an informational webinar, in which we find ourselves asking halfway through, “Why am I here?”. For professional training to be a success, especially when delivered online, the curriculum needs to teach not only the information but also explain the “why” behind each piece of information. Equally important is to have this rationale presented in a structure that aligns with the target learner characteristics as defined during the learner characterization process.

The application of these principles started by defining the meta-learning objectives for the entire course and then defining a sub-set of learning objectives for each individual lesson. This ensured that the content of the curriculum was developed around what the learners needed to know following completion of the course.

Adults learn through doing, even if they make mistakes. So, interactive elements were developed to complement the learning objectives and allow for “making mistakes”, e.g. knowledge checks with answers provided upon submitting responses.

The curriculum topics were organized in a way that learners would likely encounter them in the real world. Specifically, aligning with how subnational government professionals would need to make climate or GHG management decisions within one or more GHG accounting frameworks. This sequencing of content is important to make the training more intuitive and of immediate use for the target learner group. Mock case study exercises were also included at the end of key lessons, to provide continuity of real-world applied concepts from one lesson to the next.

Finally, the target learner’s likely intrinsic motivation was aligned with external motivational drivers – an element that we consider to be one of the most distinguishing attributes of a capacity development training that is successful and gets used. For this course, drivers were created within the delivery approach. These implementation activities were planned during course development and executed after course completion. These external drivers included an intentional application and training period, imposing course completion deadlines, encouraging peer-to-peer networking through online forums, and issuing certificates or credentialing for those that achieved success.

“I recommend this course to anyone who is a beginner in the development of a GHG inventory for a Subnational. The course has helped me to better understand the entire process of an inventory development, the importance of ensuring good quality data, plugging data gaps and doing the estimations. I am now confident in the work that I do and will now contribute better in my team.”

– Course Certificate Recipient

The course has enrolled 50 learners thus far, from 27 state and regional governments across Brazil, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, and South Africa. As the Climate Footprint Project continues to move the needle across subnational climate action, this online course will be a relied-upon resource for training.

Interested in learning more about this course? Basics of Subnational GHG Accounting is open for enrollment. And, stay tuned for the next Climate Footprint Project/Under2 Coalition training period, the nomination and application process will begin in Fall 2021.

A version of this blog has been posted with permission on The Climate Group website: https://www.theclimategroup.org/news/online-course-development-climate-footprint-project

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