The Role of Online Training in Human Capital Development


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August 13, 2013

The role of online training in human capital development

It is safe to say that in the development world human capital development (HCD) is generally considered important for achieving sustained growth and sustainable results. What does it really mean to invest in people, and how can such an “investment” make a measurable impact? Human capital refers to the skills, ability, and efficiency of individuals (thus also of companies and organizations) that contribute to their productivity and improves their competitiveness.

Why Invest in Human Capital Development?

“Achieving the [Millennium Development Goals] is about making core investments in infrastructure and human capital that enable poor people to join the global economy and … to make full use of infrastructure and human capital.” – Millennium Project, Investing in Development

HCD is considered both an integral part of the Millennium Development Goals (particularly those addressing education and community well-being) and an effective approach to achieving those goals. That’s why investment in human capital is seen as just as important as investing in physical infrastructure.

*See various reports on the Millennium Development Goals here.

Measuring the Impact of HCD Investment

While the importance of human capital development, particularly in the context of international development (but also for ensuring social well-being of countries and communities in general) is well recognized and forms a critical piece of global development approaches and strategies, measuring the ROI of investing in HCD is far from simple.

“Although the conceptual definition of human capital is clear, its measurement is difficult because it is practically impossible to observe individual skill, and even harder to design a metric that is comparable across individuals and countries.” – Hyun H. Son, ADB Economics Working Paper Series No. 225

With the understanding that finding an effective method for measuring human capital development is an important challenge within the field of international development today, there is a possible role that e-learning technologies and online training tools can play in assisting with this important challenge.

Benefits of Online Training for Human Capital Development

In addition to increased flexibility, one of the most exciting benefits of e-learning and online training is the enhanced ability for both trainers and trainees to gather, monitor, and analyze data, follow progress, and diagnose problems. By saving the time and resources that would otherwise be required to gather data on trainees’ knowledge retention and skills development, online training tools empower trainers and training providers to evaluate the effectiveness of their programs in a more concrete and consistent manner. A possible long-term and global outcome of this is a better way for the international aid and development community to track, measure, and improve on the ROI of their investment in human capital.

Of course, online tools will never replace the benefits of in-person learning for some of the critical areas of HCD, such as primary education for children, but when effectively utilized to support and complement existing capacity building efforts in international development, online training can unlock the immense potential of HCD, as it provides an important mechanism to justify – and therefore further encourage – investment in HCD.

Are there existing examples of online training program in the field of international development that support this idea? If you have any best practices to share, or if you have any thoughts related to HCD, online training, and capacity building in the development field, please post your comments!

Ayako Ezaki is Co-Founder and Director of Training Strategies & Development at TrainingAid, an international tourism and training company offering training and skills development opportunities for tourism industry professionals.