“It is good to use the Internet for distance training, but it becomes effective once you combine it with real face-to-face interaction” summarizes Dr. Tuan M. Pham, Director of the TOPICA E- Learning Program and Dean of the Faculty of Banking and Finance at Hanoi Open University the experiences of APIN’s first online training course for incubator managers. Under his direction and supported by a group of international trainers and incubation experts, the 8 weeks training course enhanced the marketing capabilities of the 109 trainees in a unique way.
The training course that focused on marketing key topics such as strategic marketing, marketing planning, tactical marketing and the marketing mix started with an offline training in Coimbatore (India), organized by PSG Step. In the following 7 weeks, the course participants joining in from 15 Asian Pacific nations had the opportunity to flexibly schedule their courses and assignments for individual training and counselling while also getting together with other trainees by attending online live conferences and discussions. “It was my first experience of such online live conference. The feedback I received from trainers was immediate and fruitful. I think such online conference can save money and time if it could be organized continuously for an international conference topic to be discussed. It was very effective and lively.” says Rabindra Kumar Neupane of Nehru Arts and Science College, Nepal.
Learning from the APIN pilot, it is the combination of these three factors that makes the success factor of online training courses: Starting with a face-to-face training, allowing individual scheduling of the online training course, and getting together again with all participants in online live conferences and discussions. In fact, technology is the enabler but the team of trainers and support counsellors is the key. “Our counsellor was very enthusiastic and patient. She always suggested the better way for solving a particular problem and responded very quickly. She also tried to encourage the team members to share their opinions on each topic.” reflects Pasinee Futrakul from Thailand Science Park Technology Business Incubator.
Dr. Tuan M. Pham concludes: “Online training obviously cannot fully reach the quality of face-to-face training. There are issues such as drop-out of participants, language and technical barriers. Nevertheless, the significantly lower variable costs allow many more people to participate in the training who would otherwise not be able to. Another advantage is that people can take enough time to complete their on-the-job assignments, something not possible in face-to-face sessions that usually last only a few days. The best cot/benefit ratio is when online activities are well combined with face-to-face sessions”.
TOPICA is an organization “seeded” with an infoDev grant in 2004, when it started business incubation activities under the name CRC-TOPIC. In 2006, it raised additional funding from Microsoft, Qualcomm, Hewlett-Packard and USAID for the TOPIC64 project to set up and conduct online incubation of 64 training centers in Vietnam’s 64 provinces. The program also included the development of E-learning capabilities. In 2008, TOPICA received a grant from Vietnam Foundation and venture capital funding to develop a Bachelor’s degree program in Business, Accounting and ICT. TOPICA and its projects were selected finalist of the Development Gateway Awards (2007) and the Stockholm Challenge Awards (2008).
A summary of the lessons drawned from APIN’s first online training can be found here. If you would like to get in touch with the organizers, please contact APIN and Mr. Cao Cong Minh of TOPICA (minbcc(at)topica.edu.vn).