Recently, SMEX hosted the first beta course on our new online learning platform NetHawwal. We enrolled 36 participants from 14 Arab countries in the eight-week course, and as we prepared to launch we experienced what all entrepreneurs must feel at some point: We were thrilled to finally see this product of thousands of hours of research, planning, content creation, and web development in action but also slightly terrified that our first real users would tell us that we had missed the mark—that it had all been for naught.
We followed their participation closely, working with our great web developers at Fusion Second to fix bugs and catalogue feedback. As we neared the end of the session, we breathed a huge sigh of relief, as it became clear that, while the platform wasn’t perfect, we achieved or even exceeded our expectations.
A Beta Success!
Fully 70 percent of learners (that’s 25 people) completed all the requirements needed to earn a certificate of achievement, and one participant, a trainer and organizer from Iraqi Kurdistan, described the course as “the greatest experience I had in the digital world.” Others also had some really nice things to say.
Participants, who worked on a wide range of advocacy issues during the course, cited the ability to network with their colleagues around the region and the ability to integrate the course into their existing routines as big plusses. The fact that they could take the course entirely in Arabic—and interact with native Arabic-speaking moderators—also earned NetHawwal a lot of points. When asked what they will do with the new knowledge they had learned, graduates responded that they would train others, introduce the course to friends and coworkers, experiment, and develop strategies for their campaigns.
Room for Improvement
Also, as we’d hoped, the inaugural group also offered constructive criticism on both the platform and the curriculum, providing us with a wishlist of new features for follow-up iterations. Among the many suggestions made were to integrate more experimentation with social media into assignments, to add real-time chat to the platform, and to create more incentives for participants—such as in-person meetings at the end of a course for those who have demonstrated the most commitment. They requested chat functionality and the ability to download a PDF of all the content as well. Most requested was more courses.
To accommodate these requests, over the next few months, SMEX, working with Fusion Second, will be redesigning the learning pages and other features of the site, paying attention to developing new content and content partnerships, distributing use of the platform to new groups, and researching sustainable funding models. We’ve already begun developing three new courses, including one on digital storytelling with UNICEF Innovation, another on choosing tactics adapted from Tactical Technology Collective’s Info-Activism How-To Guide, and a third on social media news reporting and verification. All will be launched later this year.
In the meantime, we will also be hosting an updated version of the Savvy Strategist this summer (register here). We’ll also be integrating NetHawwal into new programs and training programs and seeking new content and distribution partnerships with civil society organizations around the region. If you’d like to talk about partnering or would just like to know more, please get in touch. Finally, we’ll be posting more frequently about NetHawwal in the weeks to come, explaining the inspiration for the platform as well as diving deeper into our long-term plans. You can keep up with our posts here or over on the news feed of NetHawwal, where we’ll be cross-posting. See you soon!