CLM is your one-stop-shop for all learning and language training matters

CLM is your one-stop-shop for all learning and language training matters

How we were able to move the UN’s training courses online during Covid
When CLM left face-to-face classrooms in March 2020, little did we imagine that two years later we would still be interacting digitally
1 Apr 2022

The UNOG seat of learning for the last 20 years or so has been the annexe le Bocage. Many of you will remember walking up that hill, come rain or shine, to follow face-to-face classes in one of the six official United Nations languages at the Centre for Learning and Multilingualism (CLM). Or, you may have participated in a Management and Communication (M&C) workshop on themes as varied as “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®” or “Speaking in front of an audience” (a real live one!).

Like most UN premises in Geneva, the annexe le Bocage has been in hibernation for two years. But the staff at CLM are more like honeybees than bears and have continued to work, albeit differently, surpassing all records to date for student numbers, satisfaction rates, and the number and variety of courses offered. As we all wait to discover what the “next normal” will be, let us share with you our story of two full years of teaching and learning in a pandemic.

Language Training Programme (LTP)

Face-to-face delivery for our general courses was the ‘normal’ way of doing things up to and including week 10 of the winter 2020 term. As of 16 March 2020, everything changed. Working from Home (before WFH became a globally used acronym), we connected our UN-issue laptops and headphones and became online trainers overnight. Some of us did have experience of this from teaching online classes to the field, and we were all fairly competent with creating and monitoring online activities for the one hour per week component of our blended courses. But this was on a different scale! A monumental paradigm shift in the way we function, which involved every member of the CLM team and also required the adherence and acceptance of our clients.

The main challenge for the Language Training Programme (LTP) was to move 90 courses (39 teachers and 1,147 participants) online with minimal disruption to the learning process — particularly so close to end-of-term examinations. Another challenge, from a pedagogical point of view, was to find ways of recreating the interactive, face-to-face language classroom in a virtual environment while ensuring effective learning. We successfully met these challenges with no course cancellations. We had won the first battle, but definitely not the war! One of our first sacrifices as teachers was giving up our Easter 2020 holidays in order to be better online teachers for the rapidly approaching spring 2020 term.

And so, it has continued. Since then, seven language terms have passed, all courses are still taught in the virtual format, and we CLM honeybees have been indefatigable in our determination to improve and develop. The alignment of the Programme with the United Nations Language Framework (UNLF) has continued, we renamed our general courses and piloted examinations for UN levels I and II in collaboration with our colleagues in New York. New, specialized courses have also been created: “Writing in Plain English,” “LPE Preparation” (new exam format), “The Arab World and the UN,” “Chinese Calligraphy”…to name but a few.

Participants have commended us for our efforts — our satisfaction rates have never been higher and many of our more popular courses have waiting lists. One of the big advantages of online teaching is that we have been able to welcome students working remotely. This, in turn, enriches the classroom context. The discussions held in the six official languages in online breakout rooms are examples of ‘One UN’ in action!

All of this was and still is possible thanks to the flexibility, hard work and commitment of the team, but also to the preexisting internal IT tools developed over the last 10 years (learning and administrative platforms). CLM was singled out for its excellence by the UNSG awards in 2018. In our response to the demands of the pandemic we have shown that we have lost none of our mettle. The demands of the pandemic and our response to it have shown that our team and the tools we have developed together were worthy recipients of these prestigious acknowledgements.

Management & Communication (M&C)

The three-strong team at M&C met similar challenges to the LTP and have become champions of the eWorkshop. All our courses are now online. We have had to think short, medium and long-term, creatively adapting our offer to present and future organizational needs. Online courses with names like “Leading Teams Remotely,” “Managing Hybrid Teams in the Next Normal: from Disruption to Choice,” or “Managing My Home Office,” tell the story of what we have all been through, and were unimaginable just two years ago!

However, traditional career paths, with their challenges, ambitions and aspirations continue. Reacting to the results of the 2019 Staff Engagement Survey results, M&C now offers tips, guidance and insights in our one-hour “Thursday Career Tips’’ series, which has been successful both in Geneva and the field (800 participants in 2021). Longer courses on such essential skills as “PHP Writing,” “Preparing for Competency-Based Interviews,” and “Networking” have also been updated for online delivery.

And, for those approaching the end of their career, the Pre-retirement Seminar welcomed 1,000 participants in 2021. M&C has remained focused on the bigger picture too. The Organization-wide initiative #NewWork, aimed at making our workplace culture more collaborative, inclusive and innovative, is supported by training in Flexible Working and, more recently, Agile Training. And, you may have heard about conecta – a “CLM” product that is further proof a pandemic can spark creativity!

Senior UN Managers have not been forgotten either — the Geneva Innovation Movement has been co-founded in partnership with other organizations to develop more innovative and inclusive skills, behaviors and mindsets.

The Future

With the ever-changing rules in Switzerland, there have been some false starts since the beginning of the pandemic, with a couple of aborted attempts to return to the Bocage, even if once there the delivery was still virtual.

The “next normal” is still unclear, but our enhanced ability to accommodate, adapt, and innovate will prove invaluable. We have also honed our resilience and, although it might sound contradictory, our independence and our interdependence too. Both teams and individuals at CLM have evolved in the last two years. Our clients, too. Recent polls suggest that, for many, the advantages of learning online outweigh the disadvantages. Others yearn for the classroom and chats around the coffee machine. We will shortly be launching a survey to find out just what our clients need and prefer.

The annexe le Bocage is somewhat sad right now. Let us hope with the recent relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in Switzerland and the return of spring, the CLM honeybees may bring it back to life — a different kind of life, certainly, but one that promotes both learning and living.

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* The Centre for Learning and Multilingualism is located at annex Bocage at United Nations premises.
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