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Why online courses are the future of sustainable hospitality

December 23, 2020

Launching our free training module online was a response to the Coronavirus crisis. We were in lockdown, the world’s hospitality businesses had largely been forced to close and  the idea of sitting in a training room semicircled with colleagues felt like a nostalgic throwback to another era. With health and safety becoming the number one priority, plastic reduction and sustainability took a back seat for tourism. But there are plenty of ways to combine the two, and what better way to show this than through a digital course for tourism professionals on sustainability and hygiene in the hospitality sector.

Shifting to the digital space to share information about COVID-19 and plastic reduction online was a practical step and one that was very well received (who doesn’t love a freebie). But we were also pleased to discover some great practical benefits that e-learning can provide.

The advantages of e-learning for tourism professionals

According to The Research Institute of America, e-learning increases knowledge retention rates by 25% to around 60%. This compares to rates of only around 8% to 10% typical in face-to-face training. Apparently this is because with e-learning, students have more control over the learning process as well as the opportunity to revisit the training as and when needed.

So why does the online format work better for so many people? While everyone is different, it seems like the learning environment is a big help here. Think back to your own experiences with seminars, training or lectures. Sure, the topic might be interesting, and you genuinely want to learn more about the subject at hand but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to pay attention. For some reason your mind just keeps wandering off to consider what might be for lunch, what shoes the person next to you is wearing, or  calculate whether the session might end in time to be able to get the early train home.

In contrast, a lot of people are able to sit at a computer screen in the comfort of their own home, and stay focused.  And if you are distracted by your pet, those dishes you have been meaning to do, or that show you really want to watch, no one is stopping you! The flexibility of e-learning allows you to work during makes it a lot easier to find those moments where you are motivated and focused. So when you do get around to your course it has your undivided attention. A quick half an hour, just you and the module, no distractions, job done!

The sustainable way to learn

The Greener Guest team were particularly delighted to hear that e-learning has also been found to be the more environmentally friendly option. Studies carried out by Britain’s Open University found that e-learning consumes 90% less energy than traditionally taught courses. The amount of CO2 emissions is also reduced by 85%. Solutions that work for business and make the world a better place are what we’re all about!

In any normal year, one of the great challenges in the hospitality sector is the lack of downtime to organise any training. Even in businesses that peak seasonally, it’s hard to find  a moment to get the whole team to sit down together for a few hours to learn new skills. Training is a crucial area for the tourism industry to invest in of course, to improve customer service, staff retention and business efficiency. Fewer guests, or temporary closure may mean you and your team have time on your hands, and many staff are interested in improving their knowledge in the growing area of sustainability but in 2020 you may have little budget to invest in development.

More FREE sustainability courses

This is where e-learning comes into its own. Cheaper than traditional training and with many low cost or free options available, especially on the subject of sustainable hospitality, it’s an ideal way to keep staff motivated and valued. MOOCs (massive open online courses) are free online courses provided through various online platforms, universities, and organisations.

There are plenty available, and most offer coursework that can be completed via an easy-to-use interface. British Columbia Open Education (BCOpenEd) offer a free course on Sustainability and Climate Change on the ‘Alison’ portal. The University of Copenhagen via Coursera offer a free ten hour course in Sustainable Tourism-Promoting Environmental Public Health which is delivered in English and focuses on tourism in low income countries.

If you operate in or near a national park or protected area you can access a free, online learning platform developed within the Erasmus+ project ‘Sustainable Tourism: Training for Tomorrow’ If you do want to invest, organisations such as the Global Sustainable Tourism Council offer high quality and fairly affordable as do several of the sustainability certification bodies.

At the end of the day e-learning is not right for every situation and every individual. There are many parents who despaired  the idea of their children getting a decent education via Zoom  and Google Classroom! But it’s definitely a 2020 trend that’s likely to continue. But for vocational training, particularly in short accessible chunks, it’s good to know that  the time you and your employees have invested in online learning is time well spent.

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Rachel McCaffery
Rachel McCaffery
Rachel McCaffery has over 15 years of experience in tourism and sustainability. She has driven sustainability strategy and supply chain management for commercial tour operators such as Airtours, Virgin Holidays, STA Travel and Virgin Atlantic. She was heavily involved in the creation of ABTA Tools such as the Travelife Sustainability System, Global Animal Welfare Guidelines and Responsible Volunteering Guidelines and played a leading role in the development and testing of the European Tourism Indicator System for the EU.

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