FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

2023 in review: the FAO Virtual Learning Centre—more students, more impact and more to come in 2024

©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

27/12/2023, Budapest

In Europe and Central Asia, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is expanding its online learning opportunities for animal health and production specialists. The platform is the regional Virtual Learning Center that has successfully conducted a series of virtual tutored trainings in 2023 and is set to roll out new courses that will respond to the dynamic needs of the region. 

Over the fourth quarter of 2022 and the first half of 2023, the FAO Virtual Learning Center facilitated several online, tutored courses that have trained and certified a total of 850 participants—more than twice the number of students in 2022— from various countries. The courses are geared to government officials and technical staff, programme and project coordinators, practitioners and professionals working in the field. Notable courses of the past year included re-runs and adaptations of existing courses, such as “Stamping out” in English and Russian, “Avian influenza preparedness” in Russian and Ukrainian, and “African swine fever preparedness” in English and Spanish. In October 2023, FAO launched a new course on “Sheep and goat pox preparedness” in English. The advantages of the online format of the VLC courses are that they are usually tutored and combine convenient self-paced study with a unique opportunity to discuss and network with international experts and regional colleagues. 

“Courses offered through the Virtual Learning Center provide an opportunity to simultaneously train hundreds of participants in various locations, who can learn at their own pace over several weeks,” said Daniel Beltran Alcrudo, FAO Animal Health Specialist.

A unique aspect of the Virtual Learning Center approach is its responsiveness to individual country needs. Courses can be customized and rolled-out in on an as-needed basis. One example was the tailored course on African swine fever preparedness delivered in response to a request from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Spain.

The Virtual Learning Center for Europe and Central Asia also played a pivotal role in hosting a virtual site for the Peste des petits ruminants (PPR) Blueprint Consultation and foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) Roadmap meeting for Economic Cooperation Organisation/West Eurasia countries, meeting held in Baku, Azerbaijan, demonstrating its versatility in facilitating high-profile events. 

Looking ahead, the regional FAO Center has an ambitious schedule for 2024. 

A new course on "Biosecurity in ruminants" in English is under development for delivery in February. This course will be translated and adapted into Romanian, Russian, and Turkish in 2024. Additionally, the regional VLC, in collaboration with the FAO-WOAH-WHO Tripartite will customize and deliver the "Introductory course to One Health" in English in February-March 2024, to meet the specific needs of the region. Other upcoming course adaptations include "Sheep and goat pox preparedness” in Russian, and "African swine fever preparedness” in Romanian. The Center is also increasing accessibility with an open-access course on "Introduction to African Swine Fever in English," available for all interested users. Translation to regionally relevant languages is also in progress.

Additionally, the focus of the Virtual Learning Center’s will enlarge beyond animal health to include courses on topics such as food loss and waste, plant health, and food safety in the pipeline.

Furthermore, the Virtual Learning Center is finalizing the results of a training needs assessment survey, involving around 40 countries in the region. The outcomes of this survey will guide future curricula and delivery modality developments.

The regional FAO Virtual Learning Center continues to be a beacon of learning and collaboration, fostering a resilient and informed agricultural community in Europe and Central Asia.