10 online forest courses you don’t want to miss

Panjarbhanga, Bangladesh - Children use a computer tablet as a learning device ©FAOMohammad Rakibul Hasan

Since COVID-19 first turned our world upside down in early 2020, most sectors have been forced to rethink the way they do business. This holds true also for individuals, governments and organizations that team up in the Global Forest Observations Initiative (GFOI) to improve countries’ capacities to monitor and protect the world’s forests. Traveling the world and working side-by-side, especially in tropical forested countries, had long been something that we took for granted. However, with international travel grinding to a halt, as GFOI community we have chosen to innovate and use creativity to continue pursuing our mission. We have discovered that for every cloud there is indeed a silver lining.

One of the best ways to innovate has been found in the use of online learning tools and courses, which have seen an unprecedented growth. Whilst we acknowledge the need to further bridge the digital divide and not leave behind an estimated 3.6 billion people who remain off-line [1] , it should also be recognized that virtual learning platforms facilitate greater outreach to a wider audience and can help transfer skills, competences and knowledge without having to leave your lounge room. To paraphrase an old adage, if the students won’t come to the classroom, then the classroom must go to them.

Below you will find a selection of self-paced online courses from various GFOI partners and leading institutions which can help boost your skills and competencies in forest monitoring. The formats range from more interactive e-learning courses to downloadable resources or videos. Some of them are brand new and – most importantly – they are all free.

If you want to learn more about how forest data is used for reporting to international processes, GFOI leading partner the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has launched two interesting e-learning courses:

  • Forests and transparency under the Paris Agreement (1), available in English, French and Spanish, with its Digital Badge Certification. This course helps to understand the importance of forest-related data collection, analysis and dissemination to meet the Enhanced Transparency Framework requirements of the Paris Agreement on climate change. The course has been developed in close collaboration with the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the “Building global capacity to increase transparency in the forest sector (CBIT-Forest)” project.
  • SDG Indicators 15.1.1 and 15.2.1 - Forest area and sustainable forest management (2), available in English, French and Spanish – FAO supports countries to report forest data and track progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 – Life on Land, through the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA). Enrol in this course if you want to know how.

In their English versions, both these courses come with the innovative digital badge certification, which will be granted to the learners for their career records upon completion of the final scenario-based performance evaluation test. Find out more forest-related courses in the portfolio of over 350 multilingual e-learning courses offered by the FAO e-learning Academy.

The REDD+Academy is part of the UN-REDD Programme's capacity development initiative. It includes two online comprehensive courses (second edition 2018) to support partner countries to deliver REDD+ on the ground. They are available in in English, French and Spanish and are structured into 6 modules, each one taking around 2 to 3 hours to complete:

  • Fundamentals on REDD+ (3) covers the basics of REDD+, from the elements required under the UNFCCC to how to prepare and implement REDD+ at the national level through a National Strategy or Action Plan, including financial resource available.
  • Advancing on REDD+ (4) discusses more in detail the other three REDD+ elements, the importance of engaging in the process the relevant stakeholders and the principles of a good governance.

Similarly, GFOI partner the Global Observation of Forest Cover and Land Dynamics Project (GOFC-GOLD), in cooperation with the World Bank, has created a series of training modules (5) covering good practice guidance on topics ranging from REDD+ MRV design to reporting. The materials include video lectures, PowerPoint slides, exercises and country examples, which are available in English, French and Spanish. Moreover, on the GOFC-GOLD website you will also find the video recordings of the REDD+ MRV webinars (6). This is a series of 7 webinars recorded in 2017 that provide background information on key topics as well as demonstrations of tools and methodologies.

For a technical audience, GFOI’s capacity building partner the US SilvaCarbon programme, in collaboration with Boston University, has recently published an e-learning course on Sampling-Based Estimation of Area and Map Accuracy (7), available in English, Spanish and French. Enrol here. The course is part of a new series of e-learning courses focused on forest monitoring and Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) for REDD+ and is applicable to tropical forested countries right around the world. Future courses will address topics such as Continuous Degradation Detection, LandTrendr, Continuous Change Detection and Classification, Google Earth Engine 101, and Breaks For Additive Season and Trend (BFAST).

Last but not least, if you are interested in Earth Observations (EO) we invite you to explore the resources made available from EO College, a dedicated online education/capacity platform. On their website you can find the e-learning course Echoes in space (8), which teaches you how to use the technology of Radar Remote Sensing; and many other resources which are relevant for monitoring forests from space, including Biomass estimation using SAR data (9) and Change detection - Introduction to principles and methods (10).

This list isn’t enough? If we haven’t got you covered, please get in touch and share your experience with existing or ‘missing’ online courses on forest monitoring: [email protected]; we look forward to hearing your recommendations to expand the list and boost our skills to better understand and protect the world’s forests during these extraordinary times and beyond.


[1] According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU): https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/05/1063272.

[2] Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries (REDD+).


(1) Forests and transparency under the Paris Agreement – English, French and Spanish – FAO

 (2) SDG indicators 15.1.1 and 15.2.1 - Forest area and sustainable forest management – English, French and Spanish – FAO

 (3) Fundamentals on REDD+ – REDD+ Academy

 (4) Advancing on REDD+ – REDD+ Academy

 (5) Training modules on good practice guidance on topics from REDD+ design to reporting – GOFC-GOLD and World Bank

 (6) Video recordings of the REDD+ MRV webinars – GOFC-GOLD and World Bank

 (7) E-learning course on Sampling-Based Estimation of Area and Map Accuracy – SilvaCarbon

 (8) E-learning course Echoes in space – EO College

 (9) Biomass estimation using SAR data – EO College

 (10) Change detection - Introduction to principles and methods – EO College