Digital transformation and learning: Interview with Sook-Jung Dofel, director of the Academy

A clear trend towards digitisation is emerging in German development cooperation, which is also reflected in the portfolio of GIZ and its Academy. In this interview, Sook-Jung Dofel, director of the ‘Academy for International Cooperation’, talks about the connection between learning and digital transformation and which skills and learning pathways will be crucial at GIZ in the future.

Ms. Dofel, what does digital transformation have to do with learning?

The constant advancement of digital technologies is changing society and economy, also in the partner countries of international cooperation. This profound worldwide change requires a shift in the way each individual thinks and acts. In order to be able to deal with these changes and to help shape them, learning is a central prerequisite. New knowledge, different competencies and the willingness to keep learning new things are essential success factors – as is unlearning old habits and ways of working.

For digital transformation, neither its end point nor its final state can be defined. Learning for this continuous change process must therefore have a long-term focus. In addition, we need learning that is integrated into everyday work beyond single training sessions. It is about the connection between theoretical knowledge, practical experience and individual implementation.

Shortly: Both have a lot to do with each other, because the digital transformation can only succeed with continuous learning.

What do we need to learn for the digital transformation?

When talking about digital skills, the first thing that oftentimes comes to mind is tools, such as IT software. But being fit in using Microsoft Teams or Zoom is only a small aspect of being digitally competent. Digital transformation means comprehensively and continuously adapting systems, processes and services or setting them up from scratch. We must learn to use digital technologies effectively, securely, and sensibly. Not only for individual projects, but for everyday working life.

GIZ expects that in the next two years, every project conducted by GIZ will advise on and implement data-based and technical IT solutions with partners. This trend is evident throughout international cooperation. Learning areas therefore include both the digital transformation of international cooperation organizations themselves and the further digital development of their services in project and program work.

What is the best way to address these learning areas? Should everyone involved in international cooperation now undergo a digitisation training program?

No, certainly not. Fixed training programs would not make sense, because there is no point following the motto: "If I know all this, then I am fit for digitisation." To keep pace with this dynamic process, it is important that everyone takes responsibility for their own development and shapes their own learning path. The Academy wants to accompany and support in this process. 

As part of our program ‘Preparation for Assignments Abroad’, for example, we offer a training that addresses digitisation in international cooperation. It deals with the planning and implementation of digital and data-secure solutions in project work, also using concrete practical examples. Another offer covers digital security to prevent development organizations and their partners from falling victim to cyber-attacks. 

Another example is our TVET Academy, which offers courses on vocational training and digitisation. About ten training courses address key issues related to the increasing digitisation of the world of work, and new requirements for training staff in vocational training.

Is the digital transformation also changing learning itself?

Absolutely. We are no longer just talking about future visions here. Learning at the Academy has become more diverse, more informal and, of course, more digital. In addition to individual learning, learning in teams is also becoming more relevant.

In 2020, we transferred almost all face-to-face training to virtual formats. The pandemic was a real booster here. This allows us to reach participants in a different, health-safe way in these special times. For customers outside Germany in particular, this is a huge relief and saves time and money. Another positive side effect is that in addition to the actual content, we also teach how to use digital collaboration tools in online training courses.

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Isn't face-to-face learning more attractive after all?

You cannot say that. Over the past year and a half, we have had many valuable and very positive experiences with online learning formats. It has been confirmed that virtual learning spaces also offer room for collaborative learning, collegial exchange, networking, and interaction among participants. One of the major advantages is that online learning is very close to work. The direct implementation of what has been learned in the work context is facilitated, and effectiveness increases. 

Sustainable learning experiences can also be created virtually. That's why we want to maintain the digital portfolio even after the pandemic. However, we will of course keep courses in face-to-face format in our program. These include, for example, our safety training courses, in which dangerous situations are simulated for practice purposes. Adequate handling of such events can only be conveyed in a meaningful way if the participants are present. When it comes to the question of whether a training course should be offered online or face-to-face in the future, the same rule applies as elsewhere: form follows function.

The person
Sook-Jung Dofel has worked for GIZ and GTZ since 2008, including nine years in Malawi, Cameroon and Ecuador. From 2017 to 2021, she led the Strategy Group in GIZ's corporate development unit. Since July 2021, she has headed the Academy for International Cooperation (AIZ).