Newsletter No. 151 banner

ECMWF launches eLearning

Anna Ghelli
Sarah Keeley


To meet the training needs of our Member and Co-operating States, ECMWF has started a project which aims to produce a set of publicly available eLearning modules, initially on foundational material for our numerical weather prediction, software and product courses. eLearning has a number of potential benefits: it can expand the reach of training, and it can give learners flexibility in terms of when, where and how they want to learn. The first two ECMWF eLearning modules, on Convection and Metview, will be available from May 2017 and others will follow later this year.

Multimedia resources
Multimedia resources. The eLearning modules combine text with audiovisual material in an interactive manner.

What is eLearning?

How do we gain knowledge that will shape our lives? Traditional teaching approaches rely on the formal interactions between student and teacher in specially adapted environments such as classrooms or lecture theatres. Centuries ago only relatively small numbers of students could gain advanced knowledge through oral presentations from scholars. The invention of the printing press in Europe in the 15th century meant that written texts could be made available more widely, influencing the way education and training worked. In recent decades, technology has further expanded the potential reach of education and training. At the same time, teaching methods have evolved towards a more active role for students, who help to shape the way learning happens. Such an approach allows for learning to take place not only in formal settings, such as in a classroom, but in a flexible manner taking advantage of new technology: ‘self-paced learning’, ‘mobile learning’ and ‘learning anytime and anywhere’ are just some examples of the buzzwords that reflect this trend.

eLearning modules

The following eLearning modules are expected to be available by August 2017:

ecCodes for GRIB decoding


Convection – part 1 - Overview

Convection – part 2 – Mass flux approach and the IFS scheme

Introduction to ensemble forecasting

Introduction to MARS

Introduction to Metview

Introduction to parametrization

Learning how to cope with forecast jumpiness

Monthly forecasts

Single Column Model

eLearning is a flexible and student-driven kind of learning that relies on effective multimedia resources. It supports diverse learning styles and can complement traditional classroom teaching. eLearning leverages technology to create and design engaging and effective multimedia resources.

How do we learn?

eLearning is not just about converting lecture notes into multimedia resources but also about creating an environment where tailored learning is facilitated. As with any other successful teaching methodology, understanding how people learn is an essential ingredient in creating eLearning modules.

Pedagogy has developed models that describe the way we learn. These models can help us to frame the way we build eLearning resources. The work of T. Mayes and S. de Freitas (‘Review of e-learning theories, frameworks and models’, Joint Information Systems Committee, London, 2004) highlights three perspectives that relate to the processes used in learning: associative learning (learning as an activity); cognitive learning (learning through understanding); and situative learning (learning as a social practice). Within each of these perspectives there are numerous approaches to learning, for example building on prior knowledge, internalising and reflecting on concepts, or problem-based learning. These perspectives and approaches can be used as the basis to construct the learning models that underpin eLearning.


The associative perspective assumes that our brains are not designed to recall information in isolation but as part of an information group; it focuses on learning through association and reinforcement. For example you may find it difficult to remember a date, but if that date is associated with an event or a series of events of which you have good memories, then it will stick in your mind. Models and frameworks associated with this perspective encourage problem-based learning.

Learning through understanding is the key mechanism in the cognitive perspective: knowledge is imparted through explanation, inference and problem solving. Kolb’s learning cycle is the best-known pedagogical model supporting this perspective. It is a continuous cycle that goes from concrete experience by doing, to reflective observation, to abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation, for example planning or trying out what we have learnt. This perspective can be translated into eLearning by using simulations of real-world situations with a support system that guides the learner through a learning path.

In the situative perspective, learning happens by making topics meaningful through social practice. In the context of eLearning, this perspective depends on social platforms such as online communities and wikis. These can be used as shared knowledge (a knowledge base) where information and feedback is collected and learning can happen by developing communities.

ECMWF’s approach

eLearning opens up great opportunities for ECMWF to support the training requirements of its Member and Co-operating States. The new eLearning modules will provide the background knowledge on which face-to-face courses at ECMWF can build. This will enable us to spend the course time on more complex material or to shorten training events to reduce costs for Member States. Other initiatives such as WMO Global Campus and future EUMETNET training programmes may also find the new ECMWF eLearning modules useful as resources to make available to their member states.

The ECMWF initial phase of development focuses on topics that are often requested by users and used in multiple training settings, such as the OpenIFS workshops and face-to-face training. The self-contained modules, which can be used stand-alone or as part of blended courses (eLearning combined with face to face), will follow a learner-centred approach to allow for different knowledge levels and learning styles. They will mainly focus on the associative and cognitive perspectives. The modules are being created in collaboration with instructional designers who are working with ECMWF experts. These modules are being created using an instructional design methodology as set out by Mayes & de Freitas (2004), which assumes that information is processed through two channels (auditory and visual) of limited capacity. In order to minimise overload, the learner filters, selects, organises and integrates the information presented in the resources. These assumptions and learning principles are guiding the creation of our eLearning modules.

Exercises. Practical exercises are an integral part of the eLearning modules.