Transforming an International Non-Profit Into an Education-First Organization
Global non-profit AFS Intercultural Programs used Bridge LMS to establish a reputation as a provider of digital learning on an international scale.
AFS offers intercultural blended learning opportunities for high schools, universities, adult learners, and professionals in over 100 countries, and creates global citizens and institutions through a mix of tools, programs, scholarships, and outreach. AFS specializes in building intercultural skills like cross-cultural communication, conflict resolution, and working as part of a diverse team. For more information, visit the AFS website.
Forging a New Reputation as a Digital Education Organization
AFS initially adopted Bridge in 2017 with a key strategic objective in mind: to reimagine how it trains and develops its employees and volunteers. This objective formed part of a larger vision to provide virtual and blended learning opportunities for the students participating in its exchange programs. Through these goals, AFS aimed to reposition itself as more than just a bilateral exchange program and become known as an international education provider dedicated to offering quality intercultural learning materials and experiences.
First, however, AFS needed to demonstrate Bridge’s effectiveness and versatility to its internal stakeholders by hosting a key certification program to a better standard than AFS’ previous LMS. The previous platform wasn’t Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant, it didn’t adhere to the federal regulations required to serve universities and similar institutions, and its accessibility standards weren’t sufficiently in line with then-current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
We were a very established organization when we adopted Bridge, but we were also a non-profit, which meant we didn’t have a ton of extra funds set aside for innovation. As a result, we had to prove that this new learning infrastructure was worthwhile—and we quickly found that Bridge wasn’t just more efficient, but that it was really making a difference for our learners.-Linda Stuart, Director of Global Education Innovation
Blended and Asynchronous Learning Curriculums for Internal and External Learners
Bridge LMS was selected as a more sophisticated hosting option for AFS’ certificate scheme, as AFS’ learning team felt that Bridge was capable of surmounting the various barriers that were standing in the way of external distribution.
AFS quickly discovered that Bridge’s extended features and capabilities were beneficial to the organization in ways that exceeded this initial use case. Bridge’s straightforward multi-language capabilities, for example, had obvious utility for a non-profit that works with learners in over 100 countries. Similarly, AFS has made effective use of Bridge Analytics, Bridge Advanced Video, and Bridge Mobile App — while its learners consistently provide positive feedback on Bridge’s ease of use.
In order to achieve a comprehensive, organization-wide transformation into a virtual education and exchange provider, AFS began to use Bridge’s various features for a wide array of purposes across the institution. Internally, AFS uses Bridge as an employee training platform for its managers and directors, and Bridge also plays a part in orientations for its many international volunteers.
Bridge is also leveraged in AFS’ virtual exchange programs and as part of the blended learning curriculum accompanying the organization’s mobility programs. While live settings remain a factor for aspects of AFS’ training, they are now always accompanied by asynchronous learning in Bridge that learners are required to complete prior to joining live sessions.
We’re now running programs for populations that may not be in formal education settings currently. AFS is a way for them to join these transformational initiatives, and digital platforms like Bridge give us the reach and the tools to convene these global cohorts. If we have the ability to do it, we also have the responsibility to do it.-Linda Stuart, Director of Global Education Innovation
Meeting Digital Learning Needs While Achieving High-Profile Recognition
AFS was able to prove, through a mix of formal studies, qualitative interviews, and course completion rates, that internal employee growth was accelerated after its Bridge adoption. As a result, the learning team at AFS dispelled the assumption among its internal stakeholders that in-person sessions are the best or only option for training and education. Bridge helped AFS to demonstrate that blended learning options, when delivered via the right platform, are both efficient and effective.
This demonstration was particularly notable when global travel restrictions brought in-person exchange programs to an immediate halt. When learners were sent home, AFS was prepared to meet a sudden need for virtual learning and exchange opportunities thanks to its Bridge-based resources. In fact, while other exchange programs struggled to offer students a virtual solution, AFS was able to rapidly enroll almost 6,000 exchange students into Bridge when global lockdowns prevented travel.
Externally, AFS was able to successfully establish a reputation as a significant presence in the world of global education by hosting its virtual learning on the Bridge LMS. This shift in AFS’ strategy and public image was cemented when the organization was selected as a finalist in multiple categories at the prestigious PIEoneer Awards. This awarding body recognizes extraordinary achievements in international education, and AFS’ recognition as a serious contender in 2020 and 2022 highlights the efficacy and staying power of its transformed identity.
It was a huge task to pioneer a new pathway for AFS and ensure that people saw us as more than an exchange. Bridge played a substantial part in transforming our identity externally, and I think I can say with confidence that it has been transformed.-Linda Stuart, Director of Global Education Innovation
AFS is always available to help professionals and adult learners to develop global competence and intercultural skills, in addition to its work with young people and universities. To learn more about AFS’ various programs, visit afs.org or their Global Competence Certificate program, globalup.com