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FEATURE STORY June 12, 2020

Building global knowledge through flexible e-learning


As students and learners around the world take to laptops and iPads for digital learning due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it’s clear that the trend for massive open online courses, known fondly as MOOCs, will only gather momentum. With the support of the World Bank, the Natural Resources for Sustainable Development: The Fundamentals of Oil, Gas and Mining Governance (MOOC) has brought best-in-class e-learning to over 20,000 learners, representing government, industry and civil society. The 12-week MOOC is a free online course that focuses on natural resources as a potential catalyst to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and outlines the various complex and interrelated aspects of effective natural resource governance.

The topics addressed include industry fundamentals; development and implementation of robust and transparent legal frameworks; design of optimal fiscal regimes; management of environmental and social risks; engagement with communities; leveraging investments for infrastructure and business links; and management of revenues for economic diversification and development, among others.

The course has been developed, run and updated by the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI), the Natural Resource Governance Institute, and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) since 2015, with support from the World Bank’s Extractives Global Programmatic Support (EGPS) Multi-Donor Trust Fund. Following a successful first run with over 10,000 participants from 150 countries, the MOOC 2 was updated with:

  • New content (e.g. new chapters on “Corruption Trends in the Extractive Sector”; “Environmental Impact Assessments”; and a new optional chapter on the “Fundamentals of Energy and Petroleum”)
  • Revamped content (e.g. re-filmed community rights module, fiscal module, and revenue management module among others)
  • Updated course materials, including quiz questions and the final exam
  • Updated Spanish and French lecture transcripts, and new Russian language transcripts.

In addition, the course team introduced homework activities for the first time, which are designed to encourage students to interact with each other and explore new resources outside of the learning platform. For example, activities that familiarize students with the Resource Governance Index, ResourceContracts.org, and Petronia (a simulated learning experience), were introduced, among other tools and resources. Other interactive learning opportunities offered during the facilitated course included Q&A sessions with course lecturers and other experts; online discussion prompts designed to encourage interaction among learners, facilitate conversation, and discuss current events; and Facebook page where learners could engage and make professional connections outside of the course.


Since the course’s re-launch in spring 2018, the course has successfully run for three further semesters. Between Spring 2018-Fall 2019 over 11,600 learners enrolled in the course, representing 161 countries, bringing total enrollments thus far to 21,870.

  • The countries with the highest representation included: Canada, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United States.
  • Non-native English speakers made up 66 percent of enrollees.
  • Dedicated outreach increased female enrollment from an average of 33 percent during the first three runs to 45 percent for the Spring 2018-Fall 2019 sessions.
  • To broaden the reach of the course, the course team partnered with Edraak, the MENA region’s leading online learning platform, to launch a contextualized, Arabic-language version of the course in the Spring of 2018. The Arabic version of the course attracted 881 enrollees, with learners from Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen.
  • In October 2019, a Spanish-language version of the course regionalized for the Latin American and Caribbean region was launched, in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank.

CCSI and SDSN continue to offer Natural Resources for Sustainable Development as a self-paced course on edX, where it will be available year-round in a flexible, unfacilitated format. The self-paced format allows those who have already taken part to refer colleagues to the course on their own schedule, continue a longer-term international conversation in the course’s discussion boards, and use the enormous reach of the edX network to ensure that the information and opportunity for continued self-education is available to anyone. Learners continue to participate in discussion forums with experts, with the most recent being held in May 2020 on the topic of natural resource governance in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CCSI sees additional opportunities to update and build on the resources and modules available, both based on ongoing feedback from participants, as well as on evolving trends and developments in the field. Additional content or subsequent courses could focus on implications of and for the energy transition; more advanced modules on fiscal regimes, including capturing value in uncertainty; and more updated content on environmental management; as well as more regional adaptations and blended learning opportunities. As the extractives sector experiences seismic shifts such as new and growing demand for certain “critical” minerals, so this course will adapt to nascent and emerging themes and issues.



Courtesy of CCSI.