Distance learning via the World Wide Web

Ian Ferris
4th April 2010

The Internet has revolutionized access to information by reducing information distribution costs and increasing its speed of distribution. Distance learning or eLearning offers a means to continuously acquire specific skills and is also a way to foster life-long learning that is not confined to the traditional classroom setting. FAO/IAEA has produced eLearning courses that aim to accelerate capacity building in Member States and to ensure that participants in training courses, workshops and technical cooperation projects have the necessary pre-requisite skills. One of the strengths of the FAO/IAEA eLearning system is the web-browser interface with hyperlinks to a multi-lingual glossary1. Participating organizations share a long-term vision of an external M.Sc. in food and environmental protection that would be offered through the collaborating institutions and respective universities.

Getting started

Initial registration is required to access the courses; this can be easily done by creating a new account from the login page (http://elearning.iaea.org/). All eLearning courses are free and anyone can join at any time. Click the relevant course link and log in as usual to view the course. To take the exams, you enrol as follows. Go to the home page of the course and select the "Enrol" button next to the course title. This will open a new page with another "Enrol" button. Click this "Enrol" button. This will automatically add you to the course enrolment list, without the need for instructor approval. Most learners find the browser-based interface intuitive though a tutorial is available for reference2.


The starting point for analysts is Laboratory Pre-requisites 13. This course familiarizes new staff with: safety precautions and emergency measures; know how to handle labelled compounds and radiotracers safely; ability to prepare chemical solutions, calculate concentrations of solutions, and know how to make correct dilutions; safe use of laboratory equipment; the principles of safe waste management; good cleaning procedures.

New staff should take each module in a linear fashion. For registered users the system opens up where the learner last left off making best use of our most limited resource--time. Alternatively, the course home page offers a site-map link for experienced analysts who may only need to scan a topic.

Analytical quality management

Documentation of work is a key activity in a laboratory and is required by internationally accepted quality assurance standards such as Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) and ISO 17025. The importance of documentation of work is demonstrated by the simple and strict statement:


"If you did not write it down, you did not do it."


The Documentation of Laboratory Work course4 gives an insight into the importance and scope of adequately documenting laboratory work. This course is not exhaustive and should be used in conjunction with the laboratory’s own quality management system.

Quality managers/auditors may take the Conformity Assessment course5, which aids laboratories in preparing compliance with the relevant quality standards.


Pesticide residue analyses at parts per million, and increasingly at parts per billion, is a challenging task. Analysts are encouraged to complete the Pesticide Residue Analysis course6. It takes analysts through the steps in pesticide residue analysis including: sample preparation; extraction and clean-up, quantitative determination of the analyte; estimation of uncertainty of results; confirmation of the analyte's identity; and quality control procedures for pesticide residue analysis. Again this is a starting point for more detailed training.

Pesticide management

The Pesticide Management course7 addresses the challenge of pest management through the control of pests in a way that ensures biological diversity, preserves the environment and fosters human and animal health. More targeted training may be required such as the course on Ecological Risk Assessments of Pesticides8 that provides those dealing with pesticide registration instructions about the risk assessment process and how it is used to evaluate the potential impacts of pesticides in agricultural environments. The approach is to build on existing local knowledge/experience about a familiar “reference” pesticide and compare a new candidate pesticide with the “reference” using relative risk, i.e., high quotients indicate higher risk.


Personal skills

Outcome-based performance programming is now the rule for donor organizations. IAEA’s Department of Technical Cooperation has contributed a course on Project management9. The course gives an overview of what constitutes project management. It introduces a commonly used project management technique: the logical framework. Finally, it provides case studies to be used as examples when planning IAEA Technical Cooperation Projects.


Soft skills such as Time Management are increasingly recognized as the key to addressing the exponential increase in knowledge and the human “bottle neck” in applying that knowledge. The Time Management course10 guides staff in selecting the best techniques for them and their working conditions.


For more information contact: Ian Ferris at [email protected] or Britt Maestroni at [email protected]


[1]. Glossary of terms



2. ATutor HowTo: Part I



3. Laboratory Pre-requisites 1



4. Documentation of Laboratory Work



5. Conformity Assessment



6. Pesticide Residue Analysis



7. Pesticide Management



8. Ecological Risk Assessments of Pesticides



9. Project Management



10. Time Management



Last modified 4th April 2010


Date added: 2010-05-07 23:17:13   
Last Updated 2010-05-10 02:58:30   
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