Three reasons why you should consider taking the Sphere e-learning course

19 July 2014 | Sphere Project

[This story was updated on 2 September 2014. See why below.]

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Click on the picture to watch the Sphere Handbook in Action 90-second trailer.

A bit more than a year after its launch and with over 13,200 humanitarians enrolled, the Sphere Handbook in Action e-learning course is meeting and even exceeding e-learners' expectations.

The course aims to increase the understanding and effective use of the Sphere Handbook, Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response. So, assuming such a goal resonates with you, why should you consider enrolling in the course? Let's see some of the reasons...


1. Your learning expectations will very likely be met.

According to an on-going feedback survey of people who have completed the course, 96% of respondents believe they have learned what they expected to learn. That is, there's a less than one-in-ten chance that you'll be disappointed.

Some testimonies:

  • "I found tons of new and interesting things to learn."
  • "Although it was my first time using this kind of online interactive course, it met my expectations, being a complete learning experience."
  • "The course was very informative and relevant to real field experiences, given my involvement in humanitarian support during disasters."
  • "It was excellent. Could acquire knowledge and experiences of other countries to be able to employ where necessary."
  • "This is an excellent course for all staff involved in various complex operations, emergency and non-emergency, as it has a lot of cross-cutting issues."


2. After taking the course, you'll be better equipped to work with Sphere standards.

Of the more than 300 people who took the survey, 98% think they are now better equipped to apply Sphere principles and standards in disaster or conflict situations.

  • "Before taking the course, I used to assume I had all it takes to be an accountable humanitarian worker, but during the course, I realized I needed it to improve my areas of weakness. It was the best experience."
  • "I think it's an excellent introduction and fills a gap when it comes to making sure new staff are well-prepared. It's essential humanitarian aid workers learn and prepare as much as possible beforehand."
  • "It's definitely worth taking the time to gain a deeper understanding of Sphere."
  • "It raises awareness on important things we might forget when we deal with crisis situations. It brings pieces together."
  • "The course clarified a lot of gaps I had."


3. It's a quality course and your fellow humanitarians are recommending it.

Nearly 95% of the survey respondents say they would recommend the course to a colleague. And 79% found its quality to be ‘excellent' or ‘above average', while 19% found it to be ‘average'. Only 2% of the survey respondents rated the quality of the course as ‘below average'.

  • "I'm not a fan of online learning, but the Sphere course was interactive, interesting and fun. I enjoyed the real-life examples and I appreciate the work the designers put into creating the phone calls, emails and video chats which made the training that much more enjoyable."
  • "I think the material compiled is excellent and the examples' circumstances are believable. I've recommended the course to colleagues."
  • "The course was wonderful. Quite in-depth compared to other online courses and very interestingly designed."
  • "The course was easy to follow, the content was great, and getting the possibility of hearing real people talking about real experiences was a plus!"
  • "I feel my colleagues could definitely benefit from this course; the information in it will be useful to our work during disasters and conflicts."
  • "I would encourage my colleagues to complete the course from start to finish."
  • "Great course; should be mandatory for all staff."


More than 13,200 humanitarian workers across the world have enrolled in the course so far. Given the number of people involved in the humanitarian sector, that means that if you were in a room with another 20 humanitarians, statistically, one of them would be enrolled in the Sphere course - unless it's you, of course (*).

Of those who have enrolled, over 1,700 have completed the course to date, which means a completion rate of about 12.9%. According to one expert analysis of available data, "most massive open online courses have completion rates of less than 13%".

The length of the course - which takes some 15 hours to be completed - is the aspect most frequently criticized by survey respondents. Some of the comments suggest that they were unaware of the course length when they began, which explains the mismatch between their expectations and the course demands.

The Sphere Handbook in Action e-learning course allows humanitarian workers to learn at their own pace in an autonomous manner. Taking the course is free of charge. No academic qualifications are required.

Launched in English in late February last year, the Arabic, French and Spanish versions of the course were made available a few months later. The course is currently available on eight e-learning platforms (see below).

(*) To make this calculation we use ALNAP's figure for the number of humanitarians in the world, that is, 274,000 people (The State of the Humanitarian System 2012).


CORRIGENDUM. The original version of this story contained a couple of errors. The total number of people enrolled in the course was mistakenly reported as being over 17,000. In fact, by the end of July, there were a bit more than 13,200 people enrolled across all platforms. Likewise, the number of people who had completed the course at that time was over 1,700 and not over 2,100 as reported. We apologize for these mistakes. All of the other figures reported in the article were accurate, including the results of the survey of people who completed the course, thus supporting the “three reasons” alluded to in the article’s headline.


The Sphere Handbook in Action e-learning course is currently available on the following online platforms:

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