October 27, 2021

Online education in the coffee sector: An overview


Even though millions of people drink coffee every day, it is a heavily differentiated product with plenty to learn about, and the coffee industry is full of technical information.

A lot of this technical information is important; it helps coffee professionals understand the supply chain from seed to cup and fulfil a range of roles that get beans from the farm to the roaster and the coffee shop. But breaking it down is easier said than done – which is where education comes in.

With a huge percentage of educational courses moving online in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, this raises a question about the future of online coffee education. 

To learn more, I spoke with two instructors at PDG Education: an accessible, certified e-learning platform dedicated to the coffee sector. Read on to find out what they said.

Before you read this, check out our article introducing PDG Education.

woman using macbook

Online education: An overview

Research shows that 52% of American graduates and 39% of American undergraduates believe that online learning is better than classroom instruction. While these figures are remarkably high, they shouldn’t come as a surprise.

In fact, Forbes estimates that the global e-learning market could be worth US $325 billion by 2025, which would mean that it’s grown by over 100% in a decade. In addition, as well as being more flexible, online education has been linked with an increase in retention rates and improvement for students’ grades.

But what about the coffee sector? Well, distance learning in coffee is not a new concept. In fact, the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) has been offering online courses for some time now, and its website is full of testimonials from learners around the world.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also had a significant part to play in the growth of distance learning. Many coffee professionals and enthusiasts have suddenly found themselves unable to attend in-person training, leaving them with no choice but to enrol online.

However, this isn’t the only reason people have looked to online education. For example, one SCA learner noted that distance learning is often the only option for people in certain countries.

pour over coffee

Weighing up the benefits

Karl Wienhold is the founder and director of Cedro Alto Coffee. He’s also a coffee value chain consultant, researcher, writer, PhD candidate, and one of the instructors at PDG Education

He says that although online education is not necessarily superior to in-person training, it offers accessibility to learners that would otherwise have no access to these courses.

“The coffee industry is spread out all over the world, including educators and those interested in education,” he says. 

“The internet can bring together geographically dispersed people, making it more inclusive than in-person education, as all of the learners would have to travel to the same place as the educator.”

He adds that both learners and educators need only to find an internet connection to get involved. Furthermore, e-learning can be pre-recorded, which can help to resolve issues with timings and the cost of hosting live sessions. 

Like Karl, Edwin Harrison is one of the trainers at PDG Education. He’s also the founder and head of Artisan Coffee School, where he oversees a team of trainers. He says that e-learning leads to increased employee retention for companies who invest in it.

He explains: “Companies that invest in their people and provide channels to training generally have very high levels of staff retention, which then really helps the company in so many other ways.

“Not only that, we also find the companies who do invest are able to retain knowledge internally and share this with their customers, which helps with sales and the culture of the business.”

Edwin agrees with Karl, saying that e-learning gives people from around the world the opportunity to access “some of the best minds in the industry”.

“In the past we’ve had people flying in from all over the world to attend the Artisan Coffee School,” he notes. “Now, through platforms like PDG Education, we are just a click away.”

people working at coffee shop

Who does this benefit the most?

Many existing coffee e-learning opportunities are targeted at coffee professionals and businesses. However, there’s growing demand from everyday coffee enthusiasts, too.

Edwin says that everyone interested in coffee can benefit from online courses. He believes that innovation in coffee education will benefit not just the learner, but also the wider industry too.

He says: “If online education means different areas around the world are learning about what is working or not working in other countries, then this is only a good thing.”

Karl, meanwhile, feels that online education is perfect for those with busy, unpredictable schedules, as well as those who can’t travel for study purposes.

different types of coffee

PDG Education: An overview

Our commitment to delivering high-quality content underpinned by expertise from around the world was a great place to start for educational content. We’ve always been inspired to publish informative, accessible, and authoritative articles, and PDG Education is now an extension of that.

“The platform is super easy to use,” Edwin says. “It has access to some great content from coffee thought leaders. This means knowledge and insight from experts in many sectors in many countries.”

The certified courses on PDG Education are designed to be high-quality and informative, supporting learners to hone or refine their skills. But accessibility remains at the core of the platform. 

As e-learning continues to grow in popularity, discussions about accessibility, inclusivity, and cost will define the landscape of online learning. However, certified courses in the coffee industry can be expensive or inflexible. 

This is why PDG Education is designed to deliver quality education without being prohibitively costly, and provide access to global experts no matter where you are in the world. 

“I believe that for efficiency and accessibility, PDG Education is an excellent way for learners to access information and instruction that would otherwise not be available,” Karl says.

The platform is also designed for educators, too. Instructors who get involved gain the opportunity to earn passive income while leveraging their expertise and discussing topics they know and love.

washed coffee beans

Online courses on PDG Education

Currently, there are four courses offered by PDG Education. Katie Thompson from Artisan Coffee School hosts two advanced brewing technique courses on infusion and immersion brewing, while Edwin’s course focuses on opening your own coffee shop.

Karl, meanwhile, offers an introductory course to the green coffee supply chain. Both trainers are, however, working on plenty more content for prospective students.

Karl says that his upcoming courses will cover a range of topics, including coffee trading, coffee economics, coffee development policy, and conscientious coffee sourcing.

Edwin explains that he finds the business side of coffee to be fascinating. In his opinion, people need business skills as much as they need coffee knowledge.

“The skills are very specific to hospitality, so courses around that really excite me,” he says. “Additionally, I think [coffee education] is about developing courses that have worldwide appeal and can be really thought provoking at the same time. So, watch this space!”

macbook, notepad, coffee

Online education has come a long way in recent years, and has become immensely popular thanks to its accessibility and flexibility. 

In today’s educational landscape, platforms like PDG Education offer certified courses and technical expertise to professionals who would otherwise struggle to access them. Interested? Check out the platform’s course catalogue to learn more about what’s on offer. 

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on how access to coffee education has changed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Photo credits: Sam Ortiz, José De Leon Guzman, Unsplash

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