When considering the design of an innovative and flexible training program that incorporates individual and collaborative learning, is multi-disciplinary, respects the diverse profiles of the participants, and maintains the essential principles of distance learning, a transformative point of view must be taken. In the case of the GAIA Program, we assume that knowledge is not transmitted unidirectionally, but rather, it is built, created, and recreated; we realize that experiences cannot be taught and categorized, rather they must be lived and shared in a globalized and ever more complex and uncertain world where technology advances exponentially creating new settings, challenges, demands, and trends.

As Hargreaves and Fullan (2014) point out, developing professional skills does not just involve increasing social capital but also professional or decision-making capital, or in other words, the ability to make discretional judgements and make decisions in uncertain situations. To this end, it is necessary to consider the professional internship component of this program through which these skills will be developed. Of course, they are complex abilities that seem distant, but we may begin to grasp them via training in professional internships at a business’s premises, one of the core components of the GAIA Program.

Responding to modern day trends with a transformative mentality was the driving factor in creating this program in 2008. Originally, it was designed to replicate undergraduate internships in the then emerging postgraduate internship programs. It evolved from “a higher education course in Professional Development,” based on traditional distance-learning, to the “GAIA Program-Master’s in Professional Development” centered around a curriculum design based on learning principles such as connectivity, the collaborative construction of knowledge, and networked learning.

  • A conception of collaborative learning, based on building knowledge and on situated learning according to specific interests and responding to the diverse profiles of participants.
  • A framework with a high level of flexibility.
  • A support structure that utilizes a wide range of tools and communication channels.
  • A horizontally-integrated design involving a high level of interaction to foster the creation of knowledge.
  • A learning methodology that utilizes group activities and participant-driven content development and production of knowledge.
  • High levels of participation and giving the greatest possible levels of control to the participants in order to generate higher levels of interest and motivation.
  • Assessment underpinned principally by peer-to-peer co-evaluation and constructive feedback focused on more personalized learning experiences.

The formal education component of the program is handled through the Master in Professional Development (which is carried out in English, but Spanish can be used during tutoring sessions and for some content) which qualifies as a degree program from a public Spanish university.

We always like to say that the best way to understand the philosophy of the GAIA Program is to think of it as a business internship program with a master’s degree, and not a master’s degree with an internship, which is the case for the majority of programs where knowledge takes precedence over experience; academia over business. In this way, the GAIA Program sees knowledge as something to be disseminated in a knowledge community based on shared experiences.


As can be seen in the previous figure, businesses, universities, the Fundación Universidad-Empresa (FUE) and recent graduates share the GAIA ecosystem. The GAIA community is structured around two parts: formal education and practical training; it is important to note that there is a social aspect to formal education that allows for experiences beyond traditional activities and knowledge acquisition to be shared and discussed.

With this in mind, we created the community to be a virtual learning environment, carried out through a platform designed and adapted specifically for this program. We call it we-learning: a term with which we want to suggest that the education offered goes beyond the traditional e-learning environment; and about you will be able to read in a future post.


Daniel Sotelsek

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