Interviewee: Dominica Dhakwa, Project Director, DREAMS Zimbabwe, FHI 360
Interviewer: Aubrey Weber, Technical Officer, Science Facilitation, FHI 360
As a project director, do you see value in virtual trainings?
Yes, there is value in virtual trainings. The current COVID-19 environment requires that projects remain agile or stop providing intended services completely. Beyond responding to COVID-19, virtual trainings are cheaper and allow greater reach, given their flexibility with the number of participants per training. They make it possible for participants to attend who would ordinarily be excluded from trainings.
Your team participated in the third iteration of the HIV Prevention Ambassador Trainers’ Workshop, which was several months ago. What, if anything, stood out to you with this training?
The participatory methodologies set it apart from other virtual trainings that I have been exposed to. I liked that the participants were given assignments in groups and came back to lead discussion. The breakaway room concept, too, facilitated small group discussion—bringing everyone onboard. The coordination among facilitators themselves made this delivery flawless and seamless.
In your opinion, what are the main challenges of training in a virtual environment? Additionally, what challenges do you hear about from your team?
For me, the greatest challenge is divided attention. Participants who fail to realize the benefit of a training upfront, often lose, as there is limited opportunity to control other side activities they can engage with while logged into a training. It takes discipline and commitment to focus on the work in front of individuals. Access to the internet can easily be detrimental, too.
Despite participatory methodologies, it is often difficult to judge participant engagement. One cannot read body language and read mood in order to make necessary adjustments. In my experience, it seems, most participants in our settings are somehow shy of technology; unmuting and speaking is not an easy step for many, in my opinion. Even in high-level meetings, people struggle to participate. Virtual trainings and meetings are new and are here to stay. People will adjust as they go.
From the project perspective, what considerations need to be kept top of mind when designing and delivering virtual trainings? What would you want implementers to know?
This is a great question. The following could help:
- Send reminders to participants prior to the training that this is an opportunity to gain new knowledge and skills; this might motivate and get people geared up for the training.
- Share testimonies from participants who took part in previous trainings.
- Strategically assign homework at different points in the training to keep interest high.
- Use a pre- and post-training test to monitor skills-building.
- Grant certification of some sort for participants who pass a certain threshold.
- Have clear, approachable post-training support.
- Where possible, provide opportunities for successful participants to become assistant trainers—people love opportunities to lead.
As a project director, what are your thoughts on the future of trainings, and other project work, in a post-pandemic world?
Virtual training is the way to go. It’s the future. Programming is not going back on this. The most successful trainings are going to be virtual, and taking into consideration some of the suggestions provided above will go a long way in improving those virtual trainings. Those who are not taking virtual trainings seriously now will soon realize that they are remaining behind in their work and career progression, too.
I think that COVID-19 will change the way we implement projects forever. Where we work, how we work, and capacity development approaches will look different. Agility will be a meaningful and necessary daily practice. I am witnessing these changes already. There is preference for remote work among staff and those working in the field prefer a mix of physical and remote work, depending on the nature of their activities. Additionally, we are saving money on our budgets. Virtual trainings allow for more participation at far less cost.
This is the fifth blog post in a series on the design, development, implementation, and iterative processes of the interactive and virtual HIV Prevention Ambassador Trainers’ Workshop, led by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)- and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-supported Collaborative for HIV Prevention Options to Control the Epidemic (CHOICE) through the terms of cooperative agreements of the EpiC and RISE projects. In this series, we share our experience and reflect honestly on the ups and downs of designing and delivering a comprehensive training virtually.