Choice Makufa, Senior Technical Advisor, Pact Eswatini
I could not believe my eyes when I read the instructions from the facilitator of the HIV Prevention Ambassador Trainers’ Workshop: “Please read the entire training package and toolkit before the training begins.”
I looked at the manual and saw it was 206 pages. Did I truly have to read it all before the training began?
This was my initial reaction as a participant in the workshop. As I reflect on my time as a workshop participant and then facilitator and mentor, I have four key takeaways for others involved in virtual trainings.
Takeaway 1: When participating in a virtual training, preparation is key.
Before the training, I read through the introductory email and noted that participants were also expected to complete a virtual pretest prior to Day 1. The tone was set. For participants to get the most out of the training and contribute effectively to group learning, we needed to set aside time to develop a basic understanding of the material. I loved this message and immediately immersed myself in the content.
The material for the trainers’ workshop was well-designed and easy to read. The training package and toolkit addressed complex topics—a reflection of the issues that adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) face as this population deals with challenges that are related and interdependent.
Takeaway 2: Learning can start before the training.
The pretest set this virtual training apart from others I had attended. It confirmed my existing knowledge and knowledge gaps. One key to its success was providing comprehensive, correct answers after I finished each question.I would recommend that all participants go through this process of (1) reading the material and (2) taking the pretest at the start of each training as this helped to enhance the learning experience.
Takeaway 3: Enroll participants who are dedicated to the process and willing to learn.
When I became a facilitator and mentor during the next version of the training, I brought with me all the lessons I had learned as a participant. That experience helped me to understand what other participants might be going through, so I was better positioned to provide thorough mentorship and support. As a facilitator, I could easily identify those participants who completed the pre-work; they were more engaged and more involved with the training overall. Finding engaged participants for a training becomes even more important when it is virtual.
Virtual facilitation, virtual participation, and virtual learning all require engagement, and it is the facilitator’s job to create and sustain that engagement. Participants were asked to complete tasks, provide feedback, and contribute during trivia activities, and these components added up to a great learning experience. Some were not comfortable participating in the large-group session, but the creation of breakaway rooms at the end of each day helped participants connect with a mentor in small groups. All the learning culminated in teach-back sessions in which participants facilitated learning with their teams to present to the larger group.
Takeaway 4: If possible, invest in a good internet connection for virtual training facilitators and participants or plan for possible disruptions.
Teach-back sessions required participants to prepare, which built confidence in the material and in facilitation skills, and participants demonstrated amazing talent. The drawback was that network challenges caused interruptions in the sessions. In resource-constrained settings, this is bound to happen and should be planned for. If investing in internet is not an option, building time into the agenda to account for possible delays will be crucial. Recording sessions should also be considered as a backup, should participants need to access the material at a later time. While we cannot always plan for poor internet connectivity, we can have a plan B and plan C in place to ensure the learning continues uninterrupted.
This is the sixth 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.
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