Aubrey Weber, Technical Officer, Science Facilitation, FHI 360
Casey Bishopp, Technical Officer, Science Facilitation, FHI 360
During our team’s efforts to develop the virtual HIV Prevention Ambassador Trainers’ Workshop and network of Ambassador trainers—to “do virtual better”—we inevitably hit some bumps and, at times, failed. As with any new endeavor, some of our best laid plans succeeded, while others did not work out as intended. Furthermore, the global COVID-19 pandemic presented unique challenges for us all. We persevered through our ongoing and iterative virtual training process and learned five critical lessons. Here, we present those lessons honestly to help others working in HIV prevention, and the global health and development sector more broadly, who might be struggling to adapt to delivering trainings or strengthening capacity in a virtual environment.
Lesson 1: Prioritize the end user in every decision you make.
This might seem obvious, but it is easier said than done. Early on, we realized our workshop could be approached as an ongoing learning ecosystem—where learning is available anytime, anywhere, on any device. Our facilitators, mentors, and participants were all working virtually, and we could quite easily connect directly with our participants before, during, and after the training dates. So, during and in between trainings, we asked them what they wanted and needed to learn to feel confident going into their communities to train Ambassador trainers. Similarly, we asked them what they did not need—in which topics they were already well-versed. With each subsequent training, we got better at prioritizing information gathering during every step of the process. Putting the end user first resulted in customized trainings with sessions that addressed the exact needs of the participants.
Lesson 2: Do not think of virtual sessions as online versions of in-person events.
We knew we could not simply put content into a PowerPoint and call the training successful, so we started from scratch with the virtual experience in mind. As trainers, we make the bold assumption that participants are tuned in, listening, and following the material. Because this is not always true (and multitasking is much easier in a virtual space), we had to stretch ourselves beyond the traditional webinar format, involve participants often, and incorporate interactive components into our curriculum to guarantee engagement. Content-heavy slide presentations were guaranteed to lead to multitasking and distracted learners, so we incorporated review games, breakout groups, and polls to maximize engagement. The feedback we received after the training showed this worked. It was a tricky balance, though. If we went too heavy on style, we could lose our audience due to lack of substance.
Lesson 3: Invest time and resources into sustainability.
Managing and supporting a successful, sustainable virtual network is a full-time job. One of the major challenges of training is ensuring the learning continues afterward and the lessons are reinforced in a sustainable way. This was a hurdle we wanted to overcome because, too often, a solid plan is not in place. In truth, building out our extended network of Ambassador trainers was the biggest challenge of all. Our mentorship network model addressed this head-on, and along the way, we learned just how much time, energy, and effort must go into providing effective post-training support to participants. Ideally, this work should be prioritized at every stage. No matter how you design your post-training follow-up, it requires the same continuous attention as planning and conducting the training itself. This time investment ties the training together and is more likely to create a sustainable, beneficial network of learning and mentorship.
Lesson 4: Iterate, iterate, iterate.
We used the Successive Approximation Method (SAM) to design and deliver our virtual training program. This approach allowed for continuous improvement with limited disruption. We were able to “fail forward,” putting less pressure on ourselves for perfection right out the door. We have had a better training program with each iteration because of our collective agile mindset.
Measuring success is complicated when it comes to in-person training and learning and even more so for virtual programs. Through our iterative process, we have added elements, such as the mentoring program, that we believe will strengthen learning outcomes, and dropped or streamlined elements, such as pre-work, that did not show clear results. And because we continue to iterate, we will continue to have lessons to learn and share.
Lesson 5: Build a better team.
We formed our training team with intention—around a group of excellent, seasoned HIV prevention trainers in Eastern and Southern Africa. Going virtual facilitated this process, and it has truly been a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Additionally, having a point person to coordinate, create, and cheer on the team made a huge difference. Our team of facilitators and mentors has focused on an idea we call capacity partnering. To us, capacity partnering means we celebrate creativity and difference, we maximize each of our unique training strengths, and we support one another to lead. It also means that we have prioritized giving ourselves and our partners grace while competing professional and personal priorities—many related to the pandemic—have taken hold. Capacity partnering has proven to be our greatest and most impactful lesson.
This is the ninth and final 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. Access the HIV Prevention Ambassador Trainers’ Workshop materials here.