Monday 20 July 2015

Value for money in training?

In an evaluation of a large initiative designed to help changing social norms on gender-based violence (GBV), I found out that each of the many different organisations involved carried out training workshops. The training participants were mainly for police, staff in health services, religious leaders, social workers and other people who tended to spend no or very little time at universities or other academic venues. That is, the trainees were people who were not used to sitting and listening attentively to complicated presentations. 

Yet, most of the training workshops were organised the "academic" way: The trainer would take the audience, seated in neat rows, through a more or less lengthy set of "power point" slides with plenty of text. Often, the content of the slides was highly theoretical, presenting definitions with plenty of terms people would never use in everyday language. The audience would sit and listen and ask the occasional question, if they dared to. People don't want to look stupid - so if a presenter uses lots of big words the audience are not familiar with, changes are that there won't be many questions.

Arguably, that type of training is a waste of time and money. There is a large and growing body of experience on adult education - and education in general - which shows that one of the most effective ways to acquire new knowledge and skills is learning by doing, by solving problems.
Learning works best if people can engage their thinking, their feelings and their decision-making capacities. Sitting and listening offers very limited opportunities for that. 

One component of that large initiative used a form of Forum Theatre, a method inviting participants to find solutions to a problem enacted on scene. Forum Theatre and other forms of role play are known to deeply engage training participants, making the training experience highly effective and memorable. When I asked why that method was not used in other training courses under that project, the answer was: "Forum Theatre is expensive."

Training inspired by Forum Theatre does not have to be expensive. You don't need to work with professional actors; you don't need a real stage. And there are a million other ways to make training participatory and inspiring for its participants. But what I find most striking about that answer was its implication: Is spending little money on something unlikely to work preferable to using a little more resources on something effective? I hope that response was not meant that way. One can also waste money by spending very little - if that little money is spent on the wrong kinds of things.

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