Capacity building: NO / Learning workshops: YES

Posted by on Feb 14, 2014 in All Blogs, Blogs | 0 comments

Capacity building: NO / Learning workshops: YES

Last week, the Travel Foundation, together with Saint Lucia Tourist Board and Virgin Holidays ran 2 workshops on the island to help small entrepreneurs gain market access to UK tour operators.

Unsurprisingly, these workshops aim to ‘build capacity’ – but I have to agree with M. Sahasrabuddhe (from Oxfam) when he argues that often this iconic phrase “is just a euphemism for cramming 30 people into a room for a few days and trying to kill them with PowerPoint and flipcharts and group work”. So, how do you write a 3hr training session that keeps participants actively engaged in learning and guarantees they remember and act upon what they have learned? This is the approach I took when planning and designing the workshops for last week’s Travel Foundation event:


Rule 1 – It’s about them

A learner-centred approach through 5 actions

A learner-centred approach through 5 actions

If there is one thing that 12 years spent teaching a vocational subject have told me, is that “it’s not about you teaching but about them learning”. Forget about standing in front of the crowd and lecturing for more than 5 minutes at a time. It’s so boring – yet so many people still do it. It’s not that you should not like the sound of your own voice but it’s much more constructive to make the learners go through a process whereby they have to use their own brain cells to identify the issues you want to discuss. Yes, introduce the idea / the concept but then design activities to go deeper, to challenge and identify ways your learners can grow but be open in doing so as YOU have a lot to learn too; especially if you want to help them implement realistic changes.


Rule 2 – Set clear objectives

If you are in the business of educating, then you are in the business of empowering and for me, the ultimate aim of any training course is to equip learners so they can act and make decisions for themselves. In practice, this means that all objectives should be focused on making learners ‘do’ something (e.g. my workshop requires of entrepreneurs to “agree on minimum customer service standards to deal with UK tourists”)


Learning made simple

Learning made simple

Rule 3 – Vary activities

There is plenty of literature on learning needs and learning styles, and types of intelligences too (see opposite for a simple summary) – the one thing to remember is that we all learn differently. Therefore, an effective training session must offer a wide range of activities that will, consequently, appeal to more people. Most importantly, with variety comes the ability to keep things interesting and to surprise and challenge learners in different ways. We all love discussions, debates and brainstorms but written activities, which learners can refer to when back home, are very helpful too (number them so learners remember what comes first/last).


Rule 4 – Beware the dreaded PowerPoint presentation

How many times have you stood in front of someone virtually reading word for word what they have written on their slides? Your audience did not take time off work to hear you ‘read’ – it might come as a surprise but your audience can read! Slides should be used as an appetizer to a good meal: try to limit bullet points to a maximum of 5, simply and clearly written. Your job is to explain in more detail, so take time to think about the comments that should accompany each slide (that helps focus on the essential); and print in ‘Notes Page’ format to refer to if needed. I also like to use slides to time activities.


Rule 5 – Embed action planning

Throughout the session, there should be time allocated for participants to identify what they should do following what they have learned – this needs to be taken in stages as it can be a really daunting task if scheduled at the end of the workshop (too much information to handle at once). By dividing the session following the 5 stages I present in my manual, I was able to ask learners to plan 3 actions per stage/per month (and when they could, to prioritise them). With this 5 month plan, entrepreneurs leave with something concrete and tangible they can use to help them in the future.


Like Amartya Sen (Nobel laureate, Economist & Philosopher) I believe that enhancing capabilities is a key to freedom of opportunities and this means that training or capacity building should be no different from teaching, which is all about learning (and the learner!).


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