what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Balance again - revising training material

During the preparations for a recent project bid, I could not come up with anything to say about how we might review (as outsiders) existing training material. Of course we can identify criteria such as –
• factual
• comprehensive
• balanced
• up-to-date
• user-friendly
• clear

But the subsequent judgements (for a board which is not expert in the varous subjects) are inevitably subjective and arbitrary. And do they really expect trainers to use material which had been developed by a third party? If so, it is a good example of the mechanistic thinking about organisations which has overwhelmed us in the era of project management and the logframe (treating people as things which can be manipulated). Chris Grey’s book for which I gave a link yesterday, is one of the best exposes of this I have read for a long time. Indeed I now see his little book (purportedly about studying organisations) as the best tract against modern society I have read in a long time. It ties together very beautifully a lot of strands of critical social and political thought.
My recent experience attending these workshops has given me probably the most appropriate approach to this issue of revising training material. All trainers were asked last week to summarise the various difficulties which workshop participants (from the Bulgarian municipalities) have mentioned as having with the design or implementation of EC projects. This is a good approach since it requires the trainers to think about what the participants have said (rather than what they, the trainers, think) – one frequent comment is the disagreements they have with the national authority which identifies mistakes (for which they receive a monitary penalty). Of course, the way to deal with that is to have a note from the national authority identifying the most common mistakes!
Only when the trainer minds are focussed on the problems of the trainees, should they be invited to revise their material - with the following sort of questions to help them -
• Compared to what the target group needs to know about your subject, what did you assume they already knew when you drafted your slides and handouts?
• How would you now change your assumptions about what they already know?
• What changes will you now make in your slides and handouts - in the light of these comments and changed understanding?
• Do you work with a statement of “learning outcomes”? That is – a detailed statement of things participants did not know when they arrived at the workshop and that you hoped they would know at the end of the workshops?
• How much time do you take at the beginning of workshops to ask the participants for detailed statement of their expectations and the questions they bring to the workshop?
• How do you check whether these expectations have been met?
• Have you checked the split of time between your presentations – and participants input?
• Do you observe the rule that participants cannot take much more than a 20 minute presentation?
• What efforts do you make to bring participants into discussion?
• Do you put yourself in their shoes – with their concerns about HOW to draft winnable bids which can actually be implemented successfully?

Of course, this is self-assessment – and the new project I was talking about assumed that outsiders would review and update the training material. I think, however, this is a last resort. It is the trainers who have been through the experience of teaching their material. Better to have a system to encourage them to think about what they themselves learned (and then apply it to their own revision) – with the outsider’s role being a facilitating one. Such an approach, however, which tries to get a balance (or dialectic) between groups does not seem to fit the positivist beliefs and “monitoring and control” culture of our times.

The photo is one I took as I left the training workshop - just a few kilomtres up the road - to show the village dereliction Bulgaria has to cope with

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