The common perception is that online or virtual training courses are no substitute for the real thing: a classroom with a teacher or professional. Yet research published in the New Scientist begs to differ.

A programme in West Africa created to pass on new technologies and techniques to women farmers adopted two approaches: 1. watch a training video; or 2. attend a training workshop. The results speak for themselves:

  • 74% of women attended the video, just 22% attended the workshop
  • Uptake of the new technique was 72% of those who watched the video and 19% of those who attended the workshop

To put that into context, imagine 2 villages each containing 100 women farmers. Village A is shown the training video, village B runs a workshop. In village A, 53 out of 100 women adopt the new technique. In village B, 4 out of 100 women change how they work.

Why such a difference?

The study comes up with some reasons that should be of interest to any organisation looking to improve training:

  • Democratised access to knowledge beyond the usual elites
    The video was shown communally in early evening so that everyone could attend. With limted places at a workshop, a selection process is inevitable
  • Storytellers were fellow workers and trusted more than the experts
    The video differed to the workshop in that it used fellow women rice farmers to demonstrate the technique. Viewers trusted the message. The workshops were delivered by outsiders – scientists and NGO* workers
  • Videos were designed to make the principles of the technique obvious
    67% of the women who couldn’t afford the equipment created alternatives. Attending a workshop, you do what the expert tells you… if you can.

“When they understood that rice shouldn’t touch the water, they provided their own solutions.” Paul Van Mele, Africa Rice Center

These 3 lessons could also be invaluable in any organisation. Online training can be made available to anyone, anywhere at anytime (even those who don’t use a computer as part of their normal working day). When introducing new ways of working, peer demonstrations trump management objectives. If there is no expert to give all the answers, people will innovate and provide their own solutions. And some of those innovations could lead to new opportunities…

As for the programme in Africa, the video has since been translated into 20 African languages. Five additional rice-related videos have been produced and more are planned for other crops. Brilliant!

References:

Tags: education blog

* NGO – non-government organisation

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