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The next time you go to your favorite coffee joint to meet a friend or client over a cup of “hot something,” recognize how good you have it now. In a few years, if things don’t change, the price for those drinks is about to skyrocket. In particular, chocolate is on the verge of a supply crisis. Within the next four years, if things don’t change, the demand for chocolate will outpace supply by about 25%!

Comprehensive Learning Solutions is working to avoid such a crisis. For the past several years we have been providing training to farming supply chain in developing countries. While we’ve been teaching them how to manage their money more effectively, they’ve been teaching us how to train people with low levels of education. The challenge is three-fold: How do you effectively train people who have

  • minimal interest in sitting still and listening for hours
  • almost no access to computers or even electricity and
  • limited education?

What have we learned?

  • Limited attention spans: This is the easiest to address. Farmers are not the only ones who dislike sitting in a room for hours listening to lectures; almost all adult learners prefer interactive, multi-sensory learning experiences. Following core adult learning principles of experience-based interactive learning through the use of games, group discussions, practice exercises, and videos works equally well with this audience as it does for more educated business audiences in the developed world. In fact, one client in India who started using some interactive training that we developed found that their farmers’ attention spans increased from 45 minutes to about 4 hours.
  • Limited access to technology: When the internet, computers, or even electricity are not options, how can you spread the word to a large audience?  Mobile technology is looking like it might provide part of the answer thanks to the high rates of cell phone usage. In parts of Africa, over 80% of the population owns a cell phone. Various companies are experimenting with creating videos optimized for mobile phones or creating SMS training reminders. But these have their cost, technological, and user-acceptance challenges, too. The simplest answer seems to work best: train a group of core trainers who can train others in the community to become trainers and spread the word through the use of the most credible and able members of the community. This approach increases acceptance because the farmers already know and trust these familiar faces. This approach is being used by one client in the Philippines to train 100,000 farmers in the next 5 years and by a client in West Africa to train around 50,000 farmers in the next 3 years.
  • Limited education: Regardless of location, the following tips work well when training people with less education, :
  • Avoid the theoretical: Theory is for people who have expertise in a subject. The less you know, the less you are concerned about the theory. Keep theory to a minimum and focus on the practical.
  • Watch your language: Use simple everyday language and avoid industry-specific jargon. Just as importantly, watch your sentence structure. Keep your sentences relatively short. Avoid long, complex sentences with parenthetical phrases. This is particularly true if you are teaching people in a language that might not be their native tongue.
  • Use more pictures than words: Reinforce what you say with something visual to help them remember. Since they might have difficulty reading, find images that represent what you are saying.
  • Keep it moving: Watch out for too much talk. Beyond limiting lectures, watch out for relying solely on discussions as your only forms of interactivity. People who have not attended much school are not as comfortable sitting around and talking about something. They need to move. Look for games, dances, or other forms of movement or competition to reinforce concepts and enable them to get out their need to move
  • Keep it short: People who are used to doing physical work find it extremely difficult to sit in a classroom. Keep training workshops to no more than four hours. Two hours is better. Participants are much more willing to sit through four two-hour sessions than one eight-hour session.

Ironically, these same tips that are crucial for less educated audiences also work extremely well for more educated audiences. Once you get in the habit of building these qualities into your training, you will find that your courses become more effective regardless of whom you are training.

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