“Is ditchwater dull? Naturalists with microscopes have told me that it teems with quiet fun. ” G. K. Chesterton
Even after all of these years of setting up training rooms to engage as many senses as possible, I still get nervous about how well it will be received by certain audiences.
A case in point: I recently facilitated a two-day Technical Trainers’ Toolbox in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. My client was the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA, pronounced IKBA) and the participants were from many different countries: Pakistan, Tunisia, Syria, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Greece and Great Britain are those that I can remember.
This is a serious and well-respected organization. Let me tell you what I learned about ICBA from reading their strategic plan. It has an international team that includes soil, crop and water scientists, and policy and socioeconomic experts. They focus on challenges in marginal environments- of sustainable production, use of saline and alternative waters, environmental impacts, natural resources assessment and management, and policy and governance.
It has excellent research and training facilities, including an experimental farm, soil, water and agronomy laboratories, and a gene bank of salt-tolerant germplasm with over 11,000 accessions representing 260 species.
They operate in six arenas: research innovations, assessment of natural resources in marginal environments, climate change impacts and management, crop productivity and diversification, aquaculture and bioenergy, and policies for resilience.
After reading this, I had really been worried that the participants, all of whom are distinguished research scientists with doctorates, would be put off by my butterfly and fish kites and the Koosh and other toys on the tables.
Boy, was I wrong! They loved the toys and the colors! They threw Koosh balls at each other over the breaks and at least one of the women started to dance to the music. They liked how cozy the kites made the room feel.
They got a kick out of the peg system for LESSON plan. Everyone stood and participated each time we used it. And- they expected prizes anytime they did almost anything! It was a stitch!!
Henda (a post doctoral fellow) wanted to know where I purchased everything. It is obvious that she is planning to add them to her training programs and I’m delighted!
Participatory training is completely new to most of them, so it was a very interesting few days. We built lesson plans for two of their work topics: climate control models and soil salinity mapping. Then we created a variety of learning activities for both lesson plans, including a focus question, questionnaire, and case study.
We had a serious discussion concerning what a case study actually was and how it could be used as a learning activity. Their case studies report research findings. Some participants recognized that all they needed to do in order to convert the completed case study into a learning activity was to split up the stages of the research project and have the participants conduct the assessments. Then the trainer could refer to the actual research findings to determine if their answers were correct.
I was very pleased that the participant who raised the concern, Abdullah, did exactly that when he facilitated his ten-minute learning activity.
To say that the participants took participatory learning seriously is an understatement. On my last day at ICBA (they call it IKBA), three of the scientists sat down with me to discuss how to revise an upcoming training program. Adla (remote sensing scientist), and Karim and Rashyd (climate modeling scientists) were eager to learn how to put into practice what they had learned during the class. I was thrilled! We brainstormed a variety of learning activities and a revised flow of some of the content- and I’m sure that they will follow through to use it.
They also expected prizes as a reward, which I was happy to provide. Not surprisingly, mini-Rubik cubes were a particular favorite!
May your learning be sweet.