By Anne Garbutt
If in 2019 someone had asked which training method was best – face to face or remote – I would definitely have said that the former is always the best and the latter is a poor substitute. Yet here I am in 2021, having to reconsider my view given all the work I have undertaken online since January 2020, due to the impact of COVID-19.
I have had the privilege of working in development for 37 years, which has meant traveling around the world meeting people, sharing experiences, and providing different kinds of support to CSOs in their own environments. Although COVID-19 changed that, it also provided me with the opportunity to reassess my ability to provide capacity-building support to organisations and individuals that I have never met in person. In that time, I have learned a great deal both technically, and in terms of methods of delivering training. As a result, my feelings now are quite different to what they were in 2019.
Since January 2020 I have delivered three tailor-made monitoring, evaluation and learning courses; co-facilitated INTRAC’s M&E Systems course adapted for remote delivery; provided Theory of Change and MEAL support to two organisations with staff around the world; conducted an M&E system assessment; and facilitated a webinar series. All of this was done remotely online.
Was my support more effective in person or online? The answer probably lies more in my capacity to communicate, develop relationships and to maintain my enthusiasm for supporting clients than whether one approach is better than the other.
While the online sessions I have provided as part of MEAL support were shorter than they would be in person – which means it takes longer to achieve the desired outcome – the feedback has been good. These organisations are now continuing with the process we began together. Previously, my in-person training courses were usually run over five days and participants would all stay in the same venue for that period. The advantage of this was the opportunity for participants to meet and share experiences, both through formal training sessions and informally, outside them. However, this intense approach often left participants with little time to reflect between sessions.
Conversely, these chances to reflect have been built into our online trainings. Between weekly or fortnightly sessions, we have provided opportunities for participants to meet each other and trainers online outside the formal sessions where they could share experiences. As a result, participants often brought up interesting questions to later sessions and said that they gained considerably from the informal sessions and were able to support each other in a peer-to-peer setting.
Now, my own feeling is that neither delivery method is better than the other; they are different and require different ways of working. We as trainers and consultants providing support need to adapt the way we deliver depending on client needs, rather than our preferred way of working. There are definite advantages for the environment, for our clients and for allowing participants time to reflect which in turn generates further questions, discussion and learning. I have adapted to be an online trainer and consultant and have learned a lot both technically and in delivery methodologies, about how to deliver remote online support which not only meets the needs of our clients, but which are also valued by them. I am looking forward to doing a training course with participants in the same space in the future but am also enthused about the strengths of virtual methods.
Anne Garbutt has been a member of INTRAC’s network since 2018. Previously, she had been a member of staff since 1997. Anne’s main passion is developing robust M&E processes that come from quality planning, developing monitoring systems and supporting organisations who want to measure their impact.
To learn more about how INTRAC can support your organisation with scheduled or in-house training, visit our training page. A special Training Access Scholarship makes courses available at a nominal fee to staff of qualifying organisations.