Training the Trainers in Cameroon: Lessons Learned and Future Plans
The Carbon Institute is finishing out the first stage of our partnership with CRESA in Cameroon, and moving forwards with our shared goals to develop a regional hub for TCA instruction in Francophone Africa.
In July, Anup and I conducted a successful mentoring trip to Yaoundé, Cameroon. Whereas our TCA course in September 2015 attracted a variety of motivated government and academic participants, this capstone mentoring trip was tailored to the key future instructors of the TCA courses at CRESA.
Having a small group allowed the mentoring sessions to be participant-driven, activity-based, and readily adaptable based on the interests of participants. Prior to the trip itself, we collaborated with key partners, Dr. Francois Hiol Hiol, the Director of CRESA, and Dr. Jean Marcial Bell, to design curriculum that would emphasize hands-on learning and allow direct contact with other participants and facilitators, rather than conventional lecture-oriented formats.
The topic areas, selected by participants, included: the Paris Agreement and REDD+, pedagogical best practices, building reference levels, developing emission factors from field measurements and allometric equations, and generating activity data through remote sensing with open source software.
Particular focus was given to having participants not only practice quantitative skills, but also to rehearse teaching those skills and their pedagogical approaches for TCA. As an integral part of activities, participants would present how they handled exercises, as a means of confidence building for teaching the TCA topics.
As well as certificates during the concluding ceremony, participants were presented with custom flash drives containing resources that may help the instructors to develop course materials for CRESA. Participants were also given access to GHGMI’s digital IPCC course tools and continued mentorship through the interactive TCA Help Desk.
Over the first stage of The Carbon Institute partnership with CRESA in Cameroon, we learned many lessons for how to best conduct academic capacity building. Some are surprises and others are common knowledge, but putting all of them into practice helps ensure success. A few of the lessons learned from our experience that we would like to share:
Active Learning, Repeated Exposure:
After the initial training course, participants shared their appreciation the field measurement activities in Mbalmayo and emphasized the importance of hands-on exercises and activities, even in subjects less directly experiential (e.g., policy context). This recommendation was adapted into the mentoring sessions. During the mentoring sessions, it was clear to the facilitators that, even with limited time, it is necessary to provide exercises that require participants to go through the same mental process several times, while becoming slightly more complex. This is critical for participant learning by providing a venue to ask questions and build confidence. At times, it may be necessary to reduce topic breadth to ensure real learning outcomes by participants.
Effective Incentives = Clear Career Outcomes:
During the mentoring trip in particular, participants were extremely committed to internalizing the subject matter. We believe this to be largely because our colleague Francois Hiol Hiol effectively selected motivated participants. A key piece of their motivation was their incentive: a clear career outcome. If participants demonstrate mastery of the the material, they will teach the TCA program at CRESA. Replicating this type of clear career outcome is essential to recruiting the right learners and maintaining engagement, as this type of incentive inherently attracts motivated learners. During instruction, facilitators can incentivize learning by clearly conveying how each skill or subject taught will be directly useful to the participant.
Recruitment is the Most Important Step:
Our experience in Cameroon reiterated our principle that teaching TCA is simple compared to the difficult and crucial phase of recruitment. Through the effective recruitment of interested participants, more active involvement occurs and facilitators can maximize learning outcomes. This was underscored by the commitment of our participants in both the mentoring trip and the larger TCA course. Participants should have connections to government, academia, the private sector, or particular civil society organizations to ensure that TCA skills acquired are applied and/or shared.
Participants as Teachers:
Participants need the opportunity to teach back the material that they learn to other participants. This “participants as teachers approach” is a useful means assessing learning and inspiring active learning. This is particularly essential in a “train-the- trainer” course by giving participants experience in actually teaching the material. This method is particularly important for specific skills or methodologies, since participants can cut through the “expert fog” effect and freshly describe their experience learning the material for the first time. Co-teaching is especially important when instruction is provided in a second language. Working on exercises in pairs also has many of these benefits.
Facilitating is Better than Teaching:
In both the larger TCA course and the mentoring sessions, activities and hands-on support were the most popular with the learners, whereas traditional lecture segments were considered less useful. Particularly in a mentoring setting, it is critical to frame capacity building as “facilitating learning,” rather than teaching. As facilitators, discussion is valued above didactic instruction. All comments on participant performance are constructive and intended to help the learners think through material. A facilitator approach places participant progress and needs above instructor schedules, and emphasizes providing time to ensure participants are able to dig in hands-on and internalize the material.
Prize Interpersonal Contact:
Good capacity building comes from long-term involvement, and these are built on relationships of trust and mutual respect. A core tenet of The Carbon Institute is that the importance of putting in the time to develop long-term professional relationships cannot be overemphasized. Even the small aspects of outreach and support can make a significant difference, and creating a course environment where learners feel empowered and connected to each other is essential for emphasizing learning. This involves honoring the qualifications and expertise of course participants, and providing an active means for them to express their skills and qualifications to create a “roundtable learning” effect. As a small example of building interpersonal relationships to facilitate learning, one participant in the mentoring sessions is organizing a TCA practice group between the mentoring trip participants.
Listening and Flexibility Lead to Real Learning Outcomes:
Not everything can be out-of-the-box. Effective capacity building happens with the right balance of a replicable model and the specific needs and priorities of a country or region. Surveying interests and needs beforehand encourages active participant engagement from the beginning. Real learning outcomes are best achieved by developing material that is both audience-specific and adaptable on the fly for different scenarios. During the mentoring sessions, the facilitators would casually discuss what the participants wanted for the next day and would draw on their material accordingly. Scoping out government needs and priorities, knowledge baselines, and opportunities prior to beginning program development lead to strong, truly effective training programs that engage and honor learners. Listening and trusting that participants know what material they want and need most encourages participation and real committed learning.
Our future plans:
We are grateful to have continued support from the United States Forest Service to continue with developing CRESA into a regional hub for TCA instruction. In 2017, we will be bringing key participants from the Republic of Congo to learn TCA at CRESA. Instruction will be led by a number of the participants of the mentoring sessions, with backstopping support provided by experts at the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute.
During these mentoring sessions, we were excited to deeper our relationship with the future TCA instructors at CRESA. We cannot wait to continue to expand the partnership moving forwards, as we jointly develop a program that can empower forest carbon professionals across Francophone Africa.
Post by: Patrick Cage, Program Officer, The Carbon Institute