Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn”, said Benjamin Franklin. As a trainer, one way to ensure that the audience remembers what is learnt in the training sessions is to encourage active participation. This has been my focus over the last decade: engaging with children, youth, communities, NGOs, partners and workforce in the garment sector to build their capacities through life skills. The end goal is to help them manage their lives better, personally and professionally.
As part of the Worker Well Being (WWB) team, I have seen our work evolve over the years, from capacity building through life-skills training to a more comprehensive approach that aims to achieve worker well-being by addressing the needs of workers. Our approach now includes access to services, like health, finance, education for workers children etc., by creating networks or linkages which can be easily accessed by workers. As our work expands, and we reach more workforce across factories in India and abroad, it becomes worthwhile to ask ourselves, “Have our beneficiaries been able to sustain and practice what they learnt during the training? What can we do to ensure that there is retention of learning?”
My quest to find ways to help workers retain learning began with an incident. Recently, I met Shanti (name changed)– who I had trained four years ago — when she stopped me one day to request that I drop her to her factory. I recognized her and agreed to drop her, but she failed to recognize me as I was wearing a helmet. On the way, I reminded her of the training and asked her some questions about how she has been able to adapt the learning from the training that she had attended four years ago. What I received was a mixed response. She mentioned that she had become more assertive, (which was evident in the way she requested for a drop) and liked to reach work on time. However, she also mentioned that she had discontinued the practice of eating breakfast and ate lunch directly instead. I also asked her what made her trust me enough to drop her, but she did not have an answer.
This incident made me realize that we need to assess if learnings and changes have been sustained and practised in other factories. If Shanti had slipped back to some of her old ways, what would the situation be with other workers in other factories? My experience with Shanti prompted me to conduct a polling booth survey – which is a group interview method, where the participants give their responses through a ballot box, and each response is recorded anonymously. This survey was conducted to understand the difference in retention levels for learning among workers who were trained recently and those who were trained a year ago. My intention was to understand if workers would continue to implement what they learnt in their lives, in a sustained manner.
We conducted the polling booth survey in three to four selected factories, and the outcome proved to be an eye-opener. The survey indicated that workers who were trained recently continued to practice the learned behaviour, whereas those who were trained eight months to a year ago, had discontinued practising the learned behaviour, and had regressed to their old practices and ways of life. It was found that 90 – 95% of the workers who were trained recently, continued to implement the learnt practices from the training. For example, one of the major outcomes of the training on nutrition module has been the regular intake of breakfast by workers, with 90 – 95% of workers adopting the practice of eating their breakfast regularly. When the same outcome was assessed among workers trained on the nutrition module a year ago, it was found that only 20% of the workers continued to practice the behaviour of eating their breakfast daily, while the remaining 80% had reverted to their old pattern of not eating breakfast in the morning.
We contemplated on the reasons for this gap in the sustenance of learning. We had assumed the workers would continue to practice what they have learned, after the training, or workers may have forgotten what they learnt, in the absence of reinforcement or reminder sessions to help them sustain the learned behaviour. The Peer Education model (where nominated workers or peers are trained to share information on modules with their co-workers) has been largely successful in creating change within factories but has indicated the need for reinforcement to sustain learned behaviour among workers post training. Thus, while our program design and implementation help to achieve changes in behaviour, reinforcement has emerged as an equally important component in sustaining these changes.
Based on the outcomes of the polling booth survey, we brainstormed on ways to organize reinforcement sessions for the workforce, to help them remember and practice learnings. We organized poster competitions, quiz competitions, quick get-togethers and small focus group discussions and involved the factory trainers and peer educators in these activities, which were organized during the lunch break and batch setting time. We used the public address systems in the factory to reinforce key messages to the workers, while they performed their routine tasks.
As a trainer, I had my share of learnings from this exercise which I will always value. The dangers of undermining the importance of reinforcement had become very clear now. Equally evident were the benefits of reinforcement sessions. I saw that workers who were provided reinforcement moved towards real change. I realized that as a trainer our work does not end with imparting training to the workforce. To ensure sustenance of behaviour and learned practices, we need to go back, again and again, to strengthen learning among workers, and ensure their active participation in the process of enabling change that lasts for a lifetime.
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