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7 Training Tips for Launching a Mobile Data Collection Platform

By Guest Writer on May 15, 2017

Effective training is a critical building block of any successful mobile data collection project. Data management systems require ongoing maintenance updates. Without a deep understanding of how the technology works it can be difficult for an organization to manage and sustain the solution over time. With Dimagi’s partners, we strongly emphasize CommCare app training and capacity building across an organization because, put simply: if an organization doesn’t know how to use their app, they won’t.

Seamless training — and, in turn, project roll out — requires prep work. Following a recent “Training of the Trainers” sessions (part of our implementation bundles), we developed a list of seven tips for effective training sessions. Find out what works (and what doesn’t) below.

Step 1: Think Like a Participant.

Leading up to our recent partner training, Dimagi put together highly visual manuals explaining the function of each module and form in the partner’s CommCare app. Early drafts were littered with complex use cases and technical jargon. While potentially useful for someone in a technical capacity, it became clear that our methodically acquired knowledge of the app was clouding our judgment. This caused us to make assumptions about what one would innately understand the first time they saw the app. Knowing that the end-users would not understand this technical language, we shifted gears.

We started to think like the users. We built a manual that simply explained application workflows, how to navigate mobile devices, and how, in general, to work in CommCare. Our hope is that these manuals will serve as a tangible reminder of the materials covered in training — a reference point for users in the field that is helpful no matter their previous experience with CommCare, the application, or their technical literacy.

Step 2: Prepare for Road Blocks.

You can create all of the materials in the world to help illustrate every nook and cranny of your application, come up with a list of metaphors to help explain app modules in a relatable fashion, and ensure your trainer is prepped and ready. But if devices aren’t charged the day of your training session… you’re gonna have a tough time.

Seemingly small logistical details such as a reliable Internet connection, a training space with a sufficient number of tables and chairs, planned meals and snacks, and access to a power supply are all crucial to the success of a training. If your training space is 105 degrees without fans, chances are energy levels will wane and trainees may not get as much out of the training as they could have. While seemingly mundane, steps to avoid logistical roadblocks can make a world of difference.

Step 3: Break Down the Trainer-Trainee Dynamic.

Phones are charged. Apps are installed. Manuals are printed. The training room is a comfortable 72 degrees (perhaps, wishful thinking). Snacks abound. It’s time to train!

In this recent training, time was not on our side; we had a significant amount of material to cover. After a quick round of basic introductions, it was straight to work. However, it became apparent quickly that trainees were not as engaged as we had hoped. The room felt stiff. With that in mind, we proposed a game. We got a bit silly playing a few rounds of “names and adjectives” (I’m Jordan and I’m jubilant) before getting back into the material. The difference was night and day.

By participating with the group and loosening up together, the trainer-trainee dynamic broke down. The energy of the room shifted, and most of all, trainees were more comfortable asking questions and sharing their thoughts. Which brings me to another important point reinforced throughout the training…

Step 4: Train “Under the Mango Tree.”

If you follow Dimagi, you are likely aware of our affinity towards designing “under the mango tree.” Well, believe or not, trainings are another great opportunity to implement that philosophy.

While you are likely going into your training with a finalized application – you now have a great chance to receive feedback directly from users who are interacting with the application for the first time. They know better than anyone else what is working for them, what makes sense intuitively, and where you may have blown it entirely.

By creating a casual environment, one which facilitates honest feedback, you can learn a great deal about improvements to make to your CommCare application.

Step 5: Use Storytelling

Let’s face it. Spending three days lecturing about modules, forms, and case lists can make even the best trainees bored. That’s why we suggest making the training as real as possible by relating training content directly to day-to-day work.

Rather than run users through form after form, I found it helpful to tell a story with the application. What might a frontline worker be doing when filling out this form? Where in the treatment process will a patient be when they can be found in this module? By contextualizing the app and illustrating how it can aid frontline work, trainees better understand the concepts covered during training and, in turn, can apply the training to their work more quickly.

Step 6: Recap, Recap, Recap.

In three days, I planned for trainees to learn the same amount of material that took me months to understand. Not an easy feat. I was told it would be critical to consolidate information by constantly reviewing and recapping. But after going back over information a few times and seeing eye’s glaze over, I realized there had to be a more interactive way.

Rather than simply reviewing, we started having trainees lead and explain items we had covered. Teaching and ‘talking it out’ can be a great way to review and identify knowledge gaps. Another effective tool utilized was role playing. Trainees could practice using the app just as they would in the field. This helps with knowledge consolidation and also presents a great time to discuss the importance of interpersonal skills and interacting with the app and beneficiaries simultaneously.

Step 7: Have fun. Create a Comfort Environment. Learn as Much as You Can.

If there’s anything I hope you can take from this blog post it is that trainings are an iterative process. Over the course of this training, schedules were flip-flopped, app changes were incorporated based on feedback, and I watched trainees became increasingly comfortable navigating CommCare. In the end, by fostering an environment that was focused but comfortable, we were able to accomplish a lot and learned from each other.

Jordan Lerner is a Field Manager with Dimagi

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