These days, we are preparing for another Member Orientation Program, SEND’s pre-field training for those who are within a few months of leaving for the mission field. This summer’s group is one of the most diverse ones I have ever seen with 18 people coming from 7 different countries and going to 10 different SEND areas of ministry. As we are preparing for this major training event, the temptation is to focus entirely on what we are going to do during the 2 weeks that we are together on the SEND Farmington campus. We are arranging and re-arranging the schedule, contacting all the facilitators, updating our PowerPoint presentations, thinking through the logistics of our various “cultural experiences”, notifying those who will be leading chapel times, planning for shopping trips for the cook, and the list goes on and on. I am very thankful for a superb administrative assistant who works out of our International Office in Michigan, and is taking care of most of these details while I am writing blog posts here in Ukraine.
But I remind myself that as the Director of SEND U, and the one tasked with providing overall direction for the Member Orientation Program, I must not think only about what happens during the two weeks that these 18 new missionaries will be with us in Michigan. That is where most trainers and organizations invest the vast majority of their time, energy and money – to make the training event as interesting, well-planned, well-executed and complete as possible.
But according to a white paper published by John Ambrose, Senior Vice President at SkillSoft, only 24% of the value of the learning comes from the actual learning event. Twenty-four percent! I am not sure how this was measured, but it is not just someone’s guess, but is based on research. The rest of the value of the learning comes from pre-work and follow-up. 26% of the value of the learning process is derived from pre-work (preparation of the learner for the learning event) and a full 50% of the value comes from follow-up with the learner after the learning event is completed.
SEND U is getting better at including pre-work and follow-up in our training programs, although we still have a long way to go. For the second year now, our MOP (Member Orientation Program) includes a 4-week online course prior to the arrival of the new missionaries on our SEND campus for the on-site training. The online course is currently in its third week. This is an example of blended learning, where part of the instruction happens online and part of it on-site in a face-to-face learning experience. The goal is to take advantage of the benefits of both kinds of learning formats.
Through these 4 weeks, we discuss in greater detail some of the concepts that will be reviewed briefly or applied in group exercises in the on-site program. When we gather in Farmington, rather than dumping a lot of content on the unsuspecting heads of our learners, we can focus on group interactive activities, games, and excursions that are more difficult in the online environment. But through this online course, we are also reviewing the objectives of the MOP program, which helps us facilitators to better understand what they want to learn, and helps the learners to set appropriate expectations for the learning event.
What about follow-up? In a previous blog post, I talked about the role of MOP-up (Member Orientation Program under pressure) in reviewing and applying the principles learned in pre-field training. This happens at the midway point through the first term of the missionary. During the three months of coaching and review in MOP-up, the missionary reports on:
- what they have learned about the culture which they have now adopted – and how they are dealing with the frustrations of cross-cultural differences,
- how well they and their family are managing the transition to living contentedly in this culture – and how well they have been able to develop patterns of engagement with friends and neighbours that will encourage and support them over the long term, and most importantly
- how well they have been able to implement spiritual disciplines and practices that keep them connected to the Vine while being separated from their home church and former spiritual and emotional support system back home.
But at this point, this follow-up process is pretty much of a self-assessment. According to the white paper mentioned above, post-event follow-up needs to include the supervisor or team leader of the person being trained. It suggests that the supervisor observe the team member’s progress after training, and reports back to the training facilitator what changes they have observed as a result of the training. Research by Robert O. Brinkerhoff indicates that only 15% of what is learned during the training event will be applied unless the learning is reinforced and application is monitored after the training event.
It seems to me that before we can begin asking our team leaders to help us understand whether the training is making a difference, and actually being implemented on the field, we have to make sure that our learning objectives are truly describing critical behaviors that our team leaders want their new arriving missionaries to practice. In the past few months, we have had a couple of conference calls with almost all of the Language and Orientation Directors on each of our fields. We want our fields to understand what the new MOP (not the same pre-field training they went through many years ago) is trying to accomplish, what we are now emphasizing, and whether they have any suggestions for how those objectives should be revised. The dialogue has begun!
One more thing that we have been trying as a way of reinforcing our pre-field training. One of the members of my Leadership Team is herself a Language & Orientation Director on her field, and she has written several self-study learning activities for new missionaries. These learning guides are intended for missionaries in language study and designed to build on and reinforce what was learned at MOP.
SEND U wants to provide a seamless series of sequenced learning experiences throughout the first term of a missionary’s career that build on and reinforce what was learned in pre-field training, so that each missionary has all the encouragement and help they need to develop the foundational patterns of life and ministry that will sustain them throughout a lifetime of fruitful service. We want to get the other 76% value out of our training!