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Online training: A passing phase or here to stay?

Updated: Feb 9, 2022

by Corrie M., international director, Entrust Equipping Women

“I have never told anyone this before.” Tears falling, she bravely pressed on, sharing an event from her past, relaying the emotions she felt at that time, the beliefs about life that were formed in her heart, and the choices she had made because of those beliefs.

Women nodded. They had their own experiences to share and no doubt, some would bring tears. Most leaned in, signs of compassion on their faces. One put up an emoji of a heart in the corner of her screen, a silent demonstration of love. Another added a comment in the chat feature, “We’re with you.”

We were not together physically. In fact, we were in different countries, with vastly different backgrounds and cultural experiences. Our humanity and desire to grow as women and as leaders connected us, and the vehicle for this connection was something called Zoom.

Online learning

With the entrance of COVID to our global landscape, even the novice in technology has become familiar with Zoom. How else can one thrive socially and emotionally through months of isolation and lock downs? At the same time, is online simply a place to keep in touch with family and friends, or might it provide an opportunity for deeper learning and discipleship?

Entrust’s Equipping Women team started exploring the possibilities of online learning long before the pandemic. Some of the issues pushing us in that direction included difficulties getting visas for our international training hubs, the financial challenges of in-person trainings and the demands most women face in balancing careers and families. It can be complicated for women to find extended time away from their daily lives to receive equipping to be more effective in the work God has called them to do. What if we could connect in meaningful ways online, working through material from the comfort of our own homes?

God graciously allowed us to pilot our first online training module in the fall of 2019. While there are other effective modalities such as Microsoft Teams or Web-Ex, we landed on Zoom. We found it intuitive and replete with some of the options we needed, such as breakout rooms, a chat feature, white boards and the ability to share videos. And while security issues have been raised about Zoom, we have found its encryption feature to be quite strong, which is important for some of our participants’ higher-risk regions.

Online training graduates in the Philippines are honored by their pastors

Ann C. and I ventured into that first module with multiple fears and anticipation. What a world this would open to us if we could do this effectively! At that point, we had no idea that the world was about to shut down and how online learning would become a bedrock for training over the coming years. God graciously allowed us to explore and prepare for online learning before our world was thrust into it.

We adapted our typical week-long or semi-intensive in-person trainings to a 15-week learning opportunity: one day a week, for three hours. While this meant the women did not leave their busy worlds to focus on the training, it did allow them to fit the training into their lives.

Before that first online training began, we pored over some of our best practices for in-person trainings: starting our days with worship, offering opportunities to get to know one another early on, sharing testimonies, facilitating discussion, learning with partners or in small groups. We realized most of that could be done in an online format. In our debrief after the first online session (another Entrust value), Ann and I were tired, but we grinned at one another. I remember saying something like, “I think this is going to work.”

After the first several sessions together, we noticed the women were already encouraging one another by asking follow-up questions. Although conversation can sometimes feel more halting on Zoom, as you can’t always take in all the visual cues as you can in person, women were launching into discussion over the content as if they were across the table from one another. They begin praying for each other and asking how God had responded in the weeks that followed.

The women were living their usual daily lives while they attended this training, and we began to see them applying some of the concepts in their various settings. Even life’s distractions—a kid wandering in on screen or a barking dog needing attention—proved good. They helped us to see more of each other’s worlds. We got to meet that toddler who needed assurance from mom or see the home from which that sister in Christ was joining us.

After that first module in 2019, Ann and I decided to offer two modules at the start of 2020 and to train an additional facilitator in online learning practices. We were well into those modules when COVID came on the scene in March of 2020, changing life as we knew it. However, we did not skip a beat with our online modules, and God allowed us to become a resource for partnering organizations who needed to understand what learning and discipleship could look like online.

Since that initial module in 2019, we have trained many more of our facilitators to use Zoom while facilitating, and have been pleased to see God multiply our humble beginning. We have now offered 18 online trainings to 140 leaders from 12 countries. Two of those online trainings were co-ed. Ten more modules are being organized for the spring of 2022.

We have heard many testimonies from women served by the modules. “I never would have been able to take an in-person training” has been a common thread. Another theme is, “I never knew how close I could feel to women I have never met before.” God knew about all of this, of course, and continues to use this modality to build up his church.