“It was unthinkable, this was my first time to follow a training on WhatsApp. At the beginning I didn’t think this was going to go well but I like the way things were organized.”

– Beski Kitumaini Basilwango, Uganda

We just wrapped up our first 10-week-long training delivered on WhatsApp and want to share with our network lessons learned, tips and suggestions to ensure a great learning experience using a platform that can make any training more accessible, particularly for participants with limited internet connection, fluid hustle hours and potentially challenges with access to devices larger than a smart phone.

The training was designed and delivered in partnership with Fundraising Training Ltd, targeting refugee leaders- members of Taking the Lead network, comprising over 300 refugee leaders from around the world with the aim to shift power and resources to Refugee-led Organizations (RLOs). We aimed for a WhatsApp based, primarily asynchronous learning approach, due to barriers related to internet access – with several participants based in countries or regions facing power outages and serious internet connectivity issues. 

Participants were organised into different WhatsApp group language based cohorts, in which trainers shared materials, answered questions and facilitated discussions. Each of the ten modules of the training was delivered through the week: at the beginning of the week we released a 20-minute video recording with a few reflection questions, followed by a written handout  to enable a somewhat self-paced reading experience. At the end of the week we held a one-hour-long synchronous “peerstorm” among participants on WhatsApp, while trainers were available to answer questions throughout. To recap each of the thematic blocks of the training, we also organized three zoom calls every 2-4 weeks offering an alternative space to process learning and answer questions. 

WhatsApp or other messaging platforms can’t replace the connected experience of synchronous learning delivered online on video conferencing platforms. But it offers an alternative for many learners on a platform they are already using on a daily basis to communicate, work and organise, it gives more flexibility to go through the material and discussion at different times during the day/week and helps address an important barrier of internet connectivity. Bearing in mind that internet access is also linked to resources, participants were supported with data bundles throughout the programme. 

“This was a safe space through which we could express ourselves and our initiatives. This training was wonderful and available to everyone, especially in light of the power outages and the weak Internet network, which does not allow participation via other programs such as Zoom. The WhatsApp application is very convenient” 

– Rabea Alkadri, We are there for each other Initiative, Lebanon

Here are a few lessons learned, suggestions and tips after the completion of our WhatsApp-based training (many of which apply to and based on principles for all types of learning experiences).

You can access all the training material/content here (in English and Arabic).

Before the start of the training

  1. Invest in building a safe space and community early on: spend time at the beginning for participants to get to know each other, their needs and experience. Keep cohort numbers limited (15-20 max) and avoid having late joiners (due to the demand for the training amongst members of the network, we weren’t as strict with numbers; in hindsight we would have ‘closed’ existing groups and opened new cohorts). 
  2. Lay out the full content plan at the beginning: Have a content production plan that indicates when each module will be ready, when it goes for translation (where this is necessary) and when it should be published for participants. Your content production plan should be in sync with a detailed WhatsApp training script. This is helpful to have in advance, but of course you should adapt as you go. 
  3. Identify critical roles with community engagement at the core: One of the most critical roles for a WhatsApp-based training is the community manager. While you may have different thematic or content experts coming in for different modules of the training, a consistent community manager with facilitation experience for each of the groups can be instrumental for the engagement of participants. The role of the community manager is to support the relational aspects and follow up on learning with participants, while a content expert can be available at specific moments to impart knowledge/expertise and answer trickier questions.
  4. Clarify participation expectations from the outset: While learning can be to a certain extent self-paced during the training, participants should know the time commitment expected to engage with the content and the participation benchmark before being accepted to the training. What will be required of them each week to be acknowledged as an ‘active’ participant? For instance, it could be that every participant should engage with the content (watch video or read the handout) and must leave at least one comment on what they learnt or practised that week. 
  5. Practise and dry run the training: This is a healthy practice for every training project and even more critical when working on projects with new content, new partners/team members and new delivery channels/modalities. We can’t emphasise enough the need to test the experience. Get a group among your team to act as participants as you practise different aspects of the learning experience and adapt your WhatsApp script and content plan accordingly.
  6. Identify and anticipate the learning and participation metrics to track: What are you going to be measuring and tracking? Is it the video views? Is it how many people attended the peer storms during the week? Is it the level of engagement and comments in the WhatsApp groups? Be clear about what’s most important to track so as to adapt, especially for a training that runs over several weeks. 


During the training:

  1. Accelerating learning for participants: include different tactics in your training delivery to capture the broad spectrum of learning styles in any group. In this self paced WhatsApp modality, we propose that you consider:
    1. Break down content and use snippets for quicker content engagement: These help to break down heavy concepts shared in longer form pieces of content. In cases where we need to be moving along and still allowing for self pacing, snippets of content shared on WhatsApp can help to level the ground a bit during the week for those who have not yet managed to watch the video or read the longer handout. Creating a content/assets plan for every module can allow you to feed the group with snippets of content on a daily basis to also encourage engagement.
    2. Create space for reflection and practice: Preferably in small size groups as much as possible, participants have asked for a reflective practice and space that allows for action-based learning. Consider a phased approach for the delivery of the content with intentional gaps between each phase or blocks of modules to offer time and space for practice and reflection. 
    3. Use opportunities for offline peer learning: having knowledge about participants coming from the same organization or community you can respond to emerging shared issues through the training and give group assignments or encourage offline group study, peer-to-peer support and learning.
  2. Tracking participation and include regular evaluation intervals: Plan for several evaluation points to ensure that you have enough data/evidence to tell a story of the training. If you do consider having a phased out approach especially for a long training, this allows you to have an evaluation point at the end of each phase, but as a minimum ensure an assessment at kick-off, and a participant evaluation at a mid-point and at the end of the training. Tracking attendance and participation consistently can complement and help interpret other data coming from the evaluations. It can allow you to adapt content and delivery through the training and support decisions around providing data bundles or stipends to participants.

After the training

  1. End of training evaluation: Anticipate your end of training evaluation from the very start, this way you can keep it aligned with what you are tracking and preceding evaluation points throughout the training. Pay attention to the insights/questions emerging from the training interactions and engagement that you may want to include in the final evaluation. 
  2. Be clear on the format of resources to be shared: At the end of the training, participants do expect assets/resources to be shared. In this case, the training was destined as a public resource, available for Refugee-led Organisations at any time,  hence the assets are available on the Taking the Lead website and shared with all participants and the network, under a Creative Commons licence.




Co-authors: Kenneth Chomba and Fotis Filippou.