Letter from Ouagadougou

Dr. Corinne Brion from the University of Dayton sends a letter about her recent experience working with school leaders in Burkina Faso, West Africa.

Neowongo! (Welcome in Mooré, one of the 59 dialects spoken in Burkina Faso, West Africa).

Tonight, I’m leaving Burkina Faso. I’m at Ouagadougou’s international airport reflecting on my experiences in the land of the ‘Incorruptible People.’ Burkina Faso is the size of Colorado and has approximately 19 million inhabitants. It’s a former French colony and like many countries in Africa gained its independence in 1960. Burkina Faso ranks 183 out of 188 on the Human Development index (which measures the capability of people to live long happy healthy lives, and to have access to education).

To better understand the educational needs of Burkina Faso, it’s important to take into consideration the following data. Burkina Faso’s literacy rate—defined as people over 15 years old who can read and write—is 36% (CIA, 2016) and 3.4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is spent on education. Burkina Faso uses the French education model for all levels of education, unless the school is part of an international system. There are six levels of the elementary system exclusive of kindergarten (la maternelle). Kindergarten classes exist for children age three to six but they are mainly located in large cities and are under-developed.

Table 1

The Education System in Burkina Faso (CIA, 2016)

Language of Instruction




Rarely found
Primary School 6 years of Primary

(CP1,CP2, CE1, CE2, CM1, CM2)


Secondary School 4 years of Junior

High School

(sixième, cinquième, quatrième and troisième)


3 years of Senior

High School

(Seconde, Premiere, Terminale)


Literacy Rate in %

(15-24 years old).








I’ve been fortunate to work part-time in Burkina Faso for the past 5 years. Our task here has been to build the capacity of school leaders. School administrators in Low-Fee Private Schools (LFPSs) rarely have any formal training and in most instances they are not educators. Because a training is as good as its material and trainers, a team from the University of San Diego developed contextualized research-based educational leadership materials in which adult learning theories are embedded; we train local school leaders, train local trainers through a Train the Trainers model (TOT) and conduct research (see our earlier posts: A Model for Leadership Training and the Missing Link on Learning Transfer.

This week, I was asked to oversee a three-day leadership training that focused on the Conditions for Learning (Table 2 outlines the topics covered during this leadership training). In order to enhance the

draft Mission Statement

transfer of knowledge post training, we conduct all trainings using an active learning approach. Trainees participate in a case study, work in groups and spend time reflecting about their schools.

At the end of each day, participants also complete a School Development Plan or “Plan d’Action.”

School Action Plan



The co-facilitators for the training were two Burkinabe colleagues who are still learning the materials and were working alongside a Ghanaian colleague and trainer. To find quality facilitators we work with local universities and schools. Our local-co-facilitators are carefully selected and are educators by training. Most of them are university professors in an educational leadership department. Each training is led by 2 facilitators who take turns between facilitating and being the lead and co-facilitating. We have developed Pedagogical Notes to outline the roles of the facilitator and co-facilitator. When potential facilitators first work with us, they come to the training and observe the entire training session. They also participate in daily debriefing meetings. If they remain interested in the work and content of the materials, they become co-facilitators the next time the training is offered and teach about 25% of the content. They are teamed up with an experience facilitator who can offer their support and feedback. Again, at the end of each day, there is a debriefing session that provides time for reflection. The second time a facilitator-in-training teaches, s/he will facilitate for approximately 50 % of the time. The third time a person teaches about 75% of the content and after that they become full-fledged facilitators. In addition to the daily debriefing and feedback sessions, the lead facilitator writes a feedback letter at the end of the training for his/her co-facilitator. To help with the letters and the language one should use in order to give constructive feedback, we developed a TOT guide containing sample letters, language that might be used, position descriptions as well as the selection process and the roles of both facilitators, co-facilitators and observers.

Table 2

The Three Modules of the School Leadership Training: The Conditions for Learning

Day 1: Module 1:

Title: Building a Culture of Learning

Topics include:

·       Writing a mission statement.

·       Creating an invitational school culture.

·       Parents and families as partners.


Day 2 morning: Module 2a:

Title: Health and Wellness



Topics include:

·       Nutrition.

·       Clean water.

·       Disease prevention.

·       Working with the community.


Day 2 afternoon: Module 2b:

Title: Facilities and Safety


Topics include:

·       School construction: indoors and outside.

·       Acoustics and ventilation.

·       Lighting.

·       Kitchen facilities

·       Toilets/washrooms

·       School safety


Day 3: Module 3:

Title: Teacher Recruitment, Induction and Professional Development


Topics include:

·       Values and dispositions of quality teachers.

·       Recruiting and hiring quality teachers.

·       Teacher retention and development.

·       Supporting teachers and staff.


This evening after three intense days of training, I feel content. Participants were excited about the content of the modules, they acquired practical ideas and tools to help them with their schools and they networked with each other. Our local trainers are progressing in their learning and I had the chance to meet some leaders who had attended the training three years ago. They told me that they continue to transfer the content of the modules to their schools. That is music to my ears!




Meet Dr. Brion

Brain Date* on Learning Transfer: Using Mobile Technology to Enhance Learning Transfer


Guest Blogger Corinne Brion talks about our work with using mobile phones as a professional development tool to improve learning transfer.

The purpose of the WhatsApp group was to examine the extent to which mobile technology played a role in enhancing learning transfer for school leaders in Ghana and Burkina Faso. The WhatsApp platform was used as a Professional Leaning Community (PLC) for everyone who participated in the three-day leadership training, provided that they were present on the last day of the training and had a Smart phone with the WhatsApp application. Everyone received the same message at the same time and was able to respond. WhatsApp allows anyone with access to a Smart phone and Wi-Fi to send individual and group messages anywhere in the world. It also allows sending and receiving photos, videos, recordings, and Word documents. I sent text messages via group texting.WHATS APP

On the last day of the training, the participants confirmed their contact information, provided the phone number they used for WhatsApp and agreed to be part of the PLC. A total of 23 participants were invited to join the WhatsApp group. The local NGO staff member in charge of education, as well as the two Ghanaian facilitators who conducted the leadership training, and the site director were also invited to the group as silent observers. The role of the silent observers was defined and explained to them before the intervention started. Later, I was able to ask the silent observers to read my findings, serving as member checkers. As the moderator and administrator of the WhatsApp group, my role was to send the text messages twice a week, monitor the answers, provide some written or oral feedback and encouragement, and answer questions. I also ensured that the norms were respected and that the purpose of the PLC remained intact. Norms for the group were discussed prior of the start of the intervention. Norms included: (1) the group was created to enhance and promote leadership conversations only as to help enhance networking among participants; (2) the group should not be used for personal or other purposes; and (3) everyone was encouraged to participate in the discussions/reflections. I sent a first text message to the cohort inviting the participants to join the WhatsApp group five days after the end of the training. Text messages were sent to the proprietors and head teachers for nine weeks starting two weeks after the school leadership training. The two-week grace period allowed participants to return to their school sites, share with colleagues, and reflect on the knowledge they had gained during the training. The intervention lasted nine weeks because four leadership modules were covered during the leadership training and I wanted to ask 2 follow up questions per module. On the last week of the intervention (week 9), I sought to receive the participants’ perspectives on the use of WhatsApp as a follow up method.

On Mondays the participants received a yes/no question and an open-ended question followed on Fridays of the same week. Participants could answer one question and not the other if they wished. There was a total of seven yes/no questions and nine open ended questions. The questions were all related to the content of the four modules taught during the three-day leadership training. This format was chosen to: (1) understand what kind of question triggered more participation; and (2) provide the participant a structure in which they could expect a yes/no question on Monday that gave them time to reflect in order to answer the open-ended question on Friday or over the following days. I asked questions directly related to the content of the four modules. An example of a yes/no question would be “Do you think your school is more inviting now as a result of the Edify leadership training you attended in July? Please respond YES or NO. Open ended questions included questions such as “Have you made your school more inviting this week? If you made any changes add any photos and/or videos of what you have changed.

The study participants unanimously stated that the WhatsApp intervention was helpful to transfer new knowledge after the training for several reasons. They commented that it allowed them to learn from each other, and it reminded them of the training, its content, and the School Improvement Plans. The intervention also encouraged and motivated the participants to put into action what they had learned during the training. One participant stated: “We were expecting your messages, so we knew we did not have time to seat down and relax, your follow up helped us to remember what we had seen in the training.” Even those who did not know how to type stated that it was “brilliant and very helpful.” One school leader shared: “WhatsApp helped me because I could read and see what my colleagues were doing in their schools. I took some ideas and also got motivated by what some did.”

Network and Peer Learning

The use of WhatsApp allowed the workshop participants to share information and “encouraged those who were not responding to questions to sit up.” A woman leader added: “Comments from my colleagues always draw my attention back to what was learned at the workshop. The answers given were helpful and made us conscious of what others were doing. We got ideas and copied some ideas.” Most participants shared that they were happy to hear from colleagues after the training, keeping “the good atmosphere beyond the training.” Finally, one leader spoke of the fact that he learned vicariously and said “despite the fact that I never wrote anything on the platform I was reading all the messages and learned a lot from the others that way.”

            Reminder, Peer Pressure, Motivation and Encouragement

All leaders suggested that being active on the WhatsApp platform was motivating because of the peer pressure. When leaders saw pictures on the phone of what colleagues improved in their schools, they would be inclined to do the same and share their progress on the platform. A leader shared: “When I see other schools making so many changes, I must make some too! I liked what some of my colleagues did and I must now try to do the same at my school. If they can do it, why can’t I, I must at least try and show them.” Another participant stated, “I do not go to the others’ schools but I see pictures they send and it helps me to change too.” Two other persons commented: “Usually after training, people feel reluctant to use what was learned but this gave us pressure and motivation and it always reminded us to do what we set to do.” Participants also commented on the encouragement they would receive from other participants and from the group moderator when new learning was transferred: “We felt encouraged because you [the researcher] wrote to us and asked us more questions when you did not understand or wanted us to share more.”

            Norms and Structure

All participants appreciated that the rules were clear and given before the intervention started. One leader referred to the norms as: “nothing to waste.” According to him the norms promoted learning by staying on task. Two leaders stated that people who did not respect the rules were “detractors” and they appreciated when I intervened and restated the rules immediately. He stated it in this way “Let us stick to the reason for what the group was created. Not everyone is a fan on what others are posting.”

All participants shared that they enjoyed the structure of the questioning and the quality of the questions. They enjoyed receiving a yes/no question on Mondays when it was busy and the open-ended questions on Fridays when they had the weekend to read, think and respond. “I was always eager to see what message you [the researcher] sent even if I could not look at work. I would go home and look at what you sent because I knew to expect a message on certain days and I knew I had time to think about the question before responding.”

            WhatsApp Beyond the Training

After this intervention, all participants stated that WhatsApp should be used for all trainings. Two participants indicated that they would like to use WhatsApp in their own work and with their teachers, using the application to ask the teachers a few questions prior to their weekly teachers’ meeting. “I thank you because now I will use this with my teachers and this will force them to prepare effectively before a meeting.”

Participants also shared that since the training content was helpful and relevant to their context, they were willing to engage in the WhatsApp. One school leader claimed: “You see often times you go to training, but the materials is not appropriate for us and we do not learn anything. Here we learned because of new research you presented but also because you made is relevant to our needs and schools. That is why we wanted to continue the learning and sharing on WhatsApp.”

The data indicated that participants perceived WhatsApp as being a useful tool to enhance the transfer of learning because it enabled them to learn from each other, reminded them of the workshop and of their school improvement plans and encouraged them in general. They shared that the pictures other leaders posted on the platform encouraged them to transfer learning to their schools, referring to it as peer pressure. According to the participants, WhatsApp appeared to be an efficient way to follow up with workshop participants post training. It helped participants remember the goals they had set for themselves and reminded them of the content of the training. WhatsApp was also appreciated because it is a platform the participants knew how to use, and it is readily accessible and available. One head teacher exclaimed “WhatsApp was a great idea to follow up with us because we use it already, we just never thought of using it among us educators and after a training”.

“WhatsApp was brilliant, you should use it after each training and in fact I am now planning to use it with my teachers.”

These two pictures were posted on the WhatsApp platform after the training. Brion Blog no. 2They exemplify how school leaders took the content of the training module on nutrition, made a poster of the food pyramid and invited parents to a PTA meeting on nutrition. A video of the meeting was also posted on the platform for everyone to see.


*The term brain date is used as a way to foster conversations and reflections among like-minded educators and educational leaders.

Meet Dr. Brion

Brain Date* on Learning Transfer: The Missing Link to Learning

Guest post from Corinne Brion, a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of San Diego. Corinne completed her doctoral research in West Africa and has spent this year assisting with trainings for school leaders in five sub-Saharan nations.

 IMG_4053Corinne Brion

  For the past five years, I’ve been fortunate to be part of a research and training team working with school leaders in Low-Fee Private Schools (LFPSs) in Francophone and Anglophone Africa. We have been tasked to help design contextually appropriate leadership materials, train local school leaders and train trainers (TOT) to ensure the sustainability of the model. Lastly, we have conducted research in Burkinabe and Ghanaian schools.

As you can imagine, I have many stories to tell and countless adventures  to share from various trips to Burkina Faso, Ghana, Liberia, Rwanda and Ethiopia. For now, though, I would like to share what I’ve learned from these school leaders related to the concept of learning transfer. Here I present the main findings of a research study that took place in 2016 in Burkina Faso and Ghana. The study aimed at understanding what enhanced and hindered learning transfer among these school leaders  (Brion & Cordeiro 2017). Thirteen school leaders from six different schools were interviewed after they attended a three-day leadership training. For this project, I worked with 2 different educational systems and two different national languages.

First, let’s be clear on what learning transfer is. It is defined as the application of newly acquired knowledge to the workplace or home. And, why should we pay attention to learning transfer? First, we should be attuned to this because every year billions of dollars are spent on trainings, workshops or meetings and only 10% of the new knowledge gets transferred to the work place (Broad & Newstrom, 1997). In Africa alone, $921 million were spent on education between 2010-2012, and despite the monies invested, there is little evidence of improved student learning outcomes (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 2015). This illustrates, in part, the lack of understanding and focus that governments, policy makers, educators, facilitators and trainers have placed on training and learning transfer (Awoniyi et al., 2002; Ford, 1994). Oftentimes programs are not adapted to the participants’ needs and do not take into account how adults best learn (Knowles, 1980; Mezirow, 2000).

A second reason we need to pay attention to learning transfer is because it is urgent that we build the capacity of school leaders in marginalized communities and sustain quality educational leadership in order to get a return on our investments in professional development.

From this study, I learned that there were several factors that supported the transfer of learning. In both countries, these factors included the location and logistics of the training, the facilitator’s content knowledge and disposition, the adequate content of the training and the active andragogy used. In Burkina Faso, the certificate of completion presented to all participants at the end of the training as well as the testimonials given by an alumnus seemed to have supported the transfer of learning as well. When given a certificate of completion and hearing testimonials, participants perceived that they were more competent, felt confident, and were motivated to transfer the new learning to their schools. But let me stop here and give you an opportunity to view the photos below, evidencing that learning transfer did occur post training.


I also found key challenges to learning transfer. The inhibitors in both countries were not only financial but also associated with (a) human behavior (referring to the difficulties in changing mind sets and habits and the fact that it is easier to paint a wall than changing a hiring process or diet), (b) competition (between schools and within the schools between younger and veteran leaders), (c) culture (the practice of juju, a witchcraft), and (d) logistics (leaders from one school in Ghana referred to the scheduling of the training as being an issue as the training took place while the school was still in session).

This study could have a significant impact on schools in marginalized communities since school leaders play a pivotal role in the overall success of the schools and student learning outcomes. The study is significant for any non-profit organization, government agency, or organization whose goal is to assist educational growth in developing countries. Applying learning transfer concepts and following up on them would not only ensure that training funds are well spent, but also contribute to reaching Goal Number 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals “Providing a Quality Education for All” by 2030.

So, next time you plan a training, workshop or even a meeting, take into account learning transfer! If you are sharing this mindset, let’s have a Brain Date!

*The term brain date is used as a way to foster conversations and reflections among like-minded educators and educational leaders.
Awoniyi, E. A., Griego, O. V., & Morgan, G. A. (2002). Person-environment fit and transfer of training. International Journal of Training and Development6(1), 25-35.
Broad, M. L., & Newstrom, J. W. (1992). Transfer of training: Action-packed strategies to ensure high payoff from training investments. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press.
 Ford, J. K. (1994). Defining transfer of learning: The meaning is in the answers. Adult       Learning5(4), 22-30.
  Knowles, M. (1980). My farewell address . . . Andragogy no panacea, no ideology. Training and Development Journal34(8), 48-50.
Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. Indianapolis, IN: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2015). Education for all 2000-2015: Achievements and challenges (EFA Global Monitoring Report). Paris, France: UNESCO.

Meet Dr. Brion