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Publication: ProjectNet May 2003
Theme: Edition Training and Education – Special Feature

Title: Adults Learn Differently


Teachers find great reward in shaping young minds, imparting wisdom and knowledge, all towards preparing an individual for what their life, and career, has in store for them. Teaching adults is a whole different ball-game.
Adults embarking on a new course or field of study bring a different package to the classroom all together. They bring prior knowledge and work experience and, while younger or inexperienced learners do not have a basis from which to question the validity of learning content, adult learners will challenge anything they may have experienced to be false.
This difference in learning styles requires that the content packaged and delivered for adult learning must take their learning styles and preferences into consideration. According to Esta Viviers, Director of Connemara Consulting, “The mature learner finds it inappropriate to be confronted with models and theories, the relevance of which they cannot see in the context of what they do from day to day. A significant portion of the content has to be practical and relevant to hold their interest.”
Training facilitators also need to be mindful of the differences between adult learning styles. “Some prefer to learn the theory then practically apply the knowledge to their environment. Others learn through open discussions and debate, by voicing their views and in doing so triggering further questions and responses from their peers and the facilitator alike. Still others learn via internal debate and scientific proof, through which they are presented with facts, and research findings, global best practice and tried and tested methodologies. Learners then test their understanding of the concept, based on what they know and believe. If enough of what they have been presented with makes sense in terms of these beliefs, it becomes part of their inherent knowledge,” explains Esta.
“Adults enjoy learning in a serious fun way. Facilitators need to focus on putting even serious topics across in a way that is not threatening and is open enough to invite interaction. Without this connection, learners will distance themselves from the experience,” she says.
Asked whether technology can be seen as a tool to aid adult learning, Esta responds, “Technology is relevant for a very specific type of person, one that is intrigued to use the technology to conduct further research on a topic. Technology certainly has a place in evaluation, offering a simple and time-effective means of self-testing, which motivates the learner to compete against themselves.”
Attitude is a very important factor when imparting knowledge. If an individual has elected to attend a session or presentation, it is because they have established that the content is relevant upfront, and it is therefore less important for the speaker to have an in-depth knowledge of the subject. In the case where the session or training is a company initiative, the facilitator should be an expert on the subject as those attending have yet to accept the content as being relevant to them. They will also have prior knowledge with regard to their industry and organization, and will expect the facilitator to have more knowledge than them. Facilitators should always be familiar with the environment, business and industry that the learners come from. It is no longer acceptable to use irrelevant examples. “Using a ‘widget’ as an example became so over-used that it became a word. Learners in the service environment don’t relate to ‘widgets’ as examples. Learners expect case studies, examples and methods to be completely related to what they do, and it’s up to the facilitator, not the learner, to adapt material accordingly,” stresses Esta.
Facilitators should also be current. Esta explains, “Adult learners read, listen to the radio and are generally well-informed. It is important that facilitators avoid stock-standard responses and rather use examples relating to what happened today.”
Capacity is often a problem when working people are studying at the same time. The pace of business is so fast that people have little time to sit down and learn, and they are often led to identify a quick solution that keeps them out of the office for the minimum amount of time. Facilitators should be able to cater to those in their audience wanting a quick-fix with bullet points that tell them how to solve their problems, and those who want to develop an in-depth understanding of the subject. It’s also easy to estrange individuals who are not on the organizational level that the set textbook or case studies are designed to reach. They should not walk out of a session feeling that what they have learned does not apply to the problem they are having with their small team, and small department.
Esta believes that coaching and mentoring definitely contribute to learning for the mature individual. “Because of the pace of change and the impact of technology, people in senior positions are much younger than before. They may spend 25% of their time indulging in their specialized field of interest, and are expected to devote 75% of their time to managing the environment in which their speciality is exercised. Few young managers have the life experience to be able to do this effectively. Coaches and mentors bring balance and impart knowledge related to experience that saves the young manager a lot of learning time.”

Publication: ProjectNet July 2003
Theme: Case Study

Title: Getting Nigeria Talking

A different world awaited the South Africans on contract in Nigeria when MTN, against the South African telecoms market’s better judgement, ventured into Nigeria to establish the country’s first reliable, affordable and maintained telephone network.
Pretoria-based Contract and Project Manager, Cecil Barnard, responded to MTN’s call for contractors to accompany their technicians to Nigeria to set up the telecommunications infrastructure. What awaited them was a series of challenges and circumstances that no project management textbook could ever prepare one for.
In 1999, MTN South Africa purchased a GSM licence in Nigeria under its previous ruler. When then ruler, Sani Abacha died, the licences were cancelled. Later, when Obasanjo took over, three GSM licences were issued at a cost of $290 million each – to MTN South Africa, Zimbabwean operator, EcoNet and Nigeria’s Globacom.
Sounds uncomplicated enough, but at this point it is important to understand what communication was like in Nigeria, prior to MTN’s involvement. “There were 200 000 working phones in a country inhabited by 142 million people. This is the lowest teledensity for any country not at war,” explains Cecil. “The existing service was unaffordable and not maintained. Multinationals such as the oil companies would use two-way radio and satellite phones to communicate. Regular people used messengers to transport handwritten notes from one person to another. Travelling along Nigeria’s highly congested roads, artisans would advertise their services with a sign saying, ‘Plumber here – please call’ and this meant that the person requiring the plumber’s services would stop right there and yell for the plumber. The dilapidated road infrastructure contributed to communication problems. Pity the poor messenger who had to deliver a note to the airport. A trip that takes 20 minutes on a Sunday takes up to eight hours on a weekday.”
In early 2001 and amidst much industry speculation about how risky the move was, MTN South Africa decided to begin the process of building the infrastructure and sent project technicians to do the setup. Further fuelling the tut-tutting of spectators was MTN’s announcement that it would use its South African cash and resources to support the project. It was a risk MTN was prepared to take. As the sixth largest crude oil producer in the world, Nigeria possessed a lot of wealth, but it was in the hands of just a few. Everyone had a need for communication.
Responding to a call for a couple of ‘crazy people’ to join the MTN crew as project managers, Cecil headed North for Nigeria. Despite having studied and practiced town planning, Cecil didn’t enjoy the associated bureaucracy and became interested in project management in 1994. He was the first person he knows of to implement a project management approach in the Transvaal Provincial Administration. Cecil completed a Damelin diploma in project management and has been involved in a number of projects in South Africa and abroad for nine years. He accompanied MTN’s IT specialists, and was soon to discover how valuable his own knowledge and experience would be.
“We all knew it would be ‘different’ in Nigeria, but you cannot prepare for just how different it really is. You can’t simply walk into a shop and buy something. The country’s infrastructure is in pieces.”
Nevertheless, work had to be done and Cecil was tasked with developing a roll-out plan for the development of non-technical buildings across the country, in parallel with the construction of base stations and switches. Non-technical buildings were offices, ex-pat accommodation, shops and warehouses. Everything had to be built from scratch in the various cities. Planning was made difficult by the lack of statistics about the city-dwellers. No census had ever been done in Nigeria – because the Christian and Muslim populations were equally prominent, and authorities feared that if a study revealed that one religion had stronger numbers than another, it could result in tension.
Cecil embarked on his own study, traveling from one city to another under heavy armed guard to get the data he needed. Having been a town planner, he understood a city and knew to look past the dilapidated environment and gauge the living standard by what was being sold in local shops, and a sixth sense that could determine the difference between fact and fiction when talking to locals. The information obtained helped him map out where the non-technical structures should be built. Having done this, MTN realized they needed someone to project manage the actual construction, and this became Cecil’s responsibility for the next year and a half.

A culture of corruption
Every day brought new challenges for the various project teams. Computer equipment would be flown in from South Africa with all the right documentation, and promptly confiscated at the airport. Eventually a third-party negotiator that understood the system had to be recruited to ensure that the relevant ‘duties’ were paid and the imported goods released each time. Because nothing is manufactured in Nigeria, everything, from window putty to ceramic tiles had to be brought in from elsewhere.
“Nigerians are generally people seeking instant gratification,” explains Cecil. “If they see an opportunity to make a quick win, they will take it, with no regard for legality, or the bigger picture. They just want to ensure their own gain before the next person seizes the opportunity.”
Limited guiding information, human intervention and the complicated importation process were just three factors that consistently blew the team’s project planning to shreds. The mindset of local ‘professional’ people was another inhibitor. “It was difficult to attract professional people to Nigeria. The dollar exchange was initially favourable, but this changed, and professionals were hesitant to take their chances in a country where people shoot each other down in the street. We applied a thin professional team to 50-60 projects at a time, seven days a week for 18 months. Stress levels were exceptionally high.”
Making use of local professionals who apply a completely different work ethic, seemed to add to the stress. “We would supply architects with comprehensive specifications, and photos and documentation of what the MTN buildings in SA look like,” says Cecil. “When they came back to show us what they had done, we found light switches on the opposite side of the room to the door, some out of reach, mismatched fittings and virtually no conformity to any kind of standard.”

A success, nevertheless
In an ideal situation, the projects should have taken six months. The MTN team did well to complete everything in 9 to 12 months. Despite all the country’s challenges, and high turnover of team members, the project was a success. MTN has the highest company profile in Nigeria, and the local people aspire to work for MTN. Employees bring their children to the offices on weekends to show them the wonderful place where they work. The MTN brand is well-loved and the bold yellow t-shirts are a commodity that can get one out of a tight spot. MTN applies the same principles and standards in Nigeria as it does in SA. If you steal, you’re out. Do it right, or you’re fired.

Impacting ordinary lives
Besides creating jobs, cellular technology has brought about many changes for the Nigerians. The electricity infrastructure is highly unreliable, even absent in some areas. Through SMS technology, residents are at least alerted when outages are expected. Entrepreneurs are flourishing, as they are able to take and place orders over the phone. Families are more comfortable that they can stay in touch when apart, and artisans can now place a number under their ‘call here’ signs. MTN further increased its lovable status early in 2002, when it came to the rescue after a series of bomb blasts ripped through Lagos. MTN set up a toll-free call centre issuing rescue updates and information on missing people, providing 150 free phone lines to relief workers, donating food aid to blast victims and sponsoring children orphaned in the explosion.

Lessons learnt
Cecil, now back in Pretoria, looks back fondly at his time in Nigeria. He is pleased that he went the distance and stayed for longer than nine months, what he believes is the requisite time period to truly learn the rhythm of Nigeria. “Lagos is very sophisticated,” says Cecil. “Once you know the system, you know where to find whatever you are looking for.
“After a near crash-landing, I decided to never fly in Nigeria again (airport communication is virtually non-existent). As a result, I saw so much of the country as I travelled alone with my Mopol (mobile policeman, armed to the hilt) or in convoy.
“There are many dangers, of hostage-taking, getting caught in a riot, or ambushed on the road, but there were also rewards. Once you get to know them, you discover that Nigerians are warm, intellectual, sophisticated and possess impeccable taste. Their environment has resulted in the ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality, and no Nigerian can be called lazy.”
Their introspection is visible in the strangest places. Cecil recalls the prevalence of ‘words of wisdom’ to be found on brightly painted modes of transport. ‘To catch a tiger is success’, and ‘no food for lazy man’ can certainly serve as motivation when you’re stuck in traffic moving at a few metres per hour.
“Amidst the chaos that is Nigeria, the small things keep you sane,” recalls Cecil. “To see the different colours, people smile, the way they talk to each other, adds to a truly unique experience.”