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Guidelines to Effective Training

Teaching can have the greatest effect if it can be carried out easily and can be carried on without great cost or extensive additional equipment after volunteers have left. The more you learn in advance about the learners and subjects of interest the better able you are to tailor your teaching to those who will most benefit. Every volunteer should consider the following teaching guidelines.

  • Keep the teaching simple. Sophisticated dentistry is not practical in most underdeveloped countries due to lack of functioning equipment, lack of materials, and cost—though there is often great interest in learning about advanced techniques.
  • Never assume anything. Know who the learners are and the conditions under which they work. Find out why the teaching is needed and how the learners will use what they have learned after the volunteers have left. Always evaluate to determine whether the audience understood and learned what was taught. Again, remember the principle that what is meant is not always what is understood, and what is heard is not always what the speaker intends.
  • Change comes slowly.

The aim is to teach basics that are easily understood by using simple terminology tailored to the level of the learners. For example, the diagnosis and treatment planning for a periodontal abscess will be approached differently for dental professionals than for a group of rural health care workers. The difference in the two groups, of course, is the levels of education and familiarity with dental terminology. Return visits by volunteer teachers, which hosts greatly appreciate, can be used to evaluate how well the previous teaching has been incorporated by the community. These visits also offer opportunities for volunteers to demonstrate more advanced techniques, if appropriate. Getting off to a good start in the initial visit, however, determines the promise of future visits.