Activity-based learning: Supporting enterprises at a time of crisis

As enterprises in the Asia-Pacific are hard hit by COVID-19, Charles Bodwell, ILO Enterprise Development Specialist for East and South-East Asia and the Pacific, reflects on the ILO’s ongoing support for enterprises through activity-based learning trainings.

Article | 16 April 2021
Factory worker in Thailand involved in ILO's activity-based learning trainings
When COVID-19 hit, we had to halt all in-person trainings while enterprises across the Asia-Pacific region were being heavily impacted, with workers’ jobs and livelihoods at risk. Our training programmes had to quickly adapt to the changing needs and challenges from the pandemic.

Throughout this process, we found the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) activity-based learning model, adjusted for the reality of the pandemic, to be timely and well-suited in supporting enterprises going through COVID-19 challenges and have learned how to better assist them in the long run.

What is activity-based learning?

Activity-based learning is a training model developed by the ILO based on participants carrying out interactive activities from our guides, leading them through a step-by-step discussion on a range of topics.

We provide the frameworks for participants to learn from each other, making sure the issues being discussed are grounded in their reality. Traditional expert-based trainings rely on the trainer’s individual knowledge, where participants have a largely passive experience. In contrast, trainings based on activity-based learning are inspired by active engagement with those taking part, where people are fully participating and helping each other.

The ILO’s use of activity-based learning was first piloted at small start-up trainings in Cambodia, back in 2011. Since then we have gone on to all kinds of different areas, including developing cooperatives, soft skills training in large firms, upgrading factories and helping young people learn entrepreneurship. In addition to working with government ministries and employers’ organizations, we have partnered with NGOs like CARE, Oxfam, Save the Children and Plan International, as well as leading multinationals like Seagate, Nestle, Samsung and Sofitel. These programmes are a great opportunity, especially for organisations which do not have the resources and capacity to provide large-scale expert-based training, to reach large numbers of people with highly participatory, impactful training.

Teaching self-reliance

Youth in Cambodia take part in a workshop on entrepreneurship.
As the saying goes, ‘teach them how to fish and you feed them for a lifetime’; activity-based learning is grounded in the same concept of self-reliance. These programmes provide participants with the skills and tools necessary, from building a business, to working better in a team, to be empowered and resilient.

So far, we have reached over 400,000 beneficiaries, working with a range of partner organizations. The activity-based programmes are low-cost and require little capacity, which has been instrumental in reaching hard-to-reach vulnerable groups. For example, we have worked with refugee communities in the Thai-Myanmar border where camps are difficult to access. There, our Community-Based Enterprise Development (C-BED) tools were taken up by a range of organizations running camps, allowing refugees to learn how to build their own businesses when returning to their home country.

Supporting enterprises and livelihoods during COVID-19

With COVID-19, we quickly moved our training programmes online, which taught us that activity-based and collaborative learning was possible through a screen. After successful pilot sessions, the training modules were simplified and shortened in order to cater to online meeting lengths.

Cambodia Entrepreneurship Day, an annual event the ILO has organized in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS) was held online for the first time, with 1,800 youth working together over a month long period, resulting in over 300 business proposals being submitted. We found this approach to be highly effective and a great model to reach more people, which we look forward to implementing even after COVID-19.

The pandemic has also pushed us to develop a website, the ILO Peer Learning Hub for Enterprises in Asia-Pacific (, where anyone can now download our tools and training programmes for free. By making our resources available to all, it enables a broader range of organizations across Asia and the Pacific to adopt, change and implement them as part of their broader programmes of support.

The future of enterprise development

There is a need for increasingly effective tools that are online, simple and self-guided, which is what the ILO is doing. By continuously tapping into new technologies and knowledge, we are always looking for ways to make it easier for businesses to grow and succeed.

At the same time, with activity-based learning, we have developed an approach that has worked in supporting businesses, from SMEs to large companies, because they are effective, low cost, and easy to adopt. In the future, the ILO will continue to explore the use of ABL-based approaches to trainings that provide value, addressing the needs of a broad range of communities across Asia-Pacific.

To find out more about ILO’s enterprise development in the Asia-Pacific, visit the Peer Learning Hub for Enterprises in Asia-Pacific.