"Learning is a process, not an event." It was Bob Mosher, American IT Training guru, whom I first heard utter those words. The phrase embodies the long-acknowledged continuum of learning, the continuum that technology is allowing us to monitor and support better than ever before. Just as learning is a process, so too is training—it begins long before and ends long after any given training event. It is with these processes in mind that we must re-examine the function of the classroom trainer.
Even in the midst of this e-pidemic of e-learning, however, there is little doubt that the classroom event will always be an important component of training - not least because trainers will be needed to soften the sometimes hard edges of delivering training via technology. Many classroom trainers are feeling threatened by the e-learning craze where, in fact, opportunities abound for trainers to integrate the skills involved in ILT into other methods of delivery.
Classroom training always has, and always will, do certain things well. For example, it enables broader change issues to be handled, it meets the needs of interpersonal learners, and it offers the chance to learn outside the work environment. The many various options presented by e-learning leave classroom training free to focus on those things it does well. However, because of this 'process' approach to learning, and the way instructor-led training fits into the spectrum of today's learning solutions, the classroom trainer can no longer be confined within the 'event' of a training session and hope to remain effective.
Imagine any other professional in the same situation. What would the practice of medicine be if surgeons were kept to operating room - never knowing why the patient needed surgery, what the aftercare was going to consist of, or what new instruments are at his/her disposal and so forth?
Similarly, keeping trainers confined to the classroom limits their effectiveness, their value to the organisation, and their growth as trainers. The result? Trainer burnout, high turnover, unhappy clients, training departments that get a reputation for not understanding their, or their clients', business.
When asked, "What causes trainer burnout?", trainers offer the same answers. Lack of course and personal development time, the "treadmill" of repetitive courses and heavy schedules, lack of constructive feedback, not being taken seriously and courseware that dictates limited instructor techniques and flexibility. We should expect of - and offer to - our trainers an involvement in training outside of the classroom.
Let's start with the generic skills of a good trainer: communication, listening, support, subject knowledge, understanding, enthusiasm, patience, flexibility, empathy, questioning, humour, evaluation, responsiveness . . . the list is long and familiar.
However, research shows that some of the skills that make the best classroom trainers are skills that are easily honed in other areas of training. James A. Leach, of the University of Illinois examined the "Distinguishing Characteristics Among Exemplary Trainers in Business and Industry". Some of the characteristics that separate exemplary trainers from average trainers are the following:
- Sets goals and objectives for training
- Develops lesson plans
- Conducts needs assessments
- Designs instruction so it is easily understood
- Uses questioning to involve participants
- Blends different training techniques
- Recognises and attends to individual learners
Understanding the principles of instructional design better enables trainers to make necessary adjustments while maintaining the integrity of the course. A trainer who understands good questioning technique can use those skills in such areas as needs assessment interviews or consultancy work.
Involving trainers in the other aspects of training is not a new idea. But it's still not being done as well or as frequently as it could be, and will ever-increasingly have to be. A trainer’s skills can be applied to the broader training practice, not just delivery methods, but the business of training from start to finish. For example:
- Identifying business goals
- Propagating team learning
- Delivering online or CBT training
- Supervising open learning centres
- Designing training activities (course, presentation, etc)
- Training people how to learn on new technology
- Conducting process mapping
- Delivering sales presentations
- Facilitating focus groups
- Conducting interviews
- Designing assessments
- Offering helpdesk support
- Coaching managers to coach
- Supporting knowledge management
The challenge for the ILT business lies in helping trainers evolve beyond the event. We have established the framework of fundamental delivery skills, we have development courses and certifications to ensure that they are propagated. But to move beyond that...
Look carefully at your process of training. Where does it begin? Where does it end? Look carefully at your trainers. Ask them what they need to know and do to be more effective. Trainers are change agents, but too often that change is constrained to the four walls of a classroom. How can a trainer drive change your organisation? How can you make the most of, and for, your trainers?
There is a certain irony in the fact that as trainers, our job is to re-skill others, yet we ourselves are often the last to go through re-skilling. Granted, we focus on updating the 'what' we deliver, but we rarely look so intently at the 'how' or the 'how well' we deliver it, from start to finish. We, in the training industry, ask that our learners learn, unlearn and relearn. We should ask the same of ourselves.