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Home / Articles / The Case for Training our Trainers

The Case for Training our Trainers

By Perry Giles

Does this conversation sound familiar?

“You know, you are really good at what you do and you seem to be able to really get your coworkers up-to-speed nicely. We would like you to start teaching some of our classes on this topic?”

“Um, okay. Sure, I enjoy teaching people new things. I can give it a go.”

“Great! Here is your PowerPoint deck. Get familiar with it, your first class is next month. Let me know if you have any questions, you’re going to be great.”

All too often this is the introduction our new trainers get to their new role. They have been very successful in their field and they are great at just-in-time training of their coworkers, so now we would like them to train larger groups. After all, there is just no one else with their wealth of knowledge in their field so who better to train others?

What happens then? Our new trainers do the best they can, they study and study those PowerPoint decks, then they get into class and spend an hour, a day, a week, reading from the PowerPoints. They got through them all, the people in class liked the instructor, and all is well with the world. Everybody can check that box. But did the students learn anything? They got a bunch of information, we might have had some activities (if those were built into the course already) but did they really learn? A week after leaving class, how much do they remember? Are they doing anything differently? How about a month after the class?

Why do we do this to our new trainers? Is it because we don’t have the time to teach them how to train, or maybe that is the way it was handed to us when we got started so we don’t know another way, it is just the way it has always been. If you think back through your school career and even much of your job training, most of it was probably lecture/presentation. It is what we are used to, we probably don’t think much about it because it is all we have known. But for adult learners, this is the least effective way to learn (not to mention our children, but that is a story for another day).

In this scenario, we are creating competent presenters but not very good trainers or facilitators. What is the difference between a presenter and a trainer/facilitator?

A presenter:

  • Presents information.
  • Engages in one-way communication, from presenter to the audience.
  • Is usually selling or informing the audience.
  • Has limited interaction between themselves and the audience or between audience members.
  • Asks very few questions or questions are only asked by the audience during a Q&A time period.
  • Relies primarily on PowerPoint and printed materials.

A trainer/facilitator:

  • Creates a team environment.
  • Promotes two way communications, between the trainer and the students and amongst the students.
  • Has the objective of changing behaviors and increasing the skills of the students.
  • Asks questions to evaluate learning and to promote group involvement.
  • Guides the learning of the studentsm allowing them to discover the answers and practice their new skills.
  • Uses a wide range of visual aides, props, simulations, and activities to promote the learning environment.

Now, there are times when we need each of these skills. There are times when we just need to present information. But when we present, we can only expect our learners to be aware of something; if we expect them to do anything new, we must go beyond presenting to facilitating our students’ learning. A true adult learning environment led by an experienced instructor blends these styles into an engaging and active learning environment.

But how do we get there? First, we must break our ingrained habit of presenting and our dependence on PowerPoint as our primary tool in the classroom. We do this by going back to the basics and learning what adult learners need in order to really learn and apply new skills. We go back to the models and the theories that explain why and how we all learn. We examine the Lobes of the Brain, the Learning Cycle, the different Learning Styles and our Seven Smarts. Then we practice, practice, practice applying these models to short trainings. And, we don’t use PowerPoint (gasp!), we use our creativity to come up with other teaching tools and visual aides to help our learners learn. As we apply new knowledge and get better, we add other tools to our tool box: asking purposeful questions, mixing up our instructional modes, building and teaching to learning objectives, and checking that our students are getting the new knowledge they need.

Now, you may be saying, “This sounds like an awful lot of work!” And it is, but in order to truly become the powerful trainers we need to be we must first get back to the basics so we can then apply our tools (yes, including PowerPoint) appropriately to engage our students and transfer new knowledge and skills.

Think back to how we learned as young children. When we are very little, we learn by doing. We don’t watch a video on walking, we don’t just have someone talk to us about the alphabet, we do these things—over and over—until we have learned them. In school we learn the rules of math or language (the methods, theories, and models). Then we learn the tools (calculators, Excel, Word, etc.) so that as adults we can best select the tool that we need to get the job done. As we advanced through school, everything became more presentation and less doing, which drives our behavior as trainers now. Becoming the best trainer we can be has to be approached the same way we learned as young children. We cannot select the tool first (PowerPoint) before we know the rules, the methods, and the theories of how our learners learn.

New trainers will probably always be handed a PowerPoint deck and told to go teach. But to become a powerful trainer, to truly facilitate our students’ learning, you must ask the question, “What is it that we want the learner to do differently when they leave my class?” and plan our classes, and the tools we use, to meet that objective. When we all do that we will change the way our students learn and apply their new skills, benefiting them and their organizations.

Perry Giles has more than 20 years of project management experience and over 30 years in technical and educational environments. In the classroom, Perry applies his training, negotiation, and collaboration skills as he facilitates Lean, Train?the-Trainer, change leadership, innovation, and leadership development courses.