Training the Trainer
It is quite thrilling to be asked for a contribution, for this issue focused on training, by a publication which documents the world of the Autodesk power user. Though this is not the first time I have provided a contribution, the feeling that I experienced, when asked to do so, is about the same as I felt when I was asked to teach my first AutoCAD® class. I recall feeling a small measure of confidence due to my passion for the subject matter, but certain dread at the thought of communicating that passion in an informative manner.
For any subject matter expert, the day will probably arrive when they are asked to transfer their knowledge to others. The required knowledge transfer may be carried out in a live setting, or created for “on-demand” access by learners. No matter how it is presented, there are considerations that any prospective trainer can make, which will increase the ease of that knowledge transfer and provide a positive experience for all involved.
There are many reasons why professional experts are asked to provide training to their peers—possibly despite their lack of training experience. These considerations may simply be budgetary. They may be as complex as the standards and practices that are unique to the organization.
Whatever the reasoning, there can be a level of uncertainty involved in preparing and presenting effective training. This article is intended to provide a primer on the fundamentals of effective training, to help prospective—and possibly terrified—experts to create training that will be well received and retained.
The ‘Bloom’ing Instructor
At the outset of any training experience, the trainer first needs to ask, “Is my target audience going to really learn this?” The answer should be, “Yes, of course!” However, the depth of that learning is up to you to determine. When preparing your training, consider Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning to help determine that depth. There are six levels in the cognitive domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy. The higher up one advances, the closer one is to the mastery of a concept.
“Knowledge,” the most basic level, means that learners can simply remember the presented material. Some trainers may think that this is sufficient—but how many times has an employee broken protocols that they were aware of? “Mastery” may be too much to ask from a lunch-and-learn session, but getting your learners to the higher levels of understanding is not.
Clearly identifying your learning objectives and outcomes to match that intended level of understanding is critical when planning your training. You can define your expectations to your learners by using verbs or action words to describe your intended outcomes. Doing so also provides an ongoing guide to your training as you develop and eventually deliver it.
The VARK Learning Style Modalities
Having set the expectations of your training using the principles of Bloom’s Taxonomy, it’s important to consider the particular learning style of your audience. Even seasoned trainers, with meticulously crafted training materials, can find that they have missed the mark because they did not consider the learning styles of their audience. There are a number of learning style definitions, each with their own merits. For this article I will refer to VARK, an acronym that defines sensory modalities, which describe how learners receive information.
The Visual learner prefers to receive knowledge by way of charts, maps, diagrams, graphs, and symbols. Those with a visual preference will find that a drawn symbol or diagram, which describes the relationship between concepts, to be much more demonstrative than a text-based explanation.
The Aural or Auditory modality is defined by a preference for “heard or spoken” information. Aural learners learn best from lectures, media, and group discussions. Often, aural learners want to sort things out vocally. They may repeat their own words, or those of the trainer—or ask already answered questions. It is critical that trainers identify and accept aural learners, and see this activity as engagement, not as a distraction.
The Read/Write learner prefers that information is displayed in text form. Not surprisingly, many professional trainers prefer this mode of learning. Read/write learners are often well versed in PowerPoint and other text-based software. They make and follow lists, create diaries, and use dictionaries and thesauri.
The Kinesthetic modality refers to learning that is experiential and practical. Kinesthetic learners prefer demonstrations and simulations, case studies, practical studies, and applications.
It is very rare that a learner can be identified by a single learning style. Those who do not have a dominant mode are defined as multimodal. There are two multimodal learning types.
VARK Type One learners can be flexible in how they communicate and can switch between modes depending on what or who they are working with. They prefer context, and choose a single mode to match the situation.
VARK Type Two learners are best served by a learning experience when all of their multiple modalities have been stimulated. They take more time to gather information from each mode. Because of this, they may be seen as procrastinating or careless. However, they often develop a fuller understanding of the subject matter as a result.
Learning Environments—More Than a Location
Although the learning location itself is critical, the type of learning environment that you create will in many ways define the success of your training. There are three environments for learning, which are the most relevant in a professional training setting.
“Active Learning” is the instructional approach that engages learners through study materials. You can keep learners engaged in an active learning environment by creating opportunities for open dialog and activities. Class discussions, debates, or in-class games such as “Jeopardy”—are excellent examples of active learning in the training room.
“Problem-Based Learning” has the learner gain an understanding of a subject by having them experience an open-ended problem. Its main goals are to aid learners in developing flexible knowledge, problem-solving skills, collaboration skills, and intrinsic motivation.
In the “Cooperative Learning” environment, learners work in groups to complete activities that are related to the desired training objective. Unlike individual learning, which can be seen as a competition, cooperative learning can capitalize on each team members’ resources and skills.
With these learning methods, the trainer’s role changes from information provider to facilitator or coach. It should be apparent that the best professional learning sessions are some combination of these three learning environments. The measures of this combination must be considered based on the location, your subject matter, and the intended audience.
Utilizing Learning Cycles
A learning cycle defines how a trainer will structure the class. Although there are a number of learning cycle types, I will focus on the one I use, as part of my experience with the Autodesk Certified Instructor program. The “Lecture / Demonstration / Activity” learning cycle is very effective for all training situations because it can engage all learning style combinations and keeps the training moving. If well timed, you can develop multiple cycles into your session.
The Lecture portion is traditionally the first part of the learning cycle. In this part, you “tell” the learner what you want them to learn. Start with an introduction to the session, state your learning objectives, and expand on those objectives. The lecture material can be reinforced in a handout, or developed on a whiteboard.
In the Demonstration section, you will further “show” the learner the concept, by “doing” it. Here, you will walk through the concept which you discussed in the lecture section, using step-by-step instructions. The demonstration should be appropriately timed and have definable steps. You should also have these steps documented in your training materials, so that the learner is able to review and replicate them in the activity.
The Activity section of the learning cycle empowers learners to work on the concept for themselves. This is also an excellent time to interact with and assess the learners. During this assessment period, you can identify and challenge faster learners, or provide extra attention to slower learners. This assessment time will also help you to confirm that your learning objectives are being met.
Preparation Is Success
Preparation is critical for any training session, but it is especially so if you are asked to create that training as an “on-top-of-your-existing-workload” exercise. Daunting as it may be, it is possible to create engaging and informative training provided that the following simple steps are followed:
- Specify training objectives and outcomes.
- Present subject matter in a logical order.
- Emphasize the most important points. Ask yourself, “What do trainees absolutely need to have or need to know how to do?”
- Customize training materials to reflect your company’s personality. Relate information to your company’s policies and procedures, etc.
- Write a training session plan.
- Plan for Q and A and assessment blocks.
Preparing the Training Space
Training room preparation is extremely important. Even if your training space is a cafeteria or other work area, you need to prepare it properly for your learners. The best learning environments all have sufficient lighting, adequate and comfortable seating, comfortable environmental conditions, and appropriate technical equipment.
Make sure that the area will accommodate the trainees comfortably. No one is happy to learn if they are standing or crowded. Make sure you have enough learning materials for the trainees. Ensure that your technical equipment is working properly. The need for proper preparation cannot be overstated. Trainees will always judge the trainer on how prepared the training environment is, and so they should.
Many times, especially with lectures, training is conducted in front of large groups. This can be an issue for those experts who are not comfortable public speakers. This is a simple process for overcoming speaker nervousness:
- Put everything in perspective. Trainees are there to learn from you. They want you to be a good trainer, because they’ll get more out of the training. Focus on them and their understanding. Don’t worry about “performing.” It’s more than okay to be nervous—it’s great! Nervous energy can create an energetic session, which your learners will appreciate.
- Prepare your body. Familiarize yourself with the training environment, including the lighting, temperature, and layout. Balance your liquid intake so that you avoid a dry throat during class. Avoid drinking too much liquid, for obvious reasons. Finally, you may want to explore mental relaxation or breathing techniques.
- Practice, Practice, Practice. Practice will improve your presentation skills and boost your confidence. Doing so also helps you to prepare for any unexpected technical issues that may occur, and to create contingency plans.
Preparing Your Trainees
Finally, you need to prepare your trainees to ensure a productive training session. You want the trainees to be excited about their investment of time. Consider distributing these pre-training materials to put trainees in a receptive frame of mind and motivated to learn.
- A session agenda with your learning objectives defined. Trainees who might be anxious will be put at ease when they know what will be covered ahead of time. You will benefit when trainees are thinking about the training beforehand.
- Pre-session activities, such as case studies, to go along with the session agenda. You can include simple open-ended questions and ask trainees to be prepared for a brief discussion on the case study.
- Expectation questionnaire, asking what trainees expect from the session. Use the results to customize the session, while still meeting the training objectives.
The Trained Trainer
Being asked to provide training to your peers can be a daunting experience. However, it should be received as a show of trust and confidence by your professional superiors. The ability to invest others with your perspective and experience can be incredibly valuable for your whole organization. Certainly the first of these added values is in time and currency, but there is an added value to internal training. It can create opportunities to boost morale and encourage team growth. Finally, a well-crafted and delivered training session will build trust and pride in your learners towards the organization, which is possibly the most beneficial byproduct of a well-trained team.
William Myers is the Technical Systems Manager with Global eTraining, a world leader in online skills training.He is an Autodesk Certified Instructor for AutoCAD, Revit Architecture, and Inventor, and continues to express his passion for training and CAD/BIM at Digital School, an Autodesk Training Centre in Edmonton Alberta. William has grown with both organizations and their mother company, Brattberg Enterprises, which recognized him as their Employee of the Year for 2016.