How often have you sat through a lesson / training, only to joke to your classmates at the end of the day, “I do not know how the day passed!”
Sad to say, even after implementation of ACTA by WSG for more than a decade, the industry is filled with trainers who are at best ineffective, at worst, a master-smoker.
How then, can a trainer improve his effectiveness?
To understand how, one needs to appreciate what it takes to create effective learning.
What Makes An Effective Learning?
Basically, a trainer is expected to ensure knowledge is delivered, understood, retained and transferred.
Click the link HERE to view a video on Veritasium that discusses the intricacies of an education.
Therefore, an ineffective trainer fails to achieve one or all of the requirements.
Remember the times when the trainers say, “OK, we are left with 30 minutes and I still have 100 slides, so I will skip this, this and this, you read this on your own, this is not important, this is bullshit, this is just to make up time and… voila! We have completed our training!”
Ineffective trainers fail to deliver when they exceed the timing given. How did that even happen?
Most of the time, trainers who cannot deliver everything required tends to veer off topic and have “rubber band timing”. I used to witness a lesson meant to introduce the basics of alcoholic beverages to new service personnel. The trainer was a Sommelier, and he ended up talking about what makes good terroir, how sparkling wines get their sparkles etc. The information he gave was correct, but at that point of time, it was not relevant to the learners. They only needed to know how to read labels and differentiate between types of wines carried by the company.
Ineffective trainers also veer off topic by telling “grandmother stories”. Yes, it is essential to use anecdotes to relate the content to practical work, but some trainers just have one story too many, or take too many twists and turns to arrive at the learning point.
And then there are trainers who are OK for learners to take 30 minutes of breaks instead of 15 minutes, or give learners unnecessary smoking breaks, toilet breaks, stretching breaks etc.
Trainers who veer off topic usually did not understand the learning materials; when working with trainers, I used to hear them say something like, “I don’t know why this is included in the slide, but urrghhh… I will tell some stories to make up for the time.” For trainers who give too many breaks, they usually did not read the lesson plan, or simply do not possess trainer’s ethics.
To make sure all content is delivered at the prescribed timing, read, read, READ the lesson plan.
After understanding the lesson plan, buy a timer to help keep the time. If a discussion is slated to last for 10 minutes, set the timer so that everyone can hear it go off when time is up.
To help keep to the timing, include timings on the slides to remind yourself of the constraint. Indicate that the class is to spend 20 minutes on the case studies; inform that the video lasts 3 minutes (so that while the video is playing, you can check the time to see if you are faster or slower).
Only if after you went through all of these, do you feedback to the course developer whether the timing given in the lesson plan is realistic.
The next tip is to re-adjust timing, especially when a segment is delivered faster than expected.
Sometimes, learners take shorter time to finish a discussion, or they decided to forgo a break. Many trainers fall into the bad habit of trying to fulfill these timings (if the group discussion is to take 20 minutes, I must only conclude it at 20th minute!), by giving anecdotes (i.e. telling grandmother stories) or drifting into a chit chat session.
An effective trainer is not afraid of concluding sessions early, if the learners are quick to grasp the concepts, so that the extra time can be re-allocated to topics that learners find harder to comprehend or require a longer time to practice.
Ever been through a session when the trainer tries to explain something, looks at the slide and tries to repeat the concept in a different way, then corrects himself, and after a few tries, says. “OK, give me some time to sort this through.”
Most of the time, such trainers just need to read the Facilitator Guide.
However, many ineffective trainers are subject-matter experts who just could not express themselves well, because they used jargons and they jump around concepts. They might also move on to the next topics assuming learners have understood, just because they themselves understood the concepts (lack of framing and sign-posting).
It is difficult to understand the struggle of learners, who are on the other side of the spectrum when it comes to the knowledge to be delivered. Therefore, trainers can only rely on established techniques and tools to cover all grounds.
First, recap, recap, RECAP. This can be done by doing a summary or to conduct an informal assessment.
Stick to the lesson plan and/or slides. When you know you are going into a slide with new topics, use sign-posting to signal that the last topic has concluded. If the next topic is heavy, use framing to help learners organise their mental grasp of the matter. Techniques like acronyms will help.
During recap, ask learners to write down their learning points in post its, or on flip charts. Many learners are shy to acknowledge they failed to understand the topic. When asked to write down the learning points, it forces them to check with their classmates, and the end state is either that they learn from their classmates, or they realise they are not alone.
Basically, we want learners to retain their knowledge, not for the sake of assessments, but so that they can transfer the learning to their workplace. While the ability to remember the contents of the training depends largely on the learners’ inherent capabilities, there are still ways for trainers to improve the retention of knowledge.
In trainer’s jargon, the sessions put aside for this purpose is called Reinforce Learning Outcome in the lesson plan. In layman’s term, it is the RECAP session. As mentioned earlier, it can be in the form of conducting a summary, or to pose overhead questions (simple!).
RECAP can also be conducted with a reflection session; used in conjunction with transfer of learning, asking learners to think through the day’s learning points and pick one to implement in their workplace reinforces such learning.
Of course, during delivery itself, good sign-posting and framing helps, because learners will then be able to recall the learning by relating one topic to the next.
Using a tool called iMPROVE during delivery, or even design of courseware/slides will also help retain learning.
Similar to an anecdote mentioned earlier, we often have trainers who just ends the training abruptly by saying, “OK, we have come to the final slide, it’s time for us to head home!” or be pressured by learners who are packing up their stuff 30 minutes before the training is slated to end.
What these trainers are doing is to short change learners by skipping the session to conduct Transfer of Learning
The trick for trainers to ensure learners transfer learning in their workplace is simple: Go through the session!
For lucky (or responsible) trainers who do conduct the session, ensure that everyone gets to verbalise / present their commitment. It is something like a person deciding to go on a slimming regime and a person who announces his resolve on FB. The latter usually accomplished his goal because he does not want to ‘lose face’ in front of his peers.
Similarly, asking learners to jot down their 3.2.1 (3 points of learning, 2 ways to apply, and 1 immediate application to be committed) is insufficient. Gather the learners to stand around and verbalise their commitment statements. At the very least, they have to verbalise the learning points, so that the knowledge goes through another round of processing.
At the end of the day, being an effective trainer does not require one to be as charismatic as Barack Obama. All the trainer has to do is to carry out what was taught in the ACTA course. Yes, everything I suggested was taught in the course; there was none that was derived from my own personal reading and research.
Disclaimer: I am a casual social commentator, who speaks because it is logical and rational, so my points are not necessarily based on established research and studies. As much as possible, I will refer to theories and knowledge I picked up through formal education. If you do agree to my ideas, please feel free to contaminate others in your social circle. If you disagree, though, it would be good to provide sources and credits, so that I can learn from my mistakes.