How to Be an Effective Trainer

Recently, a colleague of mine started a new job. For the past several years, she had been a corporate learning and development manager; now, for the first time, she would be responsible for training IT people. She asked me if I could recommend any publications or other resources devoted to IT training. Here’s how I replied:

Hi, Mary: Congratulations on the new job! It sounds interesting and challenging.

I am not aware of any resources (publications, blogs, etc.) specifically about IT training. The principles of effective training are the same for IT as they are for any other field:

  • Focus on the learner. Make the training relevant and practical: What should the learner be able to do (not know) after attending the training?

  • Avoid information dumps. If the information is available in written form (documentation, etc.), there’s no need to present it verbally. Instead, the training should focus on practice: Tasks the learner will need to perform back on the job, practice finding information in the documentation, etc.

  • Look for alternatives to instructor-led training. This is especially important if you’re a one-person show and you need to scale: The fastest way to develop a class is to not develop it; a document, screencast, or job aid may be sufficient. You can typically create these much more quickly than an instructor-led class, and once created, they can be used and re-used without requiring any more of your time.

I have found the following resources valuable in learning these principles and selling them to stakeholders:

  •, especially her posts about Action Mapping and using scenarios.

  • This blog is mostly about e-learning, but I like their ideas about moving on from ADDIE, and their Context, Challenge, Activity, Feedback (CCAF) method to keep training focused on the learner.

What advice would you give my friend?

permalink 22 Feb 15 8:50 AM · Comments (0) · Tags: Training
Succession Planning

Imagine that you’re an auto mechanic. After working as a mechanic for many years, you take a job training other mechanics. You get to work in the field you love and the trainees seem to like you. Life is good.

Then your employer is acquired by a larger company. They see the word “trainer” in your title, so they assign you to their training department. The problem is that their trainers are driving instructors; nobody on the team really understands what you do. They ask you to pitch in and teach a driving class now and then, but you still spend the majority of your time training mechanics and your bosses mostly leave you alone, so you stay.

The plot thickens: Your team is reorganized, and you get assigned to a manager responsible for dispatchers. At the same time, the company begins hiring fewer mechanics. Now there’s less demand for you to train mechanics, and the focus of the team shifts to dispatching: “We have two dispatchers out sick today. We need all hands on deck to answer the phones!” Your mechanic skills are underused and becoming obsolete, so you decide to move on.

When you give your two weeks’ notice, your bosses suddenly realize that you perform a critical function that no one else on the team knows how to do. They ask you to document everything you do, and they send driving instructors to attend your mechanic training so they can deliver it (or teach it to someone else) after you’re gone. Yeah, right.

What can we learn from this cautionary tale? If you have an employee who performs a critical function:

  • Make sure you understand that function and appreciate its importance;
  • During one-on-one meetings, ask the employee if they’re satisfied with their job. If not, ask what changes he or she would like to see to make it more satisfactory;
  • Don’t wait until the employee gives notice to try to find and train a successor.
permalink  9 Apr 14 10:30 PM · Comments (0) · Tags: Career, Training
Tip: Use Google to Display a Break Timer

Teaching a class and need a countdown timer to display remaining break time? In the past, I’ve used Microsoft’s (formerly SysInternals’) free ZoomIt utility, whose primary function is to enlarge portions of the screen, but which can also display a break timer. But maybe you don’t need the zoom functionality, or you’re using a PC on which you can’t install additional software. In that case, just visit Google and search for “timer 10 minutes” (replacing 10 with the length of your break). Voilà!

permalink 19 Feb 14 11:00 AM · Comments (0) · Tags: Software, Training

Interesting: “On June 20th 2013, we decided that our 4-day work week at Treehouse wasn’t insane enough so we went further: We removed all Managers… We give all employees 100% control of their time and let them decide what they work on each day.”

permalink 14 Dec 13 8:19 AM · Comments (0) · Tags: Career
Performance Evaluations and Grade Inflation

I recently bought a new car. As I was about to drive off the lot, the salesperson said, “In a few days, you’ll receive an email with a survey to rate my performance today. If you don’t give me a perfect score, it may as well be zero. Say anything you want in the comments, but if you don’t think you can give me all 5’s, let’s talk about it now so I can make it right.” I’ve had similar comments from customer service people at hotels and car rental companies.

How did this happen? When did it become unacceptable to receive anything less than a perfect score?

Making matters worse, the top rating on many of these surveys is, “Exceeded expectations”. If I expect my experience to be problem-free and it is, then the experience met my expectations, it did not exceed them. To exceed my expectations, the employee would have to do something remarkable, above and beyond the norm. It’s unreasonable for a company to expect employees (or for employees to expect themselves) to receive this rating routinely.

When I deliver training, I provide students with a feedback survey. I tell them I don’t mind if they give me less than a perfect score, as long as they explain in the comments why they gave me that score and what I could have done differently to improve it. My goal isn’t to amass a collection of surveys with meaningless perfect scores; it’s to receive honest feedback so that I can (hopefully) improve. I’m sure there’s something about every class that I could have done better; I welcome the opportunity to know what it is.

Update: What prompted this post is that I had my year-end performance review on Friday, and my manager was practically apologetic as she explained that only a small percentage of employees receive a rating of “Exceeds expectations”. Apparently some people are disappointed when they don’t receive the highest rating; they feel that it reflects poorly on their performance. As you may have guessed, I am not one of those people. But then again, I was always satisfied to be a B student. :-)

permalink 14 Dec 13 12:31 AM · Comments (0) · Tags: Career, Rants, Training
Be a Problem-Solver, Not an Order-Taker

This post is talking about software, but the principle applies to any consulting situation, including instructional design:

Just because people ask for something doesn’t mean we should build it… It’s our skill and responsibility as creators and experts to understand and synthesize user feedback into great products, and not slavishly do what our users say, producing one more pointless product after another.

Remember that the next time a client requests “training” focused on delivering information, rather than building skill or changing behavior. As Cathy Moore so eloquently puts it, “Be a problem-solver, not an order-taker!”

permalink 10 Dec 13 5:49 PM · Comments (0) · Tags: Training