Head of the class: Creating dynamic training programs

After a new trainer has created a class outline, it's time to get down to the guts of the class. Wendy Finger offers advice on how help from an expert can strengthen training classes and how feedback can start a trainer off on the right foot.

You’ve hired a trainer and started him or her down the path of good classroom management. Your new hire has a slate of new classes to teach and has assembled an outline for each one. Now it’s time for the fun part: building a full-blown interactive lesson.
In this series, Wendy Finger has covered how to hire a new trainer, how to develop classroom management skills, and how to create classes using an outline format. In this article, she wraps up the series with these tips for developing an engaging and productive class.
Turning practice into action
Creating a course outline is not my favorite part of curriculum development. It is, however, essential to a strong program. The fun part is developing the course around the outline. It’s kind of like getting to slam-dunk the ball after two hours of passing, dribbling, and running drills.

Any honest basketball coach will tell you that it is not possible to teach a player how to slam-dunk a ball. The player just knows how. You may think this is a stretch, but I’d say the same is true for training managers and curriculum development. Managers can show new trainers the fundamentals of outlines and lesson plans. But the razzle-dazzle of training isn’t taught; it comes from the heart. I love bringing a training concept to life. I love even more watching someone else do it for the first time.

An individualized approach to learning by doing
Unlike my view on course outlines, I never approach the process of course development the same way twice. I always try to take a trainer’s personality into account when giving out the first training assignment. I want an individual’s first module to be a resounding success, and there are some general guidelines I share with novice course developers.

I believe strongly in learning by doing. Once a trainer has a strong outline, the course can be created quickly at a basic level. Content, graphics, and activities should be kept as simple as possible. The first version of a training program does not need to be a major event.

Help from an expert user
To build accurate content, I pair the trainer with a subject matter expert (SME) for advice and peer review purposes. The SME helps the trainer gain the technical and/or subject matter insights necessary to succeed in the classroom. I ask that the SME meet with the trainer three times during the development process.

In the first meeting, the subject expert should give the trainer a general overview of a product. It is a technical version of a train-the-trainer session. The second session provides an opportunity for the SME to review training material before the course is complete. The SME should be able to determine if the trainer has a strong understanding of subject matter and can help problem-solve any difficult areas. The last session allows for a final review of all class material, as well as a final question-and-answer session.

SMEs can stay partnered with a trainer into the early stages of instruction. Sometimes it is helpful to offer a pilot class with a resident expert. This gives the trainer a good comfort level and frees the trainer to focus on facilitation skills. As a resident expert, the SME is a silent observer who fields questions only if the trainer cannot.

There is the possibility that an SME can overtake a class and become the trainer. An SME should be in a classroom with a trainer only if the SME is clear on his or her role. Another role of an SME is to serve as a coach and provide feedback to the trainer.

Feedback is vital for improvement
Feedback also should come from the class participants. The best responses come from evaluation forms. My favorite form questions are:
  • What did you like best about the class?
  • How can we improve the content?

I am not as concerned with ratings scales, although I do pay attention to extreme responses (either all excellent scores or all poor scores). I discuss evaluations with new trainers, and we brainstorm about how to build from the foundation of the first class. Key questions to ask during the brainstorming session are:
  • How can we make this information more relevant for practical and business-related use?
  • How can we make the training more hands-on?
  • How can we make the class more fun?

I do not have answers to those questions. I just want to pose them. My training staff was picked for their instincts. I want to let them use those instincts.

After about three classes, I observe the instruction myself. After my observation, there is another brainstorming meeting. Too much oversight can stifle creativity and productivity. After these initial jump-starts, I end the development phase of my train-the-trainer program. From time to time, I will pop into a class, just to see all the great things the trainers are doing.

Now that we’ve covered hiring and skills development, you should have a good idea of how to approach these tasks. For more information on train-the-trainer models, check out these sites:
How do you help your staff with course development? How much monitoring or checking do you do to make sure trainers are on the right track? Share your experiences with us so we can help other training managers with their jobs.

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