Which attribute is most important in a good trainer, technical knowledge or human relations skills? You’ve probably taken classes taught by an instructor who was strong in one of these areas and weak in the other. Either way, you probably weren’t pleased.
The techie who can talk bits and bytes a mile a minute leaves the student in the dust and may alienate or intimidate the adult learner. On the other hand, the warm and fuzzy, feel-good instructor who doesn’t know the subject can be equally frustrating. Neither one is entirely successful at promoting learning.
Weighing human and technological skills
When hiring a professional instructor, you have the right to expect a good balance of technical and interpersonal skills. Don’t accept someone who doesn’t have that blend.
However, when recruiting volunteers from within your company to assist with training projects, you can’t always throw these potential trainers back. Sometimes you’re lucky just to have someone assigned to the project at all.
But, if you do have some say in the selection of new candidates for a training position, you can build technical knowledge in a person faster and easier than you can develop the human characteristics that make up a good trainer (if that is possible at all).
Here are the qualities that I look for in candidates for an in-house training project, assuming that the individual may have no experience teaching and is not a technical expert in the subject he or she will be teaching. I would also seek these qualities in any experienced instructor.
Adult learners are sensitive to criticism, whether direct or implied. Students come to class with many skills, and they need to feel comfortable enough to admit what they don’t know in order to learn. If the instructor shows impatience or rushes past a question or misses a confused look, the student may just shut down and write off the training as “not worth it.”
People with experience in teaching or coaching in any walk of life may already know that they enjoy leading a class. However, regardless of experience, a trainer needs to be genuinely interested in helping others learn. People who are more interested in showing off what they know, or establishing themselves as the authority, will probably not pay attention to whether or not the students are “getting it.”
Anyone who truly likes people has the potential to become an effective teacher. Conversely, someone who doesn’t wish to help others cannot create an environment conducive to learning by encouraging questions and dialogue necessary to discover and learn. Along with generosity, look for maturity and the ability to create rapport with a group of peers regardless of past experience. All students in the classroom deserve equal respect and opportunity to learn.
A willingness to learn
A good teacher will be the first to recognize and admit what he does not know himself. The insecure person who views a lack of knowledge as a character flaw or weakness will not be useful in the role of a teacher. Your potential trainer needs to be willing to accept coaching to become a better trainer. He or she must also be willing to invest the time and discipline required to learn the subject.
A helpful attitude
In the classroom, the trainer needs to do whatever it takes to facilitate learning. A good instructor serves the needs of the learners, without the students necessarily being aware of that service. Look for a willingness to contribute to the success of the other trainers on the project as well as to the ongoing success of the students after training.
New trainers learn a lot during their first few classes. They need to have a perspective that enables them to get back up in front of a class tomorrow even if today’s class did not go well. It also helps new trainers if a veteran trainer or coach can hold a debriefing after class and share “war” stories of the day.
Your potential trainer obviously needs to have time to teach and prepare for teaching. If there are competing priorities, or perhaps a supervisor who thinks training consists of just standing up and explaining what you know, your candidate will not be able to be effective. Preparation takes time, from mastering the software to making sure the computers are running before class starts. Depending on the situation and the staffing, making photocopies of the courseware and even writing documentation may be included in the job. You may need to have trainers available for teaching occasionally after the software implementation or upgrade is complete, as well.
A positive attitude
Trainers can either sell or sabotage their subject matter. You need a candidate who is committed to making the implementation or upgrade successful, regardless of any imperfections in the system.
The best instructors come from the daily environment of the students and understand their work processes and procedures. This background information gives them the ability to enhance what the students already know. Instructors will not gain credibility without the ability to speak the students’ language and clearly explain how the new information and skills will meet on-the-job needs.
In my favorite book on the subject, The Complete Computer Trainer, Paul Clothier sums these criteria up better than anyone else I’ve read:
“…computer training is more about communicating and relating than it is explaining facts. It is as much about empathy, patience, and respect as it is technical know-how. This book has the word Complete in the title because it looks at the character and qualities of the trainer as well as the tools and techniques that the trainer uses. The tools and techniques, although very important, are the icing on the cake—the real substance of computer training, the cake itself, is the character and personality of the trainer.”
Look for the human skills first. They took a lifetime to develop. Technical and presentation skills can be learned in a matter of weeks.
Margaret Elwood is the Technical Training Administrator for Technology Support Services, a firm based in Everett, WA.Have you been assigned the task of developing training and technical skills in someone who doesn’t have formal experience in either area? How did you go about it? Did you create a monster or a masterpiece? Send us your stories so we can share them with other TechRepublic members.