In “Meeting professional training standards,” I mentioned that we are going to spend a few weeks looking at the various ibstpi Competencies. I gave you a history of the International Board of Standards for Training, Performance, and Instruction (ibstpi) and the Competencies themselves, and pointed out that they form the basis for a number of Train the Trainer courses and certifications, including the Certified Technical Trainer cert offered by the Chauncey Group.

There are actually three different sets of Competencies: one for the instructor, one for the training manager (the person supervising the instructor), and one for the instructional designer. We will take a look at each set, and I’ll share some thoughts on the relevance of the Competencies to today’s training world, as well as point out some areas that most of us fall short in.

I’ll be working from the Competencies volumes that the Chauncey Group publishes. If you want your own set, be sure to visit their Web site to order them for yourself. As I’ve said before, I feel strongly that every training organization (and every trainer) should have these volumes in the library for both reference and for setting the bar for the organization.

A first look
If you glance over the Instructor Competencies (listed in Table A), your first thought may be, “Well, of course.” After all, these fourteen Competencies are not exactly rocket science; every one of them is a fundamental part of being a good instructor. That is, after all, what they were designed to be—a base set of standards for instructional quality that everyone can agree on and that can be applied across all instructional settings.

  1. Analyze course materials and learner information.
  2. Assure preparation of the instructional site.
  3. Establish and maintain instructor credibility.
  4. Manage the learning environment.
  5. Demonstrate effective communication skills.
  6. Demonstrate effective presentation skills.
  7. Demonstrate effective questioning skills and techniques.
  8. Respond appropriately to learners’ needs for clarification or feedback.
  9. Provide positive reinforcement and motivational incentives.
  10. Use instructional methods appropriately.
  11. Use media effectively.
  12. Evaluate learner performance.
  13. Evaluate delivery of instruction.
  14. Report evaluation information.

Now take another look. Ask yourself some questions, such as:

  • Can I do every one of these at an adequate level?
  • Can I do every one of these at an exceptional level?
  • Can I do every one of these at an exceptional level in a difficult setting?
  • Can I do every one of these if they take away my overhead projector, my courseware, and the course prerequisites?

Hmmm…getting a little tougher, aren’t they? That’s why I’m so excited about this list—the more you get into it, the more you see, and the more thoughts and ideas it starts stirring around in your head.

Frankly, I consider myself a pretty good teacher, and I don’t hit every one of these at 100 percent. If you do—all the time and in every setting—then you are probably beyond the scope of this column, and you need to be writing pedagogy books for the rest of us.

Expanding the list
As I noted earlier, I am working from the CTT manuals put out by the Chauncey Group. In these manuals, each of the Competencies is broken down further into component performances, and each component performance is broken down further into conditions required, the actual behavior to be performed, and criteria to be met. There are three kinds of performances for each Competency:

  • Do something.
  • Judge the effectiveness of what you did.
  • Provide a rationale for what you did.

I have included an example in Figure A. As you read through this example, remember that this is just one component performance out of nine for that one Competency, and that every one of the Competencies is broken into multiple performances, each of which is broken down like the example.

Is it easy to read? Not necessarily. In fact, it occasionally strikes even this sympathetic reader as too heavy on the educationalese. By and large, though, the overriding impression I get as I read through the Competency breakdowns is that here is a well-stated, complete picture of excellent teaching.

As someone who strives to be the best teacher I can be, it challenges and excites me to see the bar set this high. Please click through to the second page of this article for my parting thoughts for the week.

The Competencies we too often lack
It is probably obvious to you that we could take each Competency and spend an entire column (or two) delving into its meaning and ramifications. In fact, over the next year, we will return to these on a regular basis, as we continue to explore what good teaching and good technical training look like. For now, though, I want to point out two of the Competencies that I think are especially lacking in many technical training environments.

1. Analyze course materials and learner information.Most of us, I’m afraid, not only do not do this, but we are incapable of doing it effectively. Can you look at course materials and discern the educational rationale behind the course design? Can you analyze an exercise not to make sure it can be done, but to make sure it achieves a certain instructional goal? Most of all, can you take a set of learners, find out enough about them to know what they truly need, then analyze a set of materials and determine whether or not the materials will meet the needs of this particular group of learners?

I am convinced that many technical trainers are nothing more than instructors: they are capable of teaching a given course using a given set of courseware, but nothing more than that. They are not educators; they know nothing of educational theory, instructional design, or pedagogy. Can they get the job done adequately? Usually. Can they create a lesson on their own, adjust a lesson to meet learners’ needs, or make up an entirely new activity that is not lecture-based and state a rationale for why they did it? Probably not.

10. Use instructional methods appropriately.This is related to my comments about number 1. If one knows nothing of pedagogy, one cannot choose a different methodology when the chosen one doesn’t fit. As a group, we trainers are in a huge methodological rut: lecture–exercise–lecture–exercise, ad infinitum, until we get to the back of the book.

Let’s face it—it is our lack of creativity in the technical training classroom that is part of the reason instructor-led training is on the decline. If we knew our craft better, and insisted on better, more creative courseware, all the spinning paper clips in the world would have a harder time winning over converts. Unfortunately, I’m afraid too many of us are caught up in the fly-in-and-teach-fly-out-and-pay-me mode, and are too little interested in being better, more professional teachers.

That’s why I am excited about the Competencies, and why I’m going to be pushing them: To encourage all of us to a higher standard of educational excellence. Put them up on the wall, use them for evaluations, talk about them, write about them. Let’s be as Competent as we can be!
Bruce Maples is an author, trainer, speaker, and consultant living in Louisville, KY. To share your thoughts on the issue of Competencies, please post a comment below or follow this link to write to Bruce.