In part one of this two-part series, “The rise and fall of the IT trainer,” I noted the trend toward CBT (computer-based training, of whatever ilk) and away from ILT (instructor-led training). That column, aimed at planners and managers of training programs, made a case for considering the benefits of ILT that are just not available in a CBT program.

This week’s column, on the other hand, is aimed at us live trainers. In thinking about the trend toward CBT, I commented, “It’s our own fault.” Well folks, it’s time to consider how this could be true. Better strap in tight; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

All of the costs, none of the benefits
In last week’s column, I listed four benefits of live trainers that can often tilt the balance sheet away from CBT and toward ILT. These were:

  • Live, interactive coaching
  • Energy and enthusiasm
  • Motivation and focus
  • Humanity

My conviction hasn’t changed in a week. I still believe that live trainers can bring all these to the table, and I still believe these are compelling arguments for live training.

The problem is, bluntly, that many of us don’t provide these benefits. Too many of us are barely “live” and barely “training.” In short, when a training manager looks at us, she sees all of the costs of hiring a live trainer, and none of the benefits.

Take “live, interactive coaching,” for example. We don’t interact with our students, and we certainly don’t adjust the curriculum to fit the class’s needs. Instead, we read the book to the class, do a quickie example on the projector, have them do the exercise while we surf the Web, then move on to the next section. Our “teaching” looks like the instructions on the shampoo bottle: Read–Show–Sleep–Repeat. What right-thinking training manager wants to pay $1,000 a day for this?

“Humanity.” Yeah, it’s hard to quantify. But I guarantee that treating your students with barely disguised contempt will give you a negative humanity rating. Too many of us think we are the be-all and end-all of computer knowledge, or at least we act that way around our students. Impatient, condescending, disinterested, and bored—all words that should never be used about a trainer, but which apply to us all too often.

Now for the clinchers: knowledge base and experience base. I know, I know, we can’t all know everything about every product we teach, and experience can be overrated. But is it fair to our students to know less about the product than they do, time and time again? And is it fair to have less experience in the business world, and especially the IT world, than they do, time and time again? At least with CBT, you can preview the presentation, and if the knowledge level is too low, you can send it back.

If you’ve got a room full of students and the instructor is an idiot, what are you going to do? You can cancel the class and reschedule with a different trainer, but it sure makes the training manager look like a dunce.

“You know, that instructor-on-a-CD looks better all the time.”

A call to action
This column is something of a rant. I admit it. I also freely admit that I’m sick and tired of too many of us coming across like the infamous trainer in the Dilbert series. I’m fed up with “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” It’s time to change that to, “Those who can do well can also choose to teach others to do well.” Here are some steps each of us can take to make “professional trainer” a compliment and not a pejorative:

  • Care more about your students than about your paycheck. Yes, we all have to eat and pay the rent. But if you’re not in this for the learners, they’ll know it before the first break. Each person in each class you teach is a fellow human being with his or her own unique needs and drives. A student is not just another desk onto which you are supposed to drop the training manual. Learn to get out of yourself and connect with your students.
  • Know your s#*@. It may be crude, but it says it all. You’ve got to be more knowledgeable than the CBT, and you’ve got to be able to impart that knowledge to the learners. Every teacher worth his or her salt spends time in preparation; great teachers continually review and research, so as to be sure that they are both current in the subject and staying ahead of their classes. You are paid to do the same.
  • Know how to teach. This, I think, is our greatest failing. Many of us are technically proficient, but we know less about teaching techniques than a first-year education major. Classroom management, instructional theory, curriculum design, attributes of the adult learner—where do you stand on these?
  • Set a course of continual professional improvement. Great teachers are great learners. They never stop gathering information, both about their subject areas and about the craft, science, and art of teaching itself. Each of us must be honest about our own abilities and deficiencies, and then develop a plan of improvement. For example, I don’t think I know enough about instructional design, especially some of the recent research. So, I’m contacting some professors at the local university, doing some periodical research, and trying to find one or two good books to read. At the same time I’m reading two new books on one of the subject areas I teach. The responsibility to keep up and keep ahead is the price we pay for calling ourselves “teacher.”

Keep the value in live training
We are not going to stop the movement toward CBT in its many forms. There are times when CBT makes the most sense, even instructionally. If we trainers do what we should do though, we will make it harder for training planners and managers to ignore the benefits of live instruction. Let’s be so good at what we do that they will have to say, “The live training costs more, but you know, it’s really worth it.”

Bruce Maples is an author, trainer, speaker, and consultant living in Louisville, KY.

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