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The Role of the Trainer

How to Begin

In the ASTD Handbook of Training Design and Delivery (2nd edition, 1999), Nancy Maresh argues that trainers should capitalize on the innate nature of the brain to:

  • Seek and perceive patterns
  • Create meanings
  • Integrate sensory experience
  • Make connections

The trainer should aim to:

- become proficient at designing and delivering a dynamic curriculum
- assess learning
- effectively administer true education

Maresh argues that "in the process trainers will release learners' intrinsic drive to acquire knowledge, an admirable outcome from any training."

People come to learn with a variety of previous experiences, needs and skills, so Maresh advises us to create common ground as a first step in the training process - and every subsequent learning segment. By this she means entering into a dialogue with the members of the training group, acknowledging their experience and speaking directly to "the familiar frustrations, joys, and challenges that link up to the learning task at hand."

This is done through a series of questions that highlight the backgrounds of individual members, identify their concerns and gain commitment to the learning process. Maresh suggests 'enrollment' questions beginning with "How many people have ever ..." but not relying on just a show of hands. It is essential to elicit information and comments. Moreover, the trainer should repeat what members have said so that everyone hears and to validate the members who made those statements.

For example, a training session on selection interviewing could begin with enrollment questions such as:

  • How many people here have been trained as interviewers?
  • How many of you have a lot of experience as interviewers, whether or not you have been trained?
  • And how many have very little experience of interviewing?
  • Any with none at all?
  • But surely you all been interviewed by someone else?

Questions such as these should involve everyone in the room and also bring out comments, questions and friendly banter - as well as telling the trainer what level of training will be needed for the group.

The common ground acts as a basis for group awareness. When the audience begin to see themselves as a group, they begin to relax and feel comfortable entering into the learning process together. The stage is now set for the trainer to address what Maresh calls the 'big why' in the trainees' minds. Remember that we are building connections and relating to previous experiences. So the purpose, method and intended results of the training need to be explained in relation to the answers given to the enrollment questions.

The importance of the subject - especially in relation to trainees' own experience - and what can be done with the learned skills when trainees get back to work should be explored.

Then, Maresh advises, the trainer should say something about his or her own background, ideally using a personal story involving the subject of the training session. According to Maresh:

"This connects the leader to the participants in an esssential way. People's experiences are dramatic. They include emotions, mystery, tension, climaxes and humor. When personal stories are recounted, learners emotionally identify with the parts that have meaning to them, and this confirms their commitment to participate. Personal stories bond the audience to the instructor, the course content, and other participants."

She also addresses the logical component of the adult learner's mind by stressing the need to provide an agenda or list of learning objectives at this point. The team members need to know what the outcomes of the course will be.

Excerpts from Chapter 5, The Trainer's Handbook

  1. Evaluating Effectiveness
  2. Short-term Evaluation
  3. Project Sessions
  4. Case Histories and Practice Sessions
  5. Examinations
  6. Types of Exam Questions
  7. Assessment Sessions
  8. Self-evaluation
  9. On-the-Job Evaluation
  10. Long-term Evaluations
  11. Bottom-line Evaluation


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