Today I had the dubious pleasure of attending a traditional training course. You know the type: Trainer stands at the front, his laptop and projector setup. The training is focussed on showing you how to do something in a piece of software. I could be cranky, I could be bored, I could tweet about how bad it is (okay I did that), but I also decided to observe and try to notice why the training was so awful, and maybe what I could learn from it as tips to help myself and others not fall into the same traps.

Here are my 6 tips to make sure your training doesn’t suck 🙂

Telling is not teaching

Stating facts that you know is not the same as teaching. It can probably be called lecturing – but don’t let the fact that it’s done at universities confuse you with the idea that it helps you learn. People have a different mental model than you. You need to help them fit the new knowledge into their mental model not just tell them yours. There are many techniques to do this, far more than can fit into this post, so do some research. If you are talking more than 75% of the time, chances are you are just lecturing not teaching.

Encourage questions

Let learners know you are there to help them learn and understand. This takes more than just saying feel free to ask any questions. Those of you who know me, know that I’m not the shy type:) I quite enjoy heckling in talks and training sessions. I’m usually comfortable asking anyone anything if I don’t understand. For the first time today I felt myself holding back from asking questions, hoping I’d just figure it out for myself. The trainer was quite happy for people to ask questions, but for some questions he would say “LISTEN to me” and then repeat exactly what he had just said, which didn’t really answer the question. Make sure you understand what people don’t understand, and then use different language or a different explanation.

Add references on the go

I know I’m guilty of this one, because I know we have a flip chart at the end of a session with links etc. But I noticed today how annoying it is when someone says I’ll give you a link or reference for that later. By the time you get the reference you forgot why you wanted it. I’ve seen this done very successfully by having a resource sheet up on a wall and having the trainer add things as they come up. That way you can note down the ones you care about, in your notes about the topic you care about.

Keep people engaged

I spent much of today’s training doing something else (tweeting, starting this blog post, checking email etc). Mostly because the trainer was helping one person with a problem and hadn’t given the rest of us anything to do. As a result I got bored and context switched. This was made even worse by the fact that I had my laptop in front of me so literally had the whole internet to distract me. Sharon Bowman talks about ‘Sponge Activities’ which soak up time when you need to help individuals. Give the rest of the group a task to do that will help their understanding and engagement while you are busy. Make sure you check for signs that people have moved on to something else, and give your attention back to the group.

Use your time wisely

Most people’s time is their most valuable asset, don’t waste it. Try not to spend your time explaining something that people could understand just as well by reading it. For example how to browse to a website on your computer (maybe unless you are teaching Internet to grannies). If you are doing practical software based training, explain the workflow and concepts without the software, then give people a task to do themselves, and let them ask for help if they get stuck. Spending 20 minutes filling in a form with 12 cells as a group is unnecessary and annoying to just about everyone.

Know your audience

At the start of any training session find out about the experience of the people in the room. This will help you know if you can use industry buzzwords or not. If you need more or less explanation on particular items. If you should spend more time on basic or advanced topics. If you have both ends of the spectrum, use it to your advantage. Pair experts with novices and get the experts to help the novices, both end up learning from the experience. Also make sure people know what you will cover at least roughly. There is nothing worse than someone realising 2 hours into a training session that you aren’t going to cover the one thing they actually care about, and perhaps they shouldn’t have come at all.

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