Batteries Not Included: Not All Trainers are Instructional Designers or Classroom Facilitators

When I left the manufacturing shop floor and moved into training, full-time trainers presented in the classroom using a host of techniques, tools and relied on their platform skills to present content.  Subject matter experts (or the most senior person) conducted technical training on the shop floor in front of a piece of equipment, at a laboratory station, or a workbench. 

For years, this distinction was clearly practiced where I worked.  Trainers were in the classroom and SMEs delivered OJT.  Occasionally a “fulltime” trainer would consult with an SME on content or request his/her presence in the room during delivery as a back-up or for the Q & A portion of a “presentation”.  It seemed that the boundaries at the time, were so well understood, that one could determine the type of training simply by where it was delivered.

Training boundaries are limitless today

Today, that’s all changed.  No longer confined to location or delivery methods, fulltime trainers can be found on the shop floor fully gowned delivering GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) content for example. And SMEs are now in the classroom more each day with some of the very tools used by fulltime trainers!   What defines a fulltime trainer from an SME is less important, what is necessary however is what defines effective instruction.

Your title might have the word trainer in it.  One of your responsibilities might be a qualified trainer. And you know how to use PowerPoint (PPT). Does this make you an Instructional Designer as well?  Some say yes and others cry foul as they cling to their certificates and advanced degrees. So, forgive me when I say, not every Trainer or Training Manager has the skill set or ID competency embedded in his/her toolbox.   It’s analogous to the toy box on the shelf at Toys R Us – “NOTE: Batteries Not Included”.  Except in our case, the note may be missing from the resume, but definitely embedded into the job description if you are QA L&D or HR Training and Development.

Instructional Design is a recognized profession 

Instructional Design (ID) as a field of study has been offered by many prominent universities for quite some time and is now more known as Instructional Technology.  Underlying the design of a course or a learning event, is a methodology for “good” instructional design and really good instructional designers will confess that there is a bit of an art form to it as well.  Unfortunately, with shrinking budgets and downsized L&D staff, there are less resources available to develop traditional course materials of the past.  Not to mention, shrinking timelines for the deliverables.  So, it makes sense to tap SMEs for more training opportunities since many are already involved in training at their site.  But, pasting their expert content into a PPT slide deck is not instructional design. 

What is effective design? 

Basic Elements of Course Design

To me, effective design is when learners not only meet the learning objectives during training but also transfer that learning experience back on the job and achieve performance objectives / outcomes.  That’s a tall order for an SME, even for fulltime trainers who have not had course design training. 

The methodology a course designer follows be that ADDIE, Agile, SAM (Successive Approximation Model), Gagne’s 9 Conditions of Learning, etc., provides a process with steps for the design rationale and then development of content including implementation and evaluation of effectiveness.  It ensures that key elements are not unintentionally left out or forgotten about until after the fact like evaluation/ effectiveness or needs assessment.  In an attempt to expedite training, these methodology driven elements are easily skipped without fully understanding the impact of leaving them out can have on the overall training effectiveness.  There is a science to instructional design. 

PowerPoint Slides are only a visual tool

Using PowerPoint slides by themselves does not make the training successful.  It’s one of the main tools a trainer uses to meet the objectives of the learning event, albeit the main one. The “art form” occurs when a designer creates visually appealing slides / eLearning scenes as well as aligned activities and engaging exercises designed to provide exploration, practice, and proficiency for the performance task back on the job.  But there is a difference between a course that is created to help the Trainer achieve his/her agenda and one that successfully engages learners to participate, learn and then transfer their insights back home to the job where changed behavior improves the department’s metrics.

The more trainer/instructor driven the course is, the less participation is required from the learner. For example, the instructor makes all the decisions about the course objectives and content, develops the course, delivers the course, and conducts the assessment.

From passive to active to immersive

As you move along the Learner Participation Continuum, the learner is required to participate more, and the trainer does less “talking”. The learner acquires knowledge and skills through activities that s/he experiences with the assistance of a “facilitator”.  The facilitator is focused on helping the learners meet their needs and interests. It is through these firsthand experiences and facilitated dialogue with other learners that thoughtful analysis and interpretation can become the focus of the instruction. The end result is that learners take full responsibility for decisions, actions and consequences.

Moving from Presenter Controlled Training to Learner Focused Facilitation

Moving to a more Learner Focused approach shifts the effort of the design from “deliver this content” to facilitate learning transfer for performance back on the job; which is after all the end goal for a training event. The new design includes opportunities for group participation, utilization of participants’ expertise, and real-life problem solving; key principles of adult learning.

On the one end of the continuum is the lecture which is one-way communication and requires very little participation.  At the other end, we have experiential learning and now immersive learning environments with the introduction of 3D graphics, virtual simulations, and augmented reality.

Most Trainers and SMEs tend to suffer from the “curse of too much knowledge” and find it difficult to separate the need-to-know from the nice-to-know content.  As a result, it shows up in the slide deck with overburdened slides filled with a lot of “stuff”.  Training for them takes on a lecture-style format. The thought of facilitating an activity gives most SME a case of jitters and anxiety.

So, in the “SME as Facilitator” workshop, nominated SMEs as Facilitators are encouraged to step away from the podium and use their eyes, hands, and voice to engage with their audience. Easier said than done, yes. That’s why the course is designed to allow them to take small steps within the safety of a workshop environment.

But rather than trying to pull off a fully immersive session, SMEs as Facilitators are introduced to techniques that “liven up” the lecture. They are shown how to move back and forth from passive listening (sit, hear, see) to active involvement (write, construct, discuss, move, speak). This requires the ability to:

  • follow a well-organized design plan
  • capture and hold the attention of learners
  • use relevant examples and deviations if possible
  • show authentic enthusiasm
  • involve audience both directly and indirectly
  • respond to questions with patience and respect.

While lecture has its merits, today’s learners want engaging content; that is timely, relevant and meaningful.  And while virtual reality and simulations are engaging and very immersive, courses and learning events using these techniques rely on well-funded budgets.  Most Training Departments are not that fortunate.   In the middle of the range are “lively lectures” and alternate methods such as:

  • Shift one step to right to begin the move to active learningDemonstrations
  • Case Study
  • Guided Teaching
  • Group Inquiry
  • Read and Discuss
  • Information Search.

Take the 1st shift right.

It’s really about starting with the learners’ expectations and the current organizational culture and then moving one step to the right. If they are used to lectures from SMEs, then work on delivering effective lectures before experimenting with alternate training methods. The overnight shift may be too big of a change for the attendees to adjust to despite their desire for no more boring lectures. Small incremental steps are the key.

Shift to the right when ready for the upgrade

Moving from Lecture to Delivering an EFFECTIVE Lecture

Thoroughness in the preparation reflects care and thoughtfulness. Learners appreciate the personal desire to deliver a livelier lecture. Stepping away from the podium forces the Trainer/SME to take action and allow the learners to “get up close” with the SME as Facilitator. This in turn is reflected in the learner’s desire to respond to questions and dialogue during a facilitated discussion. The rule of thumb for lecturing is approximately 8-10 minutes max. For virtual sessions, the rule of thumb is approximately 5 minutes. 

Take the 2nd Shift: Cut Content to Add Interactivity

How is this done? Upfront in the design of the course materials. The course designers have spent time and budget to prepare a leader’s guide that captures their vision for delivering the course.  SMEs as Facilitators (Classroom SMEs) need to study the leader’s guide and pay attention to the icons and notes provided there. These cues indicate the differentiation from lecture, to an activity whether that be self, small group, or large group. While it may be tempting to skip exercises to make up for lost time, it is better for learner participation to skip lecture and modify an activity if possible.

“STOP TALKING and get learners engaged in some form of activity, practice or reflection exercise”, Vivian Bringslimark, HPIS Consulting, Inc. 

One of the benefits of shifting to this learner focused design is the opportunity for learners to process the content, to make it meaningful for themselves and then associate memory links to it for later recall when the moment of need is upon them.  This can’t happen while the trainer is lecturing.  It happens during activities and reflection exercises designed to generate their own ideas during small group interactions and link it back to the course content/objectives.  Learners are prompted to openly discuss issues and problems within a “learning lab” style environment. Trainers become empathetic listeners as they create a climate of trust and safety. They become a Facilitator.

Of course, this shift also requires that site leadership and local management not only support the facilitated learning lab concept but follow through on issues and concerns that surface. Failure to do so undermines not only the facilitator’s credibility but the entire training program.

Wow, won’t this take longer to design, you ask?  Yes, in the sense that the design is now from the learner’s point of view. This means that the designer will need to research examples, collect data, and might have to develop a story from an incident, a deviation or significant CAPA, etc. The reward is that the Trainer/ Classroom SME stops talking and gives employees more engaging learning sessions. So learners become more accountable for participating and guess what – the SME’s session is no longer a boring podium speech

References:

Silberman, M. (1990). Active Training: A Handbook of Techniques, Designs, Case Examples, and Tips.  Lexington Books, New York.

Who is the Author, Vivian Bringslimark?

HPISC Library has articles, impact stories and white papers.

SME Impact Story: The Real Meaning of TTT

White Paper: Step Away From the Podium

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.