Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tips for the New Year Part 2: Train-the-trainer

Last week in Many Ways to Learn, I discussed how Learning & Development departments that are operating in a “leaner and meaner” mode after 2009 will need to get creative this year about how to handle tactical functions such as course development and delivery. Last week’s blog entry covered tips on how to manage an outsourced e-Learning project. This week’s topic is how to conduct a train-the-trainer session for new or occasional trainers.

Train-the Trainer

Throughout my career, I have managed a number of projects in which it was necessary to have people who were not training professionals deliver training. Without proper preparation, projects like these could be a disaster. But by taking appropriate steps to prepare individuals who are selected to be trainers on how to deliver the training, these projects can be both successful and rewarding.

Fortunately for me, a number of years back I had the privilege of earning the credential of Master Certified Instructor from Achieve Global. This means I have been deemed qualified to certify others to deliver programs from their leadership development line. Over the years, I have conducted a number of Achieve Global certification programs. The techniques I learned from the training they provided me and through the experience of delivering these certifications has been invaluable to me. I have used them over and over again on projects in which I have had to rely on a contingent group of inexperienced facilitators to deliver training.

Here are some of the key activities that have helped me to make those occasional trainers successful:

Establish Criteria for Identifying Trainers – This will have a huge impact on the success or failure of your project. People who you are relying on to deliver training must be willing, able, and available to do the job. Being able means hey have appropriate subject matter expertise, presentation, and facilitation skills. Being willing means they are enthusiastic about the role. (There is nothing worse than attending training delivered by a reluctant trainer.) Finally, being available means that they can commit to delivering the number of programs you need them to deliver within the timeframe identified for your project.

Provide a Solid Package of Course Materials – Expert trainers who have knowledge of a given topic can often get away with “winging it.” That is not the case with novices. They will need a complete package of training materials that are clearly written and easy to follow in order to be successful. This should include an instructor guide, participant materials, handouts, job aids, and other media as appropriate.

Conduct a Modeling Session – One of the best ways for people to learn what is expected of them is to provide them a good model of successful delivery. Your train-the-trainer candidates should first experience the program they will be asked to deliver from the point-of-view of a participant. This will give them a good frame of reference for understanding the expected outcomes of each activity or discussion so they can figure out how best to manage them.

Review Facilitation Techniques – In addition to understanding the content they will be delivering, it is just as important for your new trainers to be able to create a comfortable learning environment. Cover techniques such as how to establish and uphold ground rules, how to question and listen to participants, how to provide verbal and non-verbal feedback, and how to control distractions that may occur during delivery.

Provide Practice and Feedback Opportunities – Train-the-trainer candidates should have at least one opportunity to practice delivering a segment of the training and to receive feedback on their practice delivery. Ideally, they should have a second opportunity so they can hone their skills and address any issues uncovered during their first practice. Typically, for a program that could be delivered in one day or less, I would structure a train-the-trainer session as a three-day event: On day one I would conduct the model session and go over all the materials in the training package. On day two, for the first part of the day I would have each candidate deliver a brief segment from the program. The focus of their delivery would mainly be on getting across the program content. They would receive feedback from me and from each other. For the latter part of the day, I would focus on facilitation techniques. On day three, they would be expected to deliver a longer segment of the program incorporating some of the facilitation techniques covered on day two. This approach usually works well, but can be challenging if you have a large group. The alternatives are to eliminate one practice or to break the candidates up into smaller groups and conduct several train-the-trainer sessions.

End by Scheduling Deliveries – The last thing I do before ending a train-the-trainer session is to get the new trainers to commit to deliveries. Depending upon the parameters of your project, this can be done by assigning them delivery dates, presenting them with a list of dates to sign up for, or giving them a window in which to schedule their own delivery dates. This approach capitalizes on enthusiasm before momentum for the project wanes.

I have found these train-the-trainer practices to be very effective in preparing non-trainers for classroom delivery. A variation of this approach can be used for preparing people for virtual classroom delivery as well. One significant difference would be to replace the practice deliveries with one-on-one or small group online coaching sessions. It is difficult for a large group to stay focused on line as each person tries out polling features and annotation tools on your virtual classroom delivery platform. It is much more effective when this is done with only one to three people at a time.

If you have additional suggestions on how to structure a train-the-trainer event for new or occasional trainers, please add your comments below.


  1. The steps you lay out are just right! Thanks for taking the time to lay this out. I think the economic realities are that businesses will have to use the Train the Trainer model--and I'd rather see them do it the correct way rather than spin their wheels and waste valuable time and money.

  2. Guila,

    I do believe we will have to get creative about how we use our resources and spend our training dollars this year. Investing time, money and effort into preparing a cadre of workers to help with program delivery can be very effective and save money in the long run.

    Thanks for your comment.