Training Technology Trainers: Lessons
from the River
By Stephanie Rawlins Gerding
Your heart is racing,
adrenaline is rushing through your body, and you're reeling with the "fight
or flight" conflict. You wonder why you agreed to do this in the first place.
Are you teaching new technology trainers or conquering Class V rapids on the
Rio Grande? Could be either: Success in both of these endeavors requires many
of the same elements. I have trained hundreds of librarians to be successful
technology trainers. With the tips in this article, you too can develop a successful
train-the-trainer program. I'll cover trainer anxieties, critical skills, understanding
learner motivation, and planning.
Critical Trainer Skills
USING TRAINING AIDS
Getting into the Water
With train-the-trainer workshops, it is most effective to have a small group
(14 or less). Try to schedule at least 2 days; there is plenty to cover. I
like to hold 2-day workshops with a week between the days so that the trainers
will have had time to practice. Have trainers present short classes, even in
small groups. This allows for them to practice, observe different styles, and
share knowledge. Survey trainers to discover specific training interests. Videotape
trainers to help them improve (this is a great learning tool, which I'll discuss
more). Incorporate interesting themes, prizes, learning games, fun foods, and
activities to help make the workshop enjoyable and facilitate learning.
Fear of Drowning: Dealing with Trainers' Anxieties
The most common concerns of new trainersand new rafting instructorsare
fear of failure (in both your training environment and their own), lack of
confidence in front of groups, dealing with difficult or unexpected situations,
and planning training. The first of these you can deal with upfront by addressing
the trainers' fear of being evaluated in your workshop. You can help to alleviate
this stress by acknowledging their previous experience and providing opportunities
for them to voice concerns. At one workshop with a fishing theme, I had trainers
write concerns, questions, and reasons for attending on brightly colored fish.
They taped these onto a pond (a large blue tablecloth on the wall). I discovered
valuable information: Some resented required attendance; others had public
speaking fears. It also revealed which training topics they were interested
in. Also, be sure to let trainers know that, in their own classes, audiences
will want them to succeed. Learners don't want to sit through a class feeling
uncomfortable, watching a nervous speakerthey want a dynamic trainer
and to have a good time!
Practice is the key to trainers' becoming more confident. Encourage them
to seek out opportunities to speak to groups. A great way to build their confidence
is to videotape training. This helps them to identify areas for improvement
far better than having someone else offer advice. Trainers usually dread this
activity but then find that they forget about the videotaping while they're
focused on training. Let them watch their videos independently to avoid embarrassment.
Usually, their training is always better than they expected.
All new instructors fear unexpected situations arising in their classrooms.
You can get common anxieties out in the open and help newbies to feel more
comfortable by telling them humorous stories about your own past training mishaps.
This will let them know that although some things may go wrong, with preparation,
they will be able to deal with them. Using personal stories related to the
training topic is a great way to avoid boring, still water.
Beginning trainers often have difficulty when they face planning. They fear
that they will run out of time or always wrap up early. It is important to
show new trainers how to set classroom goals and objectives, and how to break
class time into manageable, 20- to 30-minute segments. Providing trainers with
planning tips and techniques will help them to approach lesson planning with
less anxiety and more self-assurance, and so I will cover planning in more
depth later in this article.
Training Survival Skills
There are several critical skills that you should focus on when training
trainers. When rafting, it is important to have a flexible raft that bends
in the rapids. The same can be said of training: Something almost always goes
wrong in the classroom, so flexibility is key. Give your class sample scenarios
of training obstacles and let them identify solutions in small groups. This
will prepare them for what may happen and also demonstrate why flexibility
Other important skills include good presentation abilities, building rapport
with learners, and using training aids. An important rule for successful training
is to never rely on a written text. An outline, bulleted notes, or PowerPoint
slides will serve much better. Have trainers practice developing these tools
so they have the flexibility of eye contact and letting their own personalities
enhance their words.
Encourage trainers to develop an open, friendly, and low-stress atmosphere.
I've seen many new trainers display an entirely different personality while
training. Perhaps they believe that by standing behind a podium, saying important
words, they portray an image of credibility and knowledge. Instead, the audience
tunes out and learning comes to a halt. You should make clear that being in
front of a room does not require formality and complete expertise.
It is important that trainers know it's acceptable to not have all answers
to all questions. They can ask if anyone else in the group knows the answer,
or offer to find the answer after class and report back later. By being themselves,
trainers allow learners to identify with them and to be open to learning. Furthermore,
a story can infuse the classroom with energy and help build rapport. When learning,
we upload into our own personal experience databases and incorporate the knowledge
into our life stories. Include an exercise in which the trainers have to explain
a task using only stories and examples.
You may want to include information about training aids in your workshop.
With technology training, handouts with step-by-step directions are very important.
Otherwise, some learners struggle to write down everything and quickly fall
behind. Knowing they have directions for later use makes them feel more comfortable.
And if they are visual learners, they can read instructions later and get information
through charts, screen prints, and other visuals. Have trainers practice writing
simple tasks step by step and then have someone attempt to follow the instructions
exactly. Show them aspects of good handouts, including how to do screen captures.
Another popular topic is how to use PowerPoint effectively.
Go with the Flow:
What makes the river water run fast in some areas, while remaining still
and calm in others? Why do some learners seem open and excited while others
seem apathetic and bored? No one wants to sit through a boring, monotone lecture.
If trainers aren't excited about the topic, then the class won't be either.
Show trainers how to incorporate learning games, activities, or even a fun
theme to raise learners' enthusiasmand their own.
Whether you are teaching river safety to first-time rafters or teaching Excel
to librarians planning their first budgets, chances are they will pay attention.
But how about a lab of co-workers whose managers decided they should attend,
and who aren't in the least bit interested? Well, trainers can't generate the
need for survival, but they can make learning applicable to other needs. Teach
trainers how to convey to their classes that learning will make their jobs
easier, more efficient, and more effective. Trainers can demonstrate how new
skills can be used in their personal lives, as well.
Patience is a virtueespecially in technology training. Learners get
frustrated if they don't feel respected. Just like a guide might let new rafters
navigate small waters to get experience, trainers can use exercises to let
learners practice at their own pace. Show them how to use self-paced exercises
so that fast or experienced learners can work on their own. New trainers often
worry about what will happen if their students make mistakes. Remind them that
at least they will be there to help, instead of letting learners go home (or
into their classrooms) and make the mistakes on their own.
You must let trainers know that they should be guides; they are there to
help learners achieve their own success. But you can't learn for others, just
like you can't paddle for them. Studies have shown that when adults are able
to participate in learning, they retain more information and are better able
to use it in their own lives.
Let trainers practice answering questions, taking time to really listen to
the speaker. They should never interrupt someone asking a question. If they
do, they risk sending the message that they don't really want participation.
Also, trainers should be encouraged to ask learners questions. This helps the
learners process the information; by putting answers into their own words,
they are reinforcing the knowledge.
Encourage trainers to use examples from the real world. Otherwise, it may
be difficult for the learners to translate what they are learning into their
own needs. Have trainers brainstorm how their classes will apply what they
learn. Remind them not to use technical jargon or abbreviations and to be specific
when giving directions. When drawing attention to the screen, make sure they
use directional language, such as stating that the Start button is in the lower
Understand the Three Major Learning Styles
There are many ways to define the methods that we learn. Trainers should
at least understand the broad categories: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.
Some learners will have two predominant learning preferences. I've always found
that kinesthetic learners are the most numerous, followed by visual, and then
auditory. It is disturbing that a majority of training is delivered using only
It is easy to help trainers to remedy this problem. Kinesthetic learners
comprehend through doing and often disregard instruction manuals to work on
their own. They enjoy activities, group work, and self-paced exercises. Visual
learners prefer demonstrations; they think in pictures and request diagrams,
charts, and handouts. Auditory learners grasp ideas through listening and sounds
and prefer dialogue or lecture. Trainers can capture their interest with analogies,
stories, discussions, and debates.
The important thing to teach trainers is that in every class a variety of
learning styles will be represented. The best way to
capture and maintain interest is by integrating all
of these techniques. Recommend icebreakers that encourage
involvement, such as having class participants explain
how they've previously used the software that's being
taught. Have the trainers outline a sample software
class that incorporates all the basic learning styles.
For example, trainers could follow the icebreaker with
a short lecture introducing the software and basic functions.
A handout could reiterate this information. Next the
trainer could ask the learners what they want to know
about the software. Then a brief demonstration would
be appropriate. They could follow that with either an
independent exercise or group work. In this way not
only would all learning styles be incorporated, but
also the class would be active, involved, and fun.
Scouting the Rapids: Teaching Trainers to Plan
In rafting, scouting the rapids means looking ahead and planning how to maneuver
through the waters. New trainers often need tips on planning classes. Don't
forget to include a section on training evaluation and how to use this input
to constantly make improvements.
Trainers always need to know the room and situation they will be training
in. Teach trainers to adjust room arrangements to make the room more suitable.
Show them diagrams like those in Barbazette's The Trainer's Support Handbook. Classroom-style
setups often are not ideal. Point out how to angle tables in a chevron or "V" pattern,
which aids visibility. Demonstrate that for small groups, U-style setups or
round tables encourage group work. Also, don't forget to remind trainers they
should meet technical support staff before training. If they can explain their
needs in person, they can alleviate unnecessary problems. (Usually the trainer
gives technology requests to a third party, and something can be lost in the
Goals and Objectives
Trainers should find out as much as possible about learners' skill levels,
interests, and how they will implement the training. Next, the trainers will
need to know how to set basic goals and objectives. Deciding what to accomplish
is crucial to planning. For each hour of a class, they shouldn't have more
than two or three objectives. Any more will be very rushed. As an example,
have trainers plan an hour-long class for an introduction to the Internet,
and ask them to identify three core objectives to focus the content. If they
want learners to actually type in a URL and do a Google search, they will probably
find they have to leave out a history of the Internet dating back to ARPANET.
Have an exercise where the trainers pick a topic and break down the goals and
objectives for workshops. You may need to go over how goals and objectives
should be formulated.
Once they've set goals and objectives, trainers can determine how much time
to focus on each. If they will spend an hour on each objective, then they'll
need to break down how much time will include lecture, group work, and other
activities. They should estimate how long each section will last, then rehearse
the sections and update the times.
They'll need to include time for introducing software and even the basics
ofWindows. When teaching technology classes, it is very important to start
at this level. Encourage them to incorporate a section on familiarity with
basic desktop and application similarities, such as toolbars, menu bars, task
bars, and opening and closing programs.
Rafting all day without bathroom and lunch breaks would be unthinkable, right?
Remind trainers to build in breaks. Most people can only concentrate for about
20 minutes at a time, and sitting for over an hour will guarantee wandering
minds. Suggest providing breaks every hour to hour and a half. Remind trainers
to include information on bathroom locations, and to encourage class members
to get up and stretch, get a drink, or whatever they need to ensure their personal
comfort. If possible, trainers should provide at least coffee and water (and
chocolate, another necessity).
It's Not the Destination, It's the Journey That Counts
Every trip down the river is unique, just as no two classes are ever alike.
A wise trainer once said that if you can do your training without anyone in
the room, you should not even bother to do it. If done correctly, each workshop
will benefit from the individual experience of all the learners. That's what
makes training an exciting and fun experience every time!
Barbazette, Jean. The Trainer's Support Handbook: A Practical Guide To
Administrative Details Of Training. McGraw-Hill, 2001. (Includes downloadable
Clothier, Paul. The Complete Computer Trainer. McGraw-Hill, 1996.
(Although not recent, this book still remains my top pick for new technology
Jolles, Robert. How to Run Seminars and
Workshops. John Wiley & Sons, 2000.
(Involving adult learners, using training
technologies, planning, and more.)
Meier, Dave. The Accelerated Learning Handbook. McGraw-Hill, 2000.
(Learn to tap into the minds and personalities of all learning styles and enhance
Pike, Robert. 50 Creative Training Openers
and Energizers. Jossey-Bass, 2000. (I'd
recommend all of Pike's many books; this one focuses on interactivities for
positive learning environments.)
Silberman, Mel. 101 Ways To Make Meetings
Active:Surefire Ideas To Engage Your Group. Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, 1999.
Stephanie Rawlins Gerding, the continuing education director at New Mexico
State Library, coordinates a statewide training program. She has previously held
library positions that involved training at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,
Federal Express, Sirsi, and the University of Tennessee. She has conducted and
coordinated technology training and train-the-trainer programs for public, academic,
school, and special librarians. She holds an M.L.S. from the University ofTennessee.
Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.