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Training the Trainer

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Written by John A G Smith – Tue 17 May 2016

Summer sun floods the warm room and dust motes dance in my blurring vision.  The lunchtime ‘pie and a pint’ sit comfortably in my stomach and the final straw is the hypnotic buzzing noise encouraging my heavy eyelids to close and calling me to the comfort of the Land of Nod.  Suddenly, sanity returns, my eyelids jerk open and my head snaps upright.

As I look around me, I see an almost universal appraisal of the lecturer in the form of drooping heads and, in at least two cases, total oblivion.  And we all have an examination in this topic in just a few weeks!

The great shame of this all is that the guy at the front of the room is a world expert in his subject … but he’s the source of the buzzing.  He’s written several renowned textbooks on the subject … we’re all well aware of this because it is almost a prerequisite of passing the course that every student buys them all.  Surprisingly, this is not resented by my fellows because sitting for hours poring over the dry text is preferable to listening the esteemed professor reciting, almost word for word, what is on the page.



 You could come and be entertained at Silicon Beach Training in Brighton on our Train the Trainer course, we practise what we preach.

The perception is that anybody with sufficient knowledge can be put up in front of a class and regurgitate that knowledge.  But the trainer’s job is not about regurgitating information that can be found in the textbook.  The trainer is about adding value to the book.

Why would anybody pay as much as two thousand pound to attend a week’s technical course when all the information can be gleaned from for a small fraction of that price?  It’s because books cannot answer questions.  Books cannot give feedback from a practical exercise and tell the trainee where he or she has gone wrong.  Books cannot present an idea in a different way to make it more understandable.  Books cannot make a subject INTERESTING.

And, most importantly, books cannot present information in the learners preferred format.  This preference is based around two main characteristics: the learner’s ‘Representational style’ and their ‘Learning style’.

Even though they have not heard of ‘Representation style, (RS)’ most people have heard of the effects.   

There are four main categories of RS: Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic and Auditory Digital (or just ‘Digital’) and they indicate the way we, individually, process the information.

  • Visual people picture the concepts, they ‘see’ what is being taught.
  • Auditory people are interested in the words.
  • Kinaesthetic people are tactile and like to feel things – or imagine the feel.
  • Digital people rely more on pure logic.

There are two others, Olfactory and Gustatory but, unless you are studying to be a perfumier or a chef they cannot help much in the learning process.

The four Representational Styles (LS) feed into and reinforce the Learning Styles.  There are many dozens of models of LS but they all reflect the way our RS affects our ability to learn.  The most common are the Kolb model and the Honey, Mumford model.  Each has four categories … Kolb has Accomodator, Converger, Diverger and Assimulator.

  • Accomodators prefer to use experience augmented by experimentation
  • Convergers combine abstract conceptualisation with experimentation
  • Divergers use experience and reflective observation
  • Assimulators like abstract conceptualisation and reflective observation

So our professor, talking to a group of postprandial teenagers was hitting just a small group – those who learned from words, the Auditories, and who liked to process the concepts by just thinking about it: Divergers and Assimulators.

No wonder he was batting close to zero.

How could he do better?

There are a number of ways.  Firstly, the presenter needs to understand the different RS preferences - and his own – and ‘mix up’ his language.  ‘Visual’ people tend to use ‘visual’ words: ‘look’, ‘see’, ‘watch’.  ‘Auditory’ people use ‘auditory’ words: ‘listen’, ‘hear’, ‘sounds like’ and so on.  This may not seem much of an issue but experiments have shown that presenting learners with the wrong ‘predicates’ – the words that resonate with their preferred RS – can actually reduce information uptake by over 30% so untrained trainers who stick to their own, preferred, RS can serious hinder the learning of their class.  Yet professional presenters can easily learn to adjust their vocabulary to encompass the complete set of predicates and engage more fully with the whole audience often without their even being aware of it.

The second improvement our professor could have made is in the contents of the material and the way it was structured.  It can be seen above that two of the groups (Accomodators and Convergers) prefer to learn by experimentation so a quick exercise, scheduled into the timetable for just after the lunch break, will immediately grab their attention.  And the simple act of just standing up will enliven everybody else.

You can’t blame poor old Professor Mumble, as we called him, for this lack of expertise.  He was, as I said, a world expert in his field … it’s just that his field was not training.  And this is the biggest problem for any company that needs to train its staff.  The trainers need the expertise – the subject knowledge – to be able to teach a technical subject.  But they also need the training skills to be able put it across.  Their dichotomy: do they take an ‘expert’ and teach him to train or a ‘trainer’ and teach him the technical stuff?

I’ve seen non-technical trainers trying to teach technical material … it was a little like I imagine the crowd at the Roman Coliseum treated the lions.  Good sport for them but pretty rough for the lions.  But I’ve also seen gifted technical experts stumbling and stuttering over a badly prepared training session.

Anybody with the technical knowledge can train.  All they need is an infusion of the skills to do it.

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