Train the Trainer
Training is part of our DNA. Our reputation for delivering high quality solutions to clients is due, at least in part, to a continued focus on the skills development of our staff.
We have recently been giving further thought to the way in which we train our staff, to ensure that we are offering the best training we possibly can. To this end, we recently had an external speaker deliver a ‘Train the Trainer’ session to further develop the quality of training we deliver and ensure knowledge across the company of common standards underpinning high quality training sessions. We thought it helpful to share some of these ideas for training within your teams.
A helpful although perhaps over-used picture is to see every training session as a journey from start to finish. At the risk of overstretching the analogy, Chris Nash lists four questions about such a training journey which help to summarise the APR approach to training.
1. Where are we going?
Starting with the obvious, every good training session has a set of defined aims. Such learning aims should be shared with trainees so that everyone is clear about the intended destination of the training session. It avoids the risk of someone taking a day off for no or limited benefit!
A common way of doing this is by arranging the aims as sentences called learning objectives and sharing these sentences with trainees prior to the start of the session. Learning objectives should be created to cover the performance (what a trainee should be able to do after the training) and the standard (how competence can be measured either quantitatively or qualitatively).
There is also value in identifying and highlighting a wider range of training benefits. The benefits of APR’s training material, for example, include accuracy and efficiency in actuarial work but also the ability to communicate effectively with senior actuarial stakeholders and an increased likelihood of success in actuarial exams.
If the trainer and trainees are clear on the aims of a given training session, it also becomes easier to assess how effective the training session has been. One helpful suggestion is to return to the learning objectives at the end of the session in order to help students see how their knowledge and competence have improved over the session. End-of-course quizzes or similar are helpful in demonstrating to attendees the knowledge and skills they have gained from the training.
2. How will we get there?
Once a trainer has identified the aims of the session, the next task in preparation is to create a pathway to reaching the intended destination.
The first point to consider here is the content. Sometimes a trainer will be required to create training material from scratch and will need to consider all the elements which should be covered by the material. At other times, pre-written material may be available; however, the trainer should still spend time carefully considering whether aspects of the material should be adjusted to fit the specific needs of the planned session. The key question here is: “How does covering this material help me to achieve the learning objectives”?
The second point to consider is the trainer. There are things during a training session which a trainer can do, or not do, which will help students to learn more effectively. However, the converse is also true; there are things a trainer can do, or not do, which will hinder students from learning effectively. We could write another article just on this topic (and probably will!), but for now we will simply mention the importance of how a trainer uses their voice (pitch, pace and volume) and their body to communicate effectively.
The last point to consider here are the trainees. Every trainee is different, which means every training journey needs to be different. Trainers should aim to identify the ways in which the trainees learn by observing trainees throughout the session.
In particular, time was spent on the course considering four main learning styles, developed by British psychologists Peter Honey and Alan Mumford:
Activist: activists like jumping in and having a go. They seek challenge and like to be involved in activities and new experiences. They enjoy working with others but sometimes do too much themselves.
Reflectors: reflectors like to think things through before committing to anything. They like to collect all the facts and to listen before speaking. They can sometimes be overly cautious and avoid taking risks.
Theorists: theorists like to work through problems logically. They can understand and articulate complex logical arguments. They sometimes struggle to think creatively and can tend towards perfectionism.
Pragmatists: pragmatists like to get straight to the point. They like new ideas especially if they can immediately see the practical value. They tend to reject theoretical concepts if they cannot see the real-life applications, and sometimes seize new ideas without fully considering other alternatives.
Having these four learning styles in mind allows the trainer to create a training session which can engage most, if not all, trainees. For example, long PowerPoint presentations and trainer monologues may work well for reflectors and theorists, but less so for activists and pragmatists. Having exercises to work on will engage an activist but may discourage a pragmatist if the exercise feels contrived. Trainees who tend towards a reflective learning style may really benefit from group-led discussion. Before leading a training session, trainer should ensure that the session will appeal to each of the four types of learner listed above to reduce the risk of disengagement.
3. Where are we now?
Throughout the training session, the trainer should be frequently assessing how far the trainees’ knowledge and competence has developed; this ensures that the session doesn’t close without the learning objectives being met.
The trainer needs to plan a range of activities which allow them to assess whether trainees have understood and are able to apply the material. At APR, we aim to make sure that our training material includes both individual-worked exercises during the session and discussion questions in groups to stimulate students and encourage them to engage with alternative ideas.
The trainer should make sure that a wide range of questions is used for assessing how well the learning objectives are being met. This includes questions which require higher-order skills (not just “What?” and “When?” but also “How?” and “Why?”). Some of these questions can be asked of the group but some more in-depth aspects can be reserved for higher-performing individuals in a one-to-one context, perhaps while other trainees are working on exercises. Identifying the different learning speeds of individuals is an important trainer skill and helps to ensure all trainees gain sufficient value from the training.
4. Where should we go next?
This last question introduces the idea that no training session should be considered in isolation. We are all continually learning and developing, and trainees should be given the opportunity to think about how effective the training has been, and how they could continue to develop and learn going forward.
One helpful way of doing this is asking trainees to complete feedback forms. This not only helps trainees to self-identify how to develop their skills further, but it also enables the trainer to corroborate learning objectives and check whether required pre-course knowledge was calibrated correctly.
The trainer should also make suggestions for how to further develop the skills and knowledge gained in the training session.
One thing we believe strongly at APR is that training needs to be quickly put into practice or consolidated through further application – without this, training content can be quickly forgotten. This applies particularly for technical skills, so we commonly craft follow-on material that each trainee must look to complete in the weeks after the training session.
If each training session is a journey, then the responsibility for each trainee reaching the destination lies primarily with the trainer. Of course the trainee has to engage appropriately and be prepared to take on additional post session work / activities to ensure learning objectives are achieved. But the trainer should look to ensure that:
- They do everything they can to help trainees meet the learning objectives.
- They create a training session which appeals to a wide range of learning styles.
- They regularly assess knowledge and understanding through the training session.
- They make the next steps for development clear to trainees.
And a final point of note: every trainer is also a trainee. For APR, this means that even our most experienced staff need help to develop their skills and knowledge, and especially in those areas where staff are actively engaged with leading training sessions. Organisations which value training should continually remind themselves of the principles above and seek ways to embed these principles into their ongoing training programme.
If you would like more information about APR’s training services, including details of training sessions we offer clients, see aprllp.com/apr-client-solutions/training-services/