How to train the trainer – 7 tips you can use

How to Train the Trainer

Are you looking for a comprehensive guide on the “how to train the trainer” process? Before we start, let me tell you a bit about myself. I have been a trainer for over 30 years and am a graduate of the University of Missouri. In a few months, I will have earned my Master’s in Education (i.e. M.Ed…YAY!). Training is my absolute “air”; it is my passion, and I do it well.

However, one of my favorite parts of the industry is designing train-the-trainer modules. I have trained trainers in corporate and nonprofit settings, which thrilled me each and every time. At the end of the training, I felt I did my small part in eliminating boring one-note training experiences.

In this post, I want to explore the dynamics of various trainers collectively training the same content or subject matter.

Why learning how
to train the trainer matters

Before addressing the question of how to train the trainer, let’s talk about what is the purpose of the train the trainer (TTT) modules.

Without the training of facilitator modules, trainers can deliver content however they personally see fit. This can be problematic. Teaching philosophies could be assorted as could style and technique.

If the purpose of training is designed for proven effectiveness, this could be problematic. It is difficult to evaluate a training program that has varied learning goals and is implemented with different instructional approaches.

This means one training delivery session might be more interactive than the other.

Another trainer might opt to present content in an order that hinders scaffolding.

In other words, they can mess up the order and make it harder for learners to learn and retain what they have learned.

Different Trainers, Identical Results = Poor Delivery

Train the trainer can minimize variances often linked to style and personality.

While all trainers should include their own individual style in training delivery, some personalities and temperaments tend to be more prone to taking liberties than others. You may also have a person who is a bit more charming than another trainer.

Each of these elements could affect the end product or the final training delivery result.

It is better to execute a more coordinated approach across the board. Training of the facilitators could help with this.

While trainers will inevitably put their own “spin” on training delivery, they will not “spin” too far left or right. The content retains its integrity.

Providing train-the-trainer preparation ensures consistency across the board.

A consistent instructional model among trainers also produces cleaner data for the training program.

When I assess effectiveness, it’s not so much about learners liking how a specific trainer approached teaching a topic – although that could be true some of the time.

Instead, with the training of facilitators, I can be assured one trainer presented the same information as another and presumably did it in the same format.

The learners’ experiences will be almost identical, meaning I can analyze data for data’s sake without being concerned about other peripheral issues.

How to train the trainer - 2 tips you can use

Let me be fair about trainers delivering “boring” training classes

Let’s be clear. Boring training exists for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes, the subject matter is not interesting to the adult learner.

Occasionally, the training facilitator’s personality or voice is not engaging to the learners. Other times, it is the content. If the content is not relevant to the learner, they get bored.

It is essential to understand the needs and abilities of your participants before you start training them. Trainers can be taught how to prepare for their learners in similar ways.

Train the trainer objectives

Before you can begin to write learning objectives for a TTT module, I think it is essential that you understand the scope and goals of the training. Consider teaching your trainers to begin with a well-defined instructional goal as well. Let me tell you, I trained for years back in the day without knowing the value of this important first step.

I will spend a great deal of time here because, in my years as a training manager, I’ve found most people have zero clue how to write educationally-sound learning objectives.

Heck, I didn’t know myself until grad school!

After all, if you don’t have a clear outcome for your course or lesson plan, it will be nearly impossible to write learning objectives that accurately reflect what students need to know and can do at the end of the workshop, seminar, or course.

Writing learning objectives for your instructional materials is an important part of creating effective educational content. One of the key reasons I draft learning objectives are to::

  • keep my content in alignment with my instructional goal
  • make the “invisible” learning occurring in the learner’s brain something I can see, observe, hear, or detect
  • gauge my trainer’s effectiveness during post-training analysis.
Want to know how to train the trainer? Teach them how to create learning goals and objectives.

As I mentioned, I create an instructional goal that broadly addresses what I want the learners to learn.

Defining the target to “hit” first works wonders for me. I hope you will teach your trainers to do the same.

Some trainers don’t use instructional goals, and in the final analysis, that’s ok. You do what works for you. But, I think it’s a good happen to begin.

After I define my “target,” then, I create 3-5 learning objectives or the “steps” learners will take toward learning the goal.

The secret weapon to writing your train the trainer objectives (and teaching your learners to do the same!)

I prefer the ABCD method for writing my learning objectives for training classes.

You’ve likely heard of the ABCD method before.

With this method, your objectives address the following:

A – The Audience or who you will train (ex., all payment clerks will..)

B – the Behavior the learner will do to “prove” the learning occurred (ex., be able to clear the payment screen)

C – Condition is the context of the learning (ex. in the JIVA program)

D – Degree to which the success is defined. (ex. without producing any timeout errors)

Click here for my favorite ABCD learning objectives tool.

Here is the sample learning objective using the formula:

Payment clerks will be able to clear the payment screen in the JIVA program without producing timeout errors.

Another example using another topic:

A learning goal for a train-the-trainer program could be:

“Trainers will acquire the knowledge of the history of adult learning theory in the United States.”

Remember, objectives are the step toward the instructional goal. Here is an example:

By the end of this training, trainers will be able to:

  • cite the names and philosophies of two forerunners in American adult learning theory.
  • match adult learning theory philosophies to the needs of adult learners
  • incorporate at least two principles of adult learning theories into training delivery.
  • explain the ways adult learning (andragogy) differs from how children learn (pedagogy).

As you write your train-the-trainer objectives, be sure to have a large repertoire of verbs handy. Sometimes the verbs can inspire you as you think of competencies.

This video is sort of funny, but I like Tammy Haislip‘s content:

I always like to consider the three domains as well:

  1. The Cognitive Domain – this involves thinking about facts, terms, numbers, etc.
  2. The Affective Domain – this domain relates to how we feel about things emotionally (feelings, value, etc.)
  3. The Pschyomotor Domain – This is the kinesthetic or physical area of learning.
    I found this excellent quote about this domain: “The psychomotor domain (Simpson, 1972) includes physical movement, coordination, and use of the motor-skill areas. Development of these skills requires practice and is measured in terms of speed, precision, distance, procedures, or techniques in execution. Thus, psychomotor skills rage from manual tasks, such as digging a ditch or washing a car, to more complex tasks, such as operating a complex piece of machinery or dancing.” – Donald Clark

Read more about learning domains here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330811334_Three_Domains_of_Learning_Cognitive_Affective_and_Psychomotor

Here are a few online sources I turn to as I’m creating learning objectives:

Verb Lists For Writing Instructional Objectives

Davenport University Bloom’s Action Verbs
https://davenport.libguides.com/learningoutcomes/action_verbs

University of North Texas Health Science Center
https://www.unthsc.edu/center-for-innovative-learning/wp-content/uploads/sites/35/verbs_checklist.pdf

Once you have written your learning objectives, consider testing them out by creating example tasks and questions that your students might complete or answer to demonstrate their understanding of the objective.

This will give you an indication of how well the objectives are worded so that you can tweak them if needed.

Furthermore, these tasks and questions will act as a guide when you’re preparing train the trainer content and activities specifically designed to accomplish each learning objective.

I also like this take on learning objectives from MSU:

Understanding the trainers you will train

People who enter the training field are a different “cut” from the rest, in my opinion. I first learned this when I attended a conference for trainers.

At that point in my career, I attended countless conferences on other topics. But, trainers, I found to be the exuberant “hand raisers” eager to demonstrate the knowledge they’ve acquired at any given moment.

While not all trainers are extroverts, in my experience, they are comfortable with engaging interpersonally – especially when the topic is around analyzing and exchanging ideas.

Anyone investigating how to train the trainer must allow them room for them to explore ideas, poke truths, and challenge information without taking it personally.

Since most trainers tend to be analytical, people training them often lean into their egos or their feelings when trainers challenge information presented to them.

This is particularly true, in my opinion, if your trainers will be responsible for actually presenting the content to others in the future. If they’re going to train on a subject, they will likely want to know it inside and out.

Give them space to question and probe.

When I train trainers, I like to front-load as much information as I can early in the training session.

This means for the first 20 minutes of our time together, I am giving them conceptual frameworks and sharing information about the content creators.

I explain stats, share the creator’s credentials, uncover research, or do whatever I can do to ensure they will AND can absorb the learning material.

Understanding your trainers – and what is valuable to them- is an important step to creating and presenting a solid train-the-trainer learning experience.

What are the steps to train a trainer?

I was hesitant to include this section of this blog article. Yet, I think exploring the steps to train a group of trainers is beneficial. Beyond creating learning objectives and being free to challenge content, I often ask myself:

“What do trainers need to know?”

Please know the steps below are relative, and you will need to amend them based on what you’re training and how technical of a process you are teaching them.

The Association for Talent Development has a very insightful approach to training. Of course, they would, considering their work in talent development is trailblazing, right?

Anyway, they assert the first step in how to train the trainer is to establish “purpose AND the assessment” of what you’re teaching.

This speaks to the “why.”

Begin with a needs assessment.

Even if you were assigned or “told” to complete the train-the-trainer process, do a needs assessment of why it is necessary. That is what the needs analysis could provide.

Ask questions like:

  • What do the trainers need to be trained? What could occur if they are not?
  • What specifically do they need to know how to do? If they do not learn how to do it, what could be the result?
  • What will the learners likely be most interested in learning?
    (Note: if you can do a pre-training survey with your potential learners, this would be a huge benefit to answering this question. Another option is administering a pre-training survey at the beginning of training.)

It is especially useful to ask the management team to describe their desired outcomes for the train-the-trainer class or program as well.

The needs assessment + hearing management’s expectations, and critical thinking about the necessary competencies will help you create a TTT that will be meaningful and valuable to the learners.

Train the trainer: best practices

Now, it’s time to connect all the dots.

Please let me share how my instructional design approach utilizes some of the above elements.

I. Write instructional goals.
Remember, the instructional goals are the overarching purpose of the training content.

Advocate for the trainers to write good, measurable goals as well.

Many trainers simply write learning objectives because they don’t know any better. Refer to (and feel free to use) the triangle above.

The trainers you’re equipping to train must understand and realize the goals fit into a larger construct.

Using goals hand in hand with objectives will set them up to present and create learning experiences in which one element builds upon the next.

II. Write learning objectives

Teach the trainers in your train-the-trainer class the elements of good learning objectives.

There are so many resources on the web and in books; you don’t need me to spell them out here.

Suffice it to say teaching them it is more than just plugging a few verbs into a sentence is a good idea.

Help them understand objectives are a tool for evaluation after the training and an instrument to gauge whether learners have grasped the intended goals during training.

Provide opportunities for them to write learning objectives and receive feedback from their peers. This is a nerve-racking process for your learners, but it does help them create good ones.

III. Learning Styles

The three-four learning styles have become controversial in some educational circles, so I am not a big fan of presenting them to trainers.

Some research says “the vast majority of educational content is stored in terms of meaning and does not rely on visual, auditory, or kinesthetic memory” Westby, C. (2019).

Still, since I have been a trainer and content designer for a number of years, I still have some affinity for the concept. It’s muscle memory.

Even though I do not view the theory of learning styles as research-based or scientifically valid, I still try to create a balance of visual content with auditory sensory content, and I definitely keep my learners moving and utilizing their psychomotor skills.

What are your thoughts about learning styles? In your opinion, are they entombed in the “holy grail” of instruction?

IV. Multiple Intelligences

I was introduced to Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence back in the early 2000s by my colleague and mentor Deth Im (Pronounced “Date” and “Em”).

As he introduced them to a training class, my mind nearly exploded with the revelation of the various ways people are smart.

This bolstered my ability to present information and design learning assessment techniques in which I could verify learning occurred.

Again, ample data exists about the multiple intelligences so that I won’t re-create any here. But, I do admonish you to ensure your learners know about them and have opportunities to experience them in a learning context.

The experiential element of the train the trainer will possibly inspire them to create those experiences themselves in their learning settings.

V. Learning Assessment Techniques

When you assess something, you’re basically appraising its quality.

Learning assessment techniques accomplish something similar. They create opportunities and experiences in which learners can demonstrate the depth of their learning so you and others can appraise the quality of it.

The best resource for developing learning assessment techniques is the book “Learning Assessment Techniques” by Elizabeth F. Barkley and Clare Howell Major. The book is designed for college faculty, but I think it has many implications for trainers and workplace learning.

VI. The Big Teach-back

During your training of facilitators, plan a teach-back or an opportunity for the trainers to practice everything you taught. This could include breaking them into teams and asking them to write instructional goals and learning objectives.

The final part of the exercise is to deliver instruction. I like to let them select the topic – anything they want – and deliver the training to the class. Let them use props and have fun with it all!

VII. Training Evaluation

You will create content to teach the trainers how to assess learning. Next is instructing on how to assess and evaluate the training itself.

As a consultant, I am the only stakeholder interested in the post-training evaluation session.

However, I began to share the evaluations with my clients. Full disclosure, I largely did that so they could see how amazing and would re-hire me at a future date or be assured their investment was successful. 😀

Frankly, no one often asked for my post-training data in my work as a training manager. But I’d share it when I was able. Most stakeholders don’t know how to ask for the data or how to critically analyze it beyond concepts like “it was good.”

But, during your train-the-trainer, equip your learners to place as much effort in the post-training evaluation as they would in designing and delivering their training content.

Well, that’s it.

This is how I approach training trainers. I model as much as I teach them. I hope this blog post gives you some insights to do the same. I welcome your feedback and tips on these processes. If you work in formal education, they are likely familiar to you. In fact, they will be a watered-down version of the techniques you employ.

However, if you are a consultant or are in workplace learning, they may be new to you. Either way, I hope the information is valuable. Thanks for reading and for visiting my blog.

Happy training the trainers!

Sources:

Newton PM. The Learning Styles Myth is Thriving in Higher Education. Front Psychol. 2015 Dec 15;6:1908. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01908. PMID: 26696947; PMCID: PMC4678182.

Westby, C. (2019). The Myth of Learning Styles. Word of Mouth31(2), 4–7. https://doi-org.ezproxy2.library.colostate.edu/10.1177/1048395019879966a