Voc. Ed. & Training train the trainer programs need a more rigorous approach

Individuals do not learn from experience per se, they learn from reflecting on their experience.

The most effective means of ensuring skill transfer is for “knowing how” (technique) to be properly underpinned by “knowing why” (reflection)

Many employers are sending the message that anyone can be a workplace trainer or training specialist once they have some knowledge in a particular content area. Such a message does not accord with the views of experienced and educationally qualified trainers, who in this research, did not agree that an excellent knowledge of the subject was needed in order for them to be good at their role.

The results from the conduct of this study support the need for all human resource development practitioners, to bring the concepts of adult learning principles back to the table. Increasing the quality of knowledge and skill acquisition and, reducing the need for retraining, may decrease training costs and save organisations money.

Guided reading and extracts from: Darryl Gauld and Peter Miller (Australia), The qualifications and competencies held by effective workplace trainers, Journal of European Industrial Training Vol. 28 No. 1, 2004 pp. 8-22

Introduction

Training and development activities for staff in organisations are expensive exercises. The USA spends $60 to $70 billion a year in workplace education and training (Lynch, 1998). Australian companies spend $5 billion annually on employee training (Allan, 2002). Despite the huge sums spent on training and development, the field of workplace training is still emerging as a discipline (Walter, 2002) and there is no single agreed definition of training (Bone et al., 2000).

To further complicate the issue, the view amongst academics and researchers is that there is no consensus about how people learn and the best way to train them (Tovey, 1997). Such large expenditures on workplace training and the problematic definitional issues beg the need to understand what training “is”, how it “should” be practised. By whom training should be practised is the focus of this article.

The effectiveness of trainers who deliver the resource is known to be significant in the final return on training investment (Galbraith, 1998). Despite the critical role of the trainer in the delivery of this expensive resource, the research evidence to substantiate what qualifications and competencies an effective trainer should hold is lacking and it is “still difficult to predict” what these qualifications and competencies should be (Ye, 2000, p. 5).

No empirical research was found in the literature that investigated the relationship between a trainer’s qualifications and competencies and related these attributes to the trainer’s effectiveness. The issue, highlighted in the literature by Palmer (1989), for example, is that many employers are sending the message that anyone can be a workplace trainer or training specialist once they have some knowledge in a particular content area.

Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine whether or not formal “teaching” qualifications and/or particular competencies, are significant in defining an effective workplace trainer. The competencies necessary for effective workplace trainers Galbraith (1998) regards questioning as the single most influential teaching competency, because of its potential to impact learning. In contrast, Stolovich (1999, cited in Abell, 2000) considers listening to be the most important trainer skill, because it allows the trainer to redirect the learner’s attention or to deepen their thinking. Wlodkowski (1993), however, considers feedback to be perhaps the most powerful trainer competency.

Four critical elements of learning that must be addressed to ensure that participants learn, cited by Lieb (2001, p. 3) are:

(1) Motivation (set a feeling or tone for lessons, set an appropriate level of concern and difficulty) – “the truest measure of teaching effectiveness” (Ishler et al., 1988, p. xix). The teacher with a high degree of presence (physical movement, nonverbal behaviour, lesson pace, and voice quality) is visually and auditorally dynamic (Ishler et al., 1988, p. 108).

(2) Reinforcement (to encourage correct modes of behaviour and performance).

(3) Retention (demonstrate correct performance by practice).

(4) Transference (by the use of association, similarity, degree of original learning, and critical attribute element).

It is also important that trainers have the competencies to create a comfortable learning community (Olson and Pachnowski, 1998), as is providing feedback as a contributor to learning (Thornton and Wexley, 1972; Heinzmann et al., 1980). To keep refilling the wellspring of new ideas, trainers should be continuous learners themselves (Caudron, 2001).

Caffarella and Merriam (1999, cited in Caudron, 2001), believe trainers should:

  • use collaborative interaction to plan and organise learning experiences;
  • foster a climate for learning in which learners and instructors support each other in the learning process, in and out of formal learning situations;
  • use and encourage a cooperative communication style; and recognise that people’s feelings are critical to fostering relationships in any learning experience.

Communication is understanding emotions as well as ideas, the body as well as the mind (Lindeman, 1938, cited in Gessner, 1956).

Competencies of trainers in the area of problem solving techniques also produce effective results for learners to enhance their ability to locate and solve problems (Bernstein et al., 1957).

Individuals do not learn from experience per se, they learn from reflecting on their experience (Knowles, 1975; Houle, 1996; Thiagarajan and Thiagarajan, 1999, cited in Abell, 2000).

Taylor (1991) believes that the most effective means of ensuring skill transfer is for “knowing how” (technique) to be properly underpinned by “knowing why” (reflection): “The language has changed over the years, but teacher educators have always argued that effective performance rests on the interplay of practice and reflection”….

Implications for policy and practice

The results of this research have important implications for workplace training and workplace trainers. Many employers are sending the message that anyone can be a workplace trainer or training specialist once they have some knowledge in a particular content area. Such a message does not accord with the views of experienced and educationally qualified trainers, who in this research, did not agree that an excellent knowledge of the subject was needed in order for them to be good at their role.

Therefore, there appears to be a dilemma for the training profession. How does the profession maintain its sense of professionalism and standards when there is an emerging trend to hire workplace trainers on the basis of content knowledge only? If the trend continues, can workplace training ever emerge as a professional field?

A question also arises for employers.

There is an abundance of literature that supports the view that effectiveness as a trainer is contingent upon having trainers who are suitably qualified and experienced for the role (Lindeman, 1938; Knowles, 1980; DiGeorgio, 1982; Draves, 1984; Hiemstra and Sisco, 1990; Olson, 1993; Leach, 1996; Birkenholz, 1999; Thompson, 2001; Walter, 2002).

Despite this, employers often prefer workplace trainers who do not have educational qualifications and experience. How can employers be sure that they are receiving the best return on their training dollar and that quality training outcomes are being achieved when it is known that trainers who are not professionally qualified are less effective?

There are also theoretical issues that emerge from the research. This study sought to either substantiate or negate assumptions made in the adult education and training literature of what makes an effective trainer. Most of the literature uncovered for this study is based on experience, intuition, and observation, and not empirical research. The results of this study therefore provide a sound model to revise the current national competency standards for trainers to reflect a more rigorous approach.

In the context of the summary of findings and conclusions outlined in this paper, it is evident that a problem with workplace training (more specifically, corporate training) exists, because management appear to favour the appointment of unqualified trainers.

The bias towards unqualified trainers might be that management is able to pay unqualified trainers less remuneration. This bias was also reported by Garrick (1998).

Finally, the results from the conduct of this study support the need for all human resource development practitioners, to bring the concepts of adult learning principles back to the table. Increasing the quality of knowledge and skill acquisition and, reducing the need for retraining, may decrease training costs and save organisations money.

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