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Essential Skills for Trainers

Updated on September 9, 2009

Effective training in the workplace is given significantly more attention compared to its counterpart in the traditional academic setting. The need for effective instruction is driven by the need for improved employee performance, which is subsequently driven by the need for improved business performance. Training and development professionals recognize this need for effective instruction and employ a vast array of techniques to accomplish it. Although there may be many band-aid type approaches to increasing the effectiveness of training, none are a suitable substitute for quality instruction. Quality instruction can only be achieved through a highly skilled, carefully selected instructional staff.

When considering employees for promotions to instructional roles, or developing your own skills as an instructor; focus on the fundamental competencies required to be an effective instructor. There are some things that can be taught, and then there are some that are too much of a pain to teach. The awareness of what skills a potential instructional candidate already possesses eases the selection process, most often yielding the best candidate.

Three Fundamental Categories of Core Competencies

All of the competencies related to instructional effectiveness can be summarized under three broad categories. The combined effect of well-developed technical skills, professional skills and personal skills result in high quality, effective instruction.

Technical skills are those that are related to the subject matter. In many cases these are the skills of the job or position that the instructor trains in. Well developed technical skills provide the experience necessary to teach others. Extensive knowledge in the subject matter and a proven ability to perform are key indicators of technical skill level.

Professional skills are those that are specifically related to teaching and educating. Without the ability to teach others, the best subject expert will fail in an instructional role. In addition to the ability to teach others, which is most commonly associated with clear communication, patience and adaptability, knowledge of educational practices such as lesson planning and facilitation are extremely helpful.

Personal skills are those that contribute to an individual’s personality and affect instruction. Attitude, behavior, intellectual abilities, interpersonal skills and creativity are among some of the factors affecting how an individual is perceived by others. Each of these elements indirectly influences the learning process. The degree to which each impacts learning is variable. The best practice is to consider each element and the potential it has for negatively impacting the learning process.

Technical Competencies - Items to Consider

· Extent of knowledge in the subject matter – A generous foundation of knowledge in the subject matter will be apparent to learners. Thus, it will build learner confidence in the instructor and promote credibility. Additionally, it will aid the instructor in facilitating learning and answering questions, as well as increase the instructor’s confidence. Conversely, an instructor with weak knowledge in the subject matter will not be able to readily answer questions with looking up the answers. Students will be pick up on this quickly, and loose confidence in the instructor, which will negatively impact learning. The instructor may also lack confidence in front of the class and may appear to read their notes or recite memorized information.

· Ability to Perform – The most effective instructors are those who know what it takes to get the job done and can do it. Through their successes, they have undoubtedly built a list of tips and best practices that they can share with the class. The learners will also view the instructor as a suitable example, giving them confidence to do the job.

· Work Experience – Extensive work experience in the subject provides for rich examples that can be used to illustrate the instructional experience. Learners are always interested in knowing how/when are they going to use each piece of information. Through personal experience examples, this information is related to the class is meaningful way.

· Commitment to Learning – Due to the nature of the work, instructors must make an exceptional effort to stay current in their subject. Additional study and experience are often required. Many companies incorporate this into their instructional positions by requiring a minimum number of hours performing the job.

· Teaching Ability – Instructional roles require the ability to transfer skills and knowledge to a diverse audience. Instructors must have the ability to communicate complex ideas in a clear and concise manner. Many industries have unique vocabularies; the beginner student will not have this vocabulary or technical skill. It is the job of the instructor to translate information using a vocabulary that the learner can understand. It is also imperative that instructors have the patience to work with beginners and the ability to provide constructive feedback. Without the ability to teach others, a wealth of knowledge and technical skill mean very little in an instructional role.

Professional Competencies – Items to Consider

· Lesson Planning – Effective instruction does not happen by accident! It takes careful, thoughtful planning to ensure that the content, pace and timing of material is appropriate for the audience. A general knowledge of lesson planning procedures, identifying and writing lesson objectives, selecting instructional methods and materials, and planning assessments are necessary for successful lesson planning. This is one content area that is relatively easy to teach a new instructor if the skills are not present.

· Facilitation of Learning Solid presentation skills, knowledge of adult learning theories, classroom management skills and teaching methodologies provide the basis for facilitation skills. It is important to recognize that presentation skills for educational purposes require a more advanced skill set than for general business purposes. Instructors should be so well versed in giving presentations that they become a second thought to the more important task of facilitating learning. In addition to just presenting the material, the instructor needs to be able to gauge learner understanding through facial expressions, body language and comments. They also need to be able to adjust their instruction to meet these needs, and the needs of a diverse and changing group of learning styles.

· Instructional Evaluation – Evaluation of instruction occurs before, during and after the learning event. There are numerous methods for evaluating learner achievement, and it is important that instructors know what to use and when to use it. When done correctly, evaluations provide information on the extent to which learners have achieved the intended learning outcomes, the effectiveness of the instruction and if any adjustments need to be made to the instruction.

Personal Competencies – Items to Consider

· Behavior – The sum total of a person’s actions and reactions that determine how they are perceived by others. Behavioral attributes to consider when selecting individuals for instructional roles include: are they friendly, compassionate, considerate, cooperative, involved in the organization or community? Do they have a positive attitude? All of these things relate to positive behavior which is more closely associated with success in instructional roles.

· Intellectual Abilities – Instructors must be able to read, write, synthesize, evaluate, make decisions and communicate ideas with a relatively high degree of skill. All of these tasks occur regularly throughout the instructional process.

· Interpersonal Skills – Or the ability to interact with others, plays a vital role in the instructional process. Effective instruction requires two-way communication between the instructors and the students; it is therefore imperative that the instructor is able to facilitate this communication through successful interactions with the class. Additionally, the instructor must be able to maintain a professional relationship with students without appearing to be uncaring, cold, or lack compassion.

Effective instructional practices are universal, making them applicable to the teaching of any subject


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