Tips for New Trainers, Two Years On

When I accepted my current position, the prospect of teaching adults terrified me.  Kids, I figured, weren’t in a position to judge me.  Adults though…  Who was I to get up in front of them and explain anything?  I’ve certainly gone to conference sessions or classes where I felt like the presenter was unprepared or unqualified, and it’s awful.

So I took this position, then started to panic.  How do I become a decent trainer when I’ve never taught adults?  I went back to this post a lot: http://www.thinkfinity.org/docs/DOC-6894 It has all turned out to be good advice, although not easy to always follow!

Almost two years in, my trainings for teachers and librarians have been far more successful than any other aspect of my job.  It is the one area where I feel confident, competent and as if I am making a difference.  So here’s what I’ve learned so far.

1. Don’t be a guru.  I have an advantage because I grew up with the internet, and I expected to use computers as I was training for this career.  Most of the people I train don’t have that experience.  It’s not that they aren’t smart, competent people, it’s that they have been told to adapt to new paradigms, while doing a very difficult job very well with very high stakes.  So they get defensive about technology.  When I get up in front of them, I am very careful to emphasize that I am not magic, I am not a genius, I am no one’s guru.  I am just a young person who gets paid to spend time making mistakes.  I get to tinker and play with interfaces, and the goal is to hit every roadblock, find the limits of every tool and figure out the workarounds.  It’s not that I don’t make those same mistakes, I just get to make them in private.  

2. Offer follow up.  Make sure participants leave with a concrete connection to you – a handout, a website, a Twitter account – something to make sure that they can continue to ask questions.  Make a sincere offer to be on hand for support.  I have made this offer at every training, and it has probably cost me a workday’s worth of time in research and answering emails, but the benefit to my attendees and the relationships it builds are priceless.

3. Know your style.  Some people work from notes.  Others can speak off the cuff.  I’m no Dave Lankes.  While the ups and downs of trainings have taught me that yes, I do know my stuff and I can wing it when required, I know that I perform best when I am meticulously prepared.  For me, that means a Smart Notebook presentation with step by step screenshots of everything I want to show, a script with scheduled work breaks for participants which is numbered to align with my slides, and time estimates jotted at the bottom of each page.  It’s not the end of the world if someone asks me a question I can’t answer using my slides – I can always go live.  But if the internet goes down and I don’t have slides, I’m sunk.

4. Let people follow their need.  Participants come to trainings with certain hopes and expectations.  I can show them how a tool works, but I can’t really meet their needs until I turn them loose and let them test out whether the tool will do what they’re hoping.  “Can I embed this?”  “Is this shareable?”  “Can my students get logins?”  It’s rare that I come away from teaching a class without having learned something new.  Giving participants space to just play and ask questions is how real learning happens.

5. Start at zero.  It’s 100% okay to write your training as you learn the tool.  It seems counter-intuitive – shouldn’t you become an expert before you try to decide how to present the information?  But it’s so difficult to reverse engineer knowledge and put yourself in the beginner’s shoes, that it really is beneficial to write down what you’re thinking as you walk yourself step by step through a new tool.  That way you can point out pitfalls and items that are misleading or confusing at first glance.  I generally take screenshots as I go, then edit when I’m done learning.

Some thoughts on tools: I’m sure that everyone will have unique approaches that work for them.  What has worked for me is using the screen capture tool in Smart Notebook to capture the full window, not the full screen.  As I go, I dictate my thoughts using an iOS app called CloudOn.  It lets me open my Word documents directly from my Dropbox, dictate what I want to add, and syncs the document.  It’s more graceful than toggling between Notebook and Word, and it’s much faster than typing.  

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