Yesterday at the beginning of our training course I asked my trainees a check-in question, “What do you think you will have to do to apply your learning today?” I wanted people to think about their own processes of learning and to share with each other some reflections on what it would take for them to translate the content of the training course from theoretical, or passive, knowledge to something that they can actually do. Effectively, from an experience in a workshop room, to something they will be able to draw upon easily in a real-life situation.

They were surprised at that question, and found it tricky to answer. However, translating information from a page/mouth of an expert “Trainer”, even when supported by some practice exercises, into something that you can do/use yourself takes lots of considered individual work. Most people’s response to this question was to “Practice, practice, practice” – which is true, but there is so much more.

This question also made me pause, as I realised that I had gone through the same process for the training I was giving right then – that I was as much of a Trainee as my participants were.

I have given many Training-of-Trainer (ToT) courses over the years, for many of the fields in which I work. In my groups of Trainees I would have both people familiar with the content and those for whom it was fairly or completely new. The ToT would deliver the content and training process, we would practice different elements, and finally we would demo the module (whatever it was) together for a completely new group of participants. Then these newly-trained Trainers would be sent off with a beautiful Trainer’s manual and all participant materials, handouts etc. I would always be available to answer further questions (even to this day). But definitely the Training-of-Trainers experience doesn’t stop there. It is just a fraction of the learning experience needed to be able to go from the ToT workshop to being able to deliver the content.

This particular training course that I gave yesterday is one of the first times that I can recall that I was trained in an area where the content was broadly new to me – it is in the galaxy of the tools and skills that I use, but I had never worked directly in the area or used the particular tools that I was being asked to train others to use. That did not necessarily mean that I would not be good as a Trainer, it happens all the time (and actually that is precisely why there are Training of Trainer courses!) However, when the content is rather new it does mean that additional individual work to assimilate the content with enough confidence and expertise to be able to effectively transfer that learning to others is critical and time consuming.

Making it Mine – Going from Trainee to Trainer and Learner to User

During the ToT that I myself took to be a Trainer in this new field, I took copious notes on both content and process, even verbatim notes from the master Trainer. When she delivered her slides, I wrote down her text and examples beside the slides. When anyone asked a question, I wrote the question down and her answer. When we did an exercise, I not only recorded my group’s answer, but also the answers of the other groups. I noted when she handed things out or used a flipchart and wrote that into the agenda. When we used job aids, I wrote down how she briefed the exercise and then debriefed it. At the end of the ToT, I had recorded as much process data as I could notice to go along with the content descriptions.

When I got home, I went back through my notes. But it wasn’t until I was called to deliver that training myself that deepest learning kicked in. Here are a few things I did to make that that training course content mine:

  • Connect the Content to Me- Finding My Own Stories: I found in my own experience some connections between the new content and what I had already learned and done in life – things that substantiated my being a Trainer in that area. It was a little stretch, but actually not as much as I thought. Some of the core skills I was using in other areas. That steadied me a bit. Initially I was nervous because I didn’t have years of specific experience to draw upon, but when I made these connections I could find my own stories.
  • Integrate Process Notes: I developed for myself a detailed Trainer’s Agenda. I used my own template and rewrote the agenda with all the process information, timing, and segue ways included. A simple agenda existed from the ToT with a separate process note for new Trainers, but I needed to work through the logic of each session and bring these together into a logical narrative in my head, and make something I could follow on the delivery day.
  • Get an Overview of Materials and Equipment: I created a materials and equipment list, and made a note on the Trainer’s Agenda which materials were needed where. This also included a list of what needed to be prepared in advance (at home and in the training room). With all of this thinking done, I could concentrate once I was in the session on the content.
  • Fill in Knowledge Gaps: I went through all the content PPT slides and made sure I understood exactly what they meant – for this I needed the notes I took when the Master Trainer delivered it. I researched all the questions I had and all those I could anticipate (e.g. people asking where that fact came from, getting a good definition of a term, understanding the difference between x and y). I also took out lots of transition slides and builds in the PPt that, for someone who is less familiar with the content (or at least not the original creator) or who has a different pace, just makes it look clunky.
  • Reduce What You Have to Remember (Part I): Create a Detailed Flipchart Agenda for the Training Room. I created a flipchart agenda to keep up in the room which was more detailed than usual, as much for me as a guide through the course as for the participants . Whenever I needed a flipchart in the content delivery, I put a number for the flipchart on this agenda. Then I numbered my flipcharts with post-it notes sticking out the edges (like tabs in an address book).
  • Reduce What You Have to Remember (Part II): Make Job Aids. I made up some new Job Aids/handouts for some of the exercises which had all the instructions on them – every thing I would say to brief them.
  • Reduce What You Have to Remember (Part III): Put Instructions on Flipcharts. I also made up a set of flipcharts with all the exercise instructions on them so that I would not have to remember every tiny detail myself (I might but I might not).  
  • Create a Trainer’s Manual: I put together all the separate pieces I had from the original ToT and that I had created into a ring binder to organize in one place all the materials and documentation. Each session had its own section which brought together my notes, with those of the Master Trainer so I had them for quick reference if need be. There was a section with my process agenda with the original participants agenda behind. One section had my new PPt slides with my notes and examples and stories, with the original one from the ToT just behind. There was a tabbed section for each exercise, with a separate sheet with briefing and debriefing notes prepared, and any associated handouts, all combined with the Frequently Asked Questions I had picked up from the ToT. This way if I had a moment during group work, I could scan ahead to remember points for the next session if need be.

All this preparation happened BEFORE I got to Practice, Practice, Practice.

Through delivering this new course, I have developed a lot of new empathy with my Trainees of the past (and future); learners who are invited to come to a ToT and to become a Trainer on a topic that perhaps they have never trained before that day. We all need to know what we are signing up for when we go to a Training of Trainers Course, or providing one. As a Training Trainer we are effectively giving our Trainees a ToT group experience, and also a lot of individual follow up work as well, if Trainees really want to be able to deliver that training themselves. ToT organizers should be very aware of this critical work outside the ToT itself and talk through a strategy to help individual Trainers make this leap.

I think having now had this experience myself, I will devote much more time discussing with the Trainees what they will need and want to do to be able to apply the learning in a training situation – from something coming out of my mouth to something coming out of theirs. And in the future I will push even further into that learning space with participants to help them develop a strategy for that,. Just as I asked my participants yesterday to do.

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