by Robin Kipke
This summer I had the opportunity to participate in several professional development trainings with big name people in the evaluation world—names you see associated with foundational evaluation theories and publications—B-I-G. And these were not just short presentations of an hour or two, but 10-12 hour courses that took place over a period of weeks.
But for all that time invested, I felt disappointingly dissatisfied. In fact, now a month or two later I’m struggling to describe what I got out of these trainings even after reviewing my notes and their slide decks.
Is it just me? Did I expect too much or build up unreasonable expectations of these long time thought leaders? Or am I right to expect more?
To answer these questions, I had to think about what makes for a good training. Here are the elements that seem important to me:
First of all, the training content needs to be pertinent and applicable to the lives of participants. They have to see the utility of what they’ll learn to their day-to-day work. This motivates them learn and fully take part in what the training has to offer.
I find I get lost unless the trainer begins by explaining why the topic is important, what it can do for attendees, and how it fits in to the broader context of things. The agenda should provide a roadmap of where the training is going. Throughout the day, the trainer should reference signposts, summarize what’s been covered so far, and link that to what they’re about to cover next. That helps orient me throughout the session.
I get easily bored with routine formats. To keep participants engaged, it’s important for trainers to employ a variety of techniques and modes for learning—not only in the forms of information delivery (short bits of lecture, video clips, readings, inquiry, etc.) but also with interactive elements. Having the same breakout groups discuss a case study or answer questions every 45 minutes doesn’t necessarily cut it for me for a number of reasons. There needs to be an element of creativity in the activities and a variety of ways for how to go about it. Trainers can make use of individual reflection, pair and triad check-ins, journaling, metaphors, slogan-making, charades, drawing or a thousand other ways to get participants to wrestle with and apply content! Think outside the box.
Meaningful Group Work
The pursuit of creativity should not, however, be at the expense of utility. Every activity should have meaning and further the insights and knowledge of trainees on the topic. The point of the training is to ready participants to apply what they learn to their work, to their lives. So whenever possible, let learners bring in elements of their job tasks to the activities—e.g., let them develop survey questions they actually need to ask soon.
Another aspect that makes training activities either meaningful or frustrating is timing. If the task is too large, too broad or poorly defined or explained, participants won’t fully engage. Alternately, when the time is too short to accomplish much, that can be really frustrating. There’s never enough time to cover everything, so trainers need to get the right mix of depth and breadth and know how long things take to work through. It also helps to monitor group progress in order to accurately manage the time.
The Entire Package
The last piece that makes for a good training is the experience, skill and knowledge of the trainer. Facilitation is a true art—a combination of expertise and humility, organization and play, a willingness to listen and explore but knowing when to prompt and when to move on. For most, juggling all of this effectively only comes with practice.
So is it any wonder that some trainings fail to fully meet heightened expectations?
Now that you know what to look for in a training, we at the Tobacco Control Evaluation Center will have to work hard to meet your expectations!