- From Training Specialist to Learning Generalist
- Instructional Designers need more skills than just writing!
The Six Hats of a TrainerYes, I've read De Bono's work and his "Six Thinking Hats" were an inspiration. In fact my six hats of a trainer are indicative of the various roles that an intelligence age trainer needs to play and as a consequence the different ways she needs to think. Now before I get out of this with egg on my face, let me clarify that I don't expect one person to be good at all of this overnight! That'll take intuitive aptitude! My friend Vijay Colaco takes strong objection to the word 'training' and believes it's akin to how we make animals do our bidding. Vijay OTOH prefers to think about corporate education (on the lines of 3 Idiots), where individuals make informed decisions about the steps they take. What I hope is that as we enter an exciting new decade, traditional trainers can look at their roles with a bigger sense of responsibility and the satisfaction of being able to contribute to their organisations in a more complete fashions. In effect, we'll craft more effective learning experiences and eliminate waste most ruthlessly.
So here's what wearing each of these hats amounts to.
Being a Teacher"As teachers we focus on helping people acquire general cognitive abilities, rather than on particular performances in specific situations"
The role of the teacher is fairly traditional. Most corporate trainers are pretty good at this already. The key to effective teaching is the ability to help people develop new strategies for thinking and acting. That said, the focus is less on performance improvement and more on new learning. Its important to note that while a lot of modern trainers scoff at teaching and term it as passive, it has its own place especially to empower novices. While teaching is not new to existing trainers, a lot of us could use help with our presentation skills. I find Garrey Reynolds' Presentation Zen to be a great resource for teachers to learn how to effectively prepare, simplify, visualise and deliver a sesssion on any topic.
Being a Facilitator"As facilitators we're helpers and we assist groups in working together in various contexts to reach the best possible conclusions or decisions."
The game starts to change here a bit. While teachers aid the acquisition of new knowledge and understanding facilitators make it easier bringing out and focusing the wisdom of the group, often as the group creates something new or solves a problem. Facilitators need to have the ability to stand back and let the group perform and interfere only when they see a need to course-correct. The act of facilitation involves creating group interaction patterns that bring out the best learning. This could be limited to facilitating just business as usual meetings or even large scale conferences. In the recent past, my favourite resources for facilitation related wisdom have been ex-ThoughtWorker Jeremy Lightsmith's website on Facilitation Patterns, Steven List's Blog and his interview on Open Spaces with InfoQ and also Patrick Kua's blog.
Being a Coach"As coaches we actively enable our coachees to develop specific behavioural competencies, as a consequence helping them achieve or improve their performance in certain contexts."
As I've said earlier as well, coaching is a fairly underestimated way of creating learning. That said, I believe coaching to be an "on the ground" job that happens continuously. It's something that should happen on the job and all the time -- it should not be an intervention. That said, to create a crop of good coaches corporate trainers need to don the role of a 'coach coach' or 'master coach'. Through their efforts they need to make mentorship a common practice across teams and organisations. There are far reaching consequences of this investment. There's greater organisational understanding of how people learn. In time, learning becomes common practice and a continuous process rather than an event. In time, the organisation also learns that elearning or training or social media aren't silver bullets and that every extrinsic effort to creat learning falls flat without the intrinsic support of coaching and mentorship.
Being a Designer"As designers we use creativity and analysis to build instructional solutions that make complicated tasks and concepts simpler."
If you've followed this blog then you know that I feel Instructional Designers need more skills than just writing. Instructional design is easily one of the most skilled professions in the learning industry and when we wear this hat, we are responsible to translate learning visions into concrete resources. I deliberately call this hat that of a 'designer' only (as against instructional designer) though, because I feel that we need to look beyond instructional design alone. I feel we get way too caught up in making things instructionally sound as against picking the low hanging fruit of aggregating 'not-instructionally-sound-yet-useful' information. As a hardcore pragamatist, I often care less about instructional soundness if aggregating useful content gives me a quick win and an easier way to get to a learner. This is not to say that instructional design isn't valuable -- its just that pragmatism and a shorter time to market will give us a sharper edge this year.
Being a Technologist"As technologists we stay on the cutting edge of technological innovation and harness technology to make the learning experience more effective."
There's no denying that technology is occupying an increasingly large space in education of all forms and at all levels. To avoid technology will only be to live in a state of denial. I can only request my 'training' colleagues across the world to embrace this as an extension of their existing skills and know that this is a great way to utilise their experience of influencing people's learning. Informal Learning is largely accepted as a highly effective way of creating continuous learning and technology is a great way of enabling informal learning. As technologists 'trainers' need to continuously stay on top of emerging trends in the marketplace and we need to embrace the 'don't worry, be crappy' mentality. As innovators, we need to release early and release often and stick our necks out for things that we see potential in. So are virtual worlds the coolest new trend in learning technology? Or is it alternate reality? Or then is it social media? Let's raise our awareness of these trends and at least get our hands dirty to start with. And let's not stop at that alone -- if we see value, let's be prepared to take this to the next level by increasing our engagement with our IT departments to articulate the benefits, risks and issues using shared vocabulary.
Being a Consultant"As consultants we ruthlessly eliminate waste and evaluate at our learning offerings from the perspective of the business, ensuring that we continuously deliver the most efficient solution (instructional or not) to achieve the performance expectations."
In a previous post, I've pointed to quite a few resources that can help us build our consulting skills. While I talk about Consulting last, its definitely the meta-hat for all the above hats. As service providers to our organisations and clients, we're all consultants. Not only do we need the ability to engage our stakeholders, but we also need to articulate the value of our approaches and determine the right solution to performance problems in the business. Its not enough anymore to be a glorified order-taker for the business -- we need to go several steps forward to look at the entire value stream we're addressing and how our interventions will affect its performance. So, in my opinion, if there's one hat we'll always wear in this decade, it'll first be the consulting hat - to problem solve first and then wear the right hat to implement the solution!
My blogpost is limited to my own experiences with L&D over the last few years, so I have to turn to you for inspiration. What roles do you think trainers will have to play in years to come? What roles are you having to play? Please post your thoughts in the comments section and let me know what you think!