What makes a good trainer?

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The effectiveness and even the integrity of the TAE40110 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment has been the centre of public discussions for a few years now. A lot of people ask me to describe how this qualification can help RTOs improve their performance. Can it help graduates know how to unpack units of competency better? Be better presenters? Use PowerPoint slides in some magical way? Or prepare more structured sessions? Do they need to gather more assessment evidence from learners? There's a lot we could talk about. But if I were to start somewhere, I'd say a person who holds TAE40110 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment is someone who should be able to practice a learner-focused approach to learning, and provide industry relevant training.

Philosophically, being learner-focused means you trust the learner to learn. Practically, it means the learning does not take place at the front of the classroom. Too often, we're told a class is learner-focused when only elements of it are. Being truly learner-focused takes practice, experience, reflection and a good and effective trainer and assessor who feels comfortable being in a position to trust the learning to the learner.
Some people prefer to trust their expertise and the way they deliver content, but in vocational education and training (VET) it's not about content, it's about learners developing skills and knowledge that will give them the ability to achieve certain outcomes under industry standard conditions and expectations. It's about learners performing tasks in a workplace relevant context.

Learner-focused trainers don't just waltz in and deliver content. They set up discussions and exercises for learners to practice skills and explore concepts. And, they watch and listen to them, adjusting the instruction to make the most of the time the trainer has with them.
Much of what we know about learner-focused learning comes from thought leaders like Malcolm Knowles. Knowles talked about the intrinsic motivation for adults when they learn. He suggested it's important to have interactive experiences in a collaborative context where learners can direct their own learning. Knowles understood that learning does not take place in front of a classroom of learners, but within the minds of each learner. They are the ones who do the heavy lifting. Put in today's context, it's not about how good your PowerPoint slides are, it's whether the learner processes the information. Learner-focused techniques are about encouraging cognition.

A lot of trainers approach training as if the learning happens out front. They focus much of their energy on presentation skills, slide decks, how time is managed and getting through the content. They use phrases like "topics I'll cover", "control the classroom" or "I'm giving this presentation". They often refer to participants as "the audience". And, they judge the success of a training session by how closely they follow their session plan.
But a good trainer and assessor is less concerned about following the session plan religiously than he is about making sure the learning objectives are achieved. He's less concerned about delivering a great presentation than making sure learners have everything they need to learn skills they can use back on the job, whether they are cognitive, psychomotor or effective.

Bottom line: Many trainers present training; good trainers facilitate learning.

Good Trainers Use Traditional Skills to Go Deeper
Yes, good trainers are good presenters, but they don't use their skills to present. They use them to lead discussions and ask questions that encourage participants to think deeply.

They're masters of developing rapport with learners, but they use these skills to help learners develop rapport with one another as well, to create a collaborative community of learning. And, rather than just deliver knowledge content, they help learners draw on existing experiences to build new knowledge that they can use back on the job.

Many trainers talk about what they'll cover in a class. Good trainers discuss skills the learners will be able to use after the class and how they are related to the learner's job and the needs of the business.

Learning is Physiological
Knowles and Rogers were right about learning taking place within the mind of the learner. It is here the master trainer focuses her attention. She wants to know that the learner is actively engaging the working and long-term memory. Learning is a physiological process in which the brain fires neurons.
It's hard work and often not supported by good presentations alone. Techniques such as rehearsal and reflection are much more effective. Rehearsal includes activities like games, exercises, role-plays, simulations and other active techniques that require learners to apply their new knowledge. Reflection includes activities like discussions, questions, observations and techniques requiring learners to analyse a situation.

What do we expect of trainers and assessors?
Our VET sector is responsible for providing learning solutions to individuals and industry. Trainers are the critical factor of success for training organisations. We expect trainers and assessors to hold vocational competencies, industry experience and currency, knowledge about learning and development, skills in using training packages to solve industry performance issues, and to understand our VET system.

We expect that our trainers and assessors understand and are able to use the broad range of learning technology available, and find effective ways to communicate with current learners. When our trainers and assessors are in front of our learners, we expect them to ask more questions and listen to their answers, rather than merely delivering content and telling the answers. We expect them to create more opportunities for learners to draw on their own experiences, rather than sharing only the trainer's stories, and using questions to redirect and assist them construct good practices as they learn new skills. We expect practical training and the use of more exercises that provide concrete opportunities to reflect and discuss things like soft skills

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