The Challenges of Train-the-Trainer Approaches

Train-the-Trainer is an important philosophy and methodology to spread learning throughout an organization. The idea is each one teach one. I’ve written previously about this approach, mostly as an internal word-of-mouth way to market eLearning courses and modules in your organization (see Using Peer-to-Peer Approaches to Extend eLearning’s Reach). The real power of train-the-trainer, however, is when people learning something then become the trainers for others. It’s an idea that makes perfect sense, and yet there are some ways that it can go wrong.

Untrained Trainers

The Challenges of Train-the-Trainer ApproachesWhile train-the-trainer seems like a great idea for spreading learning throughout your organization, its effectiveness can be hampered when the newly minted trainers lack basic training skills. In other words, it’s one thing to receive training in something, but it’s another thing entirely to turn around and become the trainer for others. There’s more to it than just some technical skills in presenting the content. There’s a lot to know about the soft skills of adult learning, how organizational culture comes into play when making changes or introducing something new, and the basics of keeping learners engaged. Poorly delivered training simply isn’t going have the impact you’re looking for.

Better for Basic Content

Because of the challenges mentioned above, train-the-trainer is often best-suited for relatively simple, technical content that doesn’t require much in the way of training/teaching skills.

Leveraging the Power of Train-the-Trainer

When Language is an Issue

One scenario where train-the-trainer can make a whole lot of sense is when conducting trainings where language is a barrier. For this to work well, the first set of people who receive the training need to be bilingual, so that they can then deliver the additional trainings in all the areas of the organization where the original training language is not spoken. For example, if you conduct trainings in English and you’re hired by a company in Thailand to bring your train-the-trainer training in, you’ll want the first set of participants to be bilingual in Thai and English, and then they can deliver the additional trainings to all the participants who speak only Thai.

Enhanced Train-the-Trainer

The to overcome the challenge of train-the-trainer with people who aren’t up-to-speed on training skills is to make sure you build some of that into your train-the-trainer programming. It doesn’t have to be a lot at first, just enough to make sure that the newly minted trainers don’t make some of the worst and most common blunders. If you engage in multiple train-the-trainer programs over time at the same company, then you can up the amount of training skills development along the way. That way, you’re developing an internal set of employees to become your best trainers.

Tailored train-the-trainer

If you can, it makes sense to tailor a train-the-trainer program to the initial set of trainees. The following three approaches are ones to consider:

  • Hands-Off. If your initial set of trainees are experienced facilitators or have a decent amount of training experience, then you may be able to get away with a simple debrief to prep them on the content of the train-the-trainer program.
  • Workshop. More often that not, however, you’ll need to include some training skills content into the train-the-trainer program, which the organization should support if they want the training to disseminate effectively throughout the company.
  • SME Coaching. Many train-the-trainer programs wind up creating Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). If these SMEs have some training/facilitating experience, then you can focus on coaching them in how to interject their own style and content knowledge into the presentation. If not, then the coaching may need to focus more on training/facilitating skills.

In the final analysis, if you want to make sure your train-the-trainer programming succeeds, take the time to observe the initial set of trainees delivering their first round of training sessions and then follow-up with super-positive constructive feedback, tips, strategies, and additional ways to be effective.

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