A good trainer teaching an authorized certification program must possess a wide range of skills, from knowledge of technical content to classroom management to business management to psychology. Too often, emphasis is placed only on the technical competence of the trainer rather than on other skills. A good train-the-trainer program focuses on the entire wide range of skills needed in the classroom.
To teach a certification course on a technical subject, a trainer must know the materials well enough to pass the associated certification examination. Students taking these sorts of courses expect the trainer to have hands-on experience and to be versed enough in the subject matter to field questions that go beyond what is answered in the course’s textbook. It goes without saying that technical incompetence in a trainer is totally unacceptable.
Train-the-trainer programs, though, usually do not focus on the technical content. Some vendors provide instructor manuals that prescribe what must be covered as well as what might be covered in an authorized class. Generally, these instructor manuals are pretty clear about what is supplemental information that the instructor can provide to the class to enhance her position and the students’ learning and what is absolutely required presentation material. The train-the-trainer course should definitely not have to focus on teaching the technical content to the trainers. The trainers are responsible for this learning on their own or through a specific content-related class.
Train-the-trainer programs, also known as T3 programs, must focus on the other essential trainer skills that the technical expert may or may not innately possess.
For example, the CompTIA-sponsored Certified Technical Trainer (CTT+) has become a widely accepted cross-industry standard of excellence for technical trainers. Rather than focusing on specific technical content, this certification focuses on methods and techniques for classroom delivery and management. The certification examination for CTT+ is a two-part test that includes a conventional 95-question exam covering identification and situational multiple-choice questions. The other half of the examination requires the candidate to prepare a 20-minute video showcasing his teaching skills. Passing both examinations grants the candidate CTT+ certification.
Examination objectives for the conventional examination are shown at www.comptia.org. These cover a broad range of topics, including adjusting course materials to the students’ needs, methods for establishing instructor credibility, demonstrating appropriate verbal and non-verbal communication skills, using good presentation and questioning skills, providing positive reinforcement and motivation, evaluating learner performance and evaluating delivery performance. The CTT+ handbook may be downloaded from the CompTIA Web site for complete details about both examinations.
Various commercial and academic training organizations offer T3 workshops and classes to prepare a candidate for the CTT+. Among these groups is Friesen, Kaye and Associates. FKA workshops are available at various times in cities across the United States. Each workshop includes preparation for both examinations as well as creation of the candidate’s videotape for submission to CompTIA.
Colleges and universities have been slow to implement official train-the-trainer programs, but expect this to change as the credentialing of professors begins to encompass applied skills in the classroom in addition to academic degrees. Currently in the United States, teachers in grade school and high school must learn teaching skills in addition to their content area. College and university professors, however, have no requirement for formal education courses, although experience is usually valued. Fortunately, many professors get teaching experience as teacher’s assistants in graduate school.
In addition to the standard CTT+ training, vendors worldwide offer train-the-trainer courses to train their instructors to deliver their own training for internal employees and customers. In these sorts of T3 courses, more emphasis is placed on technical know-how, but emphasis is also placed on delivery skills. Hewlett-Packard, for example, offers a four-hour instructor-led overview session to train instructors and content developers in the features of the HP Virtual Classroom and how to use it to conduct effective presentations and training.
Focus on being an expert in your technical area first. Then, before taking on a class, it’s a good idea to take train-the-trainer training to learn and to practice the myriad skills that make a good trainer really good.
Ann Beheler is executive director/dean of Collin County Community College’s Engineering Technology Division, which houses one of the nine Cisco CCNP academic instructor training centers in the world. E-mail Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org.