Trainers: Mixing Theory and Practice
Information technology, as an academic discipline, is not laden with theory — there is not a body of work that goes back to the Renaissance or Ancient Greece. Accordingly, IT trainers tend to emphasize real-world application in their courses with just a passing glance toward theory.
“Most IT trainers focus on practical skills,” said David S. Murphy, membership director for the International Association of Information Technology Trainers (ITrain). “Lip service is given to the theory.”
He also said, though, that it’s important for IT trainers to use learning and teaching theory to maximize the benefits of their teaching.
Additionally, Murphy said IT trainers must make a shift from regarding themselves as subject-matter experts to remembering they’re teachers and that their objective is to impart knowledge.
“A well-experienced trainer will listen to what their students have to say,” he said. “The novice trainer tells, and the advanced trainer asks — we trainers need to be continually asking questions of our students.”
As such, students must be trainers’ No. 1 priority.
“We need to be calm enough to listen and hear what the students have to say and what they want to learn,” he said.
Murphy also said the most effective IT trainers will blend a bit of psychology into the mix, taking a close look at learning theories and styles.
He cited Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences as a good jumping-off point, that is, IT trainers should be aware that students are skilled in different areas (such as linguistics, logic/mathematics and interpersonal issues), and just because they struggle to grasp certain concepts or complete certain tasks does not refute their overall intelligence.
“Never assume anything,” Murphy said. “Each person is different.”
Additionally, he said it is important for IT trainers to remember that their students might be novices in the particular area a course addresses and that they might be intimidated by the trainer in terms of both his or her knowledge and actual presence.
“When a teacher stands before us, in general, we tend to regard that person as an expert,” Murphy said. “We need to exert that in a manner that helps the students.”
And when class is not in session, Murphy said trainers ought to be doing what is necessary to fine-tune their courses and teaching, as well as encourage learning throughout the organization.
He said one way to do this is, during downtime, work on a newsletter that lays out some of the issues addressed in a course, the knowledge of which would benefit more people in the organization.
As such, Murphy also said IT trainers need to assume the responsibility of encouraging learning throughout a company.
“We need to be the drum majors and majorettes for learning in our organizations,” he said. “I’m a firm believer in that.”
Additionally, Murphy said it is important to never assume that students are wrong.
“They may be doing something exactly as they learned,” he said. “What they learned was not incorrect, but the current trainer might have a more accurate or precise way of doing things.”