Strategies to Transform From a Trainer to a Workforce Educator

Corporate training has tremendous potential to promote learning in organizations. There are two primary elements that are responsible for how much potential is realized within the corporate training classroom, and those elements are the materials provided and the method of delivery. An instructional designer, or someone in a similar role, can develop engaging materials but if the delivery is not well executed, the training will not be as effective as it could. In contrast, if the training materials have not been designed in the most engaging manner, or the material is technical in nature, it is the trainer who can still create positive classroom conditions that are conducive to learning.

There are two types of trainers that can be found within organizations that choose to invest in learning and development. The first is a trainer who adequately delivers the required training materials and meets the minimum requirements for their role. The other type is a trainer who has evolved into someone who has a much greater impact on the learning process within a training classroom, a trainer who has transformed into a workforce educator. While it may seem that both are performing the same function, and to some degree they are because they work with the same materials, one disseminates information and the other brings the class to life and connects the information to participants in a meaningful manner. Becoming a workforce educator does not happen automatically and requires making a conscious decision as a trainer to improve upon existing skills, acquire additional knowledge, and develop new instructional strategies.

The Work of a Corporate Trainer

In general, a corporate trainer will view training from an outcome-based, task-oriented perspective. Participants are required to attend assigned classes and their willing compliance is expected. The role of a trainer involves preparing to instruct participants for what they are expected to learn or complete by the end of the class, whether it involves acquiring new knowledge or developing new skills. They also understand that the primary responsibilities for their role include providing materials, giving instructions, showing processes and procedures, and answering questions. A trainer knows that the learning objectives or outcomes, whether or not they have been directly involved in developing them, determine what must be accomplished and the final results at the end of the class are somewhat within their control since they demand involvement but they cannot force participants to learn.

Of course there are certainly exceptions to this general rule and there are trainers who have taken workshops and classes to advance their knowledge of corporate training methodologies and processes; however, someone who holds a task-centered view of learning still fits within the typical definition of a corporate trainer. Professional development is available through a variety of resources, which includes professional associations devoted to this field. However, professional development requires more than a membership to an organization or group, it must also involve a genuine interest in the growth of the trainer’s own skills. It is easy to believe that if classroom observations and/or performance reviews are adequate, and students respond in a mostly favorable manner to the training instruction, that no further learning and development is needed. That belief only sustains a trainer’s current role and mindset, which can limit their future potential.

Corporate trainers may also be called facilitators or instructors. The words instructor and trainer are generally thought to have the same meaning and they are used interchangeably. Some organizations refer to their trainers as facilitators as it suggests that a trainer is guiding the class rather than leading the process of learning. While that is certainly possible, taking this type of approach still requires advanced instructional experience and strategies, which would change the role of the trainer beyond someone who delivers materials and expects that participants will comply with their instructions. Unless a trainer has acquired advanced knowledge of adult learning and pursued their own professional development, what they are usually most skilled at is the art of corporate training.

What it Means to Be a Workforce Educator

The word facilitator is really not enough to adequately describe a trainer who has transformed from someone who delivers information to someone who educates. A corporate classroom is still going to be instructor-driven, given the nature of how most training occurs, which means the instructor is going to do something more than facilitate a process. Unless students are given the materials in advance, allowed to prepare for discussions before the class begins, and given an opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned through written projects, a trainer is going to do more than guide the participants – they are still going to lead and direct the class. However, what can change the process of corporate training is a trainer who has purposefully transformed and become a workforce educator.

An educator is someone who has developed a different view of how employees as participants are involved in the learning process. In addition, an educator understands that learning begins within the mind of the participants, not with the materials they need to deliver. They are not going to just give participants information that must be assimilated – they understand the basic process of adult learning and through knowing some of the most important adult education principles they will help students learn, apply, and retain new knowledge. A workforce educator will develop instructional strategies that are learner or employee focused, and they will partner with the instructional designer or person who is involved in curriculum development to make certain that all learning activities support the participants’ overall progress and development.

There is another important distinction made between a corporate trainer and a workforce educator. A corporate trainer believes they know enough and are well-equipped to train employees. In contrast, an educator is someone who is focused on their own professional self-development. Regardless of whether a trainer was hired because of their experience rather than their academic accomplishments, they possess a genuine interest in learning how to educate adults. They continue to learn from classes and workshops they attend, they read materials and resources that further the development of their own knowledge base, and they use self-reflection after each class to assess the effectiveness of their instructional strategies. It is possible to be a natural educator without having an advanced degree in adult education because what matters most is the pursuit of some form of ongoing professional development, along with a willingness to continue to learn and adapt for the benefit of the employees as students.

Strategies to Transform from a Trainer to an Educator

The most important characteristics needed to make the transformation from trainer to educator is a mindset that is focused on teaching rather than telling participants what they need to learn, along with an attitude of ongoing development and a willingness to learn. An educator is someone who views themselves as a lifelong learner, even if they have not acquired advanced education. There are many resources available now for educators, especially online, which will anyone to acquire the knowledge necessary to improve their craft. But if someone believes they have already learned enough or know enough about learning, that thinking is going to cause them to get stuck and their developmental capacity becomes limited over time.

Once a trainer has decided they want acquire additional knowledge about adult learning, they can begin to conduct research and read about some of the most important adult education theories. This is going to serve as a pivotal turning point in an educator’s career, becoming well-informed about the process of learning as an adult. One theory that can inform the work of an educator is andragogy, which is about the process of teaching adults who already have experience and knowledge that shapes how they are involved as students or participants. Additional topics and theories that are important to research include cognition, learning styles, critical thinking, transformative learning, student motivation and engagement, multiple intelligences, constructivism, academic skills and academic preparedness, and self-directed learning. There are numerous online websites and blogs devoted to adult education, along with articles about adult learning that can be found online or in print through an online library database.

Ongoing professional development can continue by connecting with other professionals, and LinkedIn is a helpful place to begin searching as there are numerous groups and associations that can be found through this professional networking website resource. As a member of a LinkedIn group it is possible to become involved in discussions and share resources with like-minded professionals who have similar interests in adult learning. Another helpful social networking website that can be used for sharing resources with educators worldwide is Twitter. Your ability to connect with the right audience will depend upon the manner in which you establish your profile and indicate what your professional interests are. The purpose of being involved in ongoing research and connecting with other educators is to inform your work and help you develop instructional strategies that are effective in creating conditions in the classroom where learning can occur. The more you transform and improve your instructional style, the better outcomes your students are likely to experience as a result of attending your corporate training classes.

Corporate Training is Necessary, Workforce Education is Developmental

Corporate training will always be necessary for any organization that needs to provide skill set training or relevant job-related knowledge. There are many individuals who have made a successful career from their work as a trainer, skillfully delivering information in a manner that reduces employee resistance to the training process. Those same individuals may believe that they offer the best possible classroom experience and no further training is required, and they may well be correct. However, everyone who is involved in corporate training has an ability to become more than a trainer, regardless of whether they provide technical training, soft skills training, or other developmental forms of training. Workforce education changes the perspective of a trainer and focuses on the potential of every employee. An educator can help employees obtain the maximum possible benefit from the training classes, while helping them transfer what was learned in the class to their job. This brings out the best in the trainers and the participants as employees, as both experience the transformative nature of learning and being fully engaged in the process. The result of a trainer becoming a workforce educator is that they will likely be more effective in their role, which means that employees (as participants) will gain more from the learning process while improving their retention of knowledge and engagement at work.

Online Education Used for College Classes

When most people hear the words, “online education,” their first thought is of those adults who are seeking out new skills or training or who are looking for a degree with limited time to commit to the process. But many colleges are utilizing online education for traditional college students. There are some major benefits for both student and teacher, and these college classes are eliminating some of the negative points of online education.

The major advantage for both student and teacher is the fact that much of the course work can be completed at the student’s leisure within the confines of time restrictions established by the teacher. Often, online education is used in conjunction with regular class times. For example, a class that is scheduled to meet three times each week might only meet once a week or even less often. Students know ahead of time when class will physically meet and when assignments will be online only.

Finding the motivation to stay on track with assignments is a major problem for many students of online education. The fact that the students are given deadlines for completing assignments help them stay caught up with the class even if they wouldn’t have had the motivation to do so on their own. Because classes still meet at least occasionally, the students have an opportunity to interact with other students. Discussion boards increase the students’ interaction with each other and with the teacher, allowing other students to view the threads of conversation.

Online education classes are especially beneficial when the course work is related to the computer or Internet. Students are encouraged to be online more often simply to check messages from the teacher and other students, and to keep track of assignments. But online education courses are also a valuable option for other subjects as well.

An online education has both real benefits and some real drawbacks, but by combining the classroom with the technology of online education, college students get the best of both worlds.

Special Education Reform?

I remember 20 plus years ago when I was getting my graduate degree in Special Education and a buddy of mine getting his degree in elementary education told me that his father, a school principal, said that I probably shouldn’t waste my time getting a masters in Special Education. He said that Special Education would be eventually fading out of public education. I was almost done with my masters at this point so I figured I would have to take my chances with it, besides what other choice did I have anyways at that point?

I got a Special Education job and taught for about 10 year. There were a lot of ups and downs over those 10 years, and eventually I decided that I wanted a change so I got certified and switched over to high school history. At this point in my career I remembered what my friend had said a decade ago and wondered if I was ahead of the curve on schools no longer needing special education teachers, even though it was 10 years later. I wondered if my job was now safe in my new-found home in the history department.

Well, I loved teaching history, but life has its own funny ways that aren’t aligned to us and what we want, so after a decade of teaching history I personally got a first class education on budget cuts and my job was eliminated. Thankfully, I landed on my feet back in Special Education, believe it or not.

It had been more than two decades since my old graduate school buddy told me that the need for special education teachers was disappearing. During the previous two decades my friend had gone from graduate school to elementary school teacher to assistant principal to principal, just like his father had done. I had gone from graduate school to special education teacher to history teacher to back to special education teacher, like nobody else that I know had done. And believe it or not there was still a bunch of special education jobs available when I landed there for a second time. As a matter of fact, there was actually plenty of jobs there because there is a shortage of special education teachers in 49 out of our 50 states. Imagine that… Two decades after I was told that Special Education was going away, and I find that they still can’t seem to get enough special education teachers.

Fast-forward a few more years to today and there is a new and interesting twist affecting Special Education called full inclusion. Now inclusion isn’t a new thing to our schools. As a matter of fact inclusion has a long interesting history in our schools.

Six decades ago there was the Supreme Court Case of Brown v. Board of Education. In 1954 the new law of the land became integrated schools for all races. Four decades ago the ground-breaking law of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) began to take effect and help ensure that more than six million students with disabilities have the right to a free and appropriate education, which means they too get to be included in with the general education population.

To help this happen schools create a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) that meet and discuss a student’s Individual Education Program (IEP) and then place the student in the appropriate educational setting based on the student’s needs and the law. The placement also needs to be the least restrictive environment (LRE). I can still remember my college professor describing the least restrictive environment in a short story that one would not bring a machine gun to take care of a fly. Rather, one would just bring a fly-swatter to take care of a fly. In other words, if a kid’s disability can be dealt with in the neighborhood school, then the kid doesn’t have to be sent across town or even to another town’s special school.

Today, many schools are trying to improve on this inclusion model and least restrictive environment by going from a partial to a full-inclusion model. Schools in the Los Angeles School District have moved a vast majority of their students out of their special education centers within the last three years and into neighborhood schools where they are fully integrated into elective classes like physical education, gardening and cooking. They are also integrated into regular main stream academic classes as well, but it’s usually not to the same degree as electives.

Michigan schools say that want to break down the walls between general education and Special Education creating a system in which students will get more help when they need it, and that support doesn’t need to be in a separate special education classroom.

Some school districts in Portland, Oregon are a little further along than the Los Angeles schools that are just bringing special education students back from special schools and Michigan schools that are just beginning to try full integration of its students and eliminating most of the special education classrooms.

Being a little further along in the process Portland makes an interesting case study. Many of the parents who initially supported the idea of integrating special education students into regular education classrooms in Portland are now worried about how the Portland Public School System is doing it. Portland is aiming for full-inclusion by the year 2020. However, some of the teachers in Portland are saying, “Obviously the special education students are going to fail and they are going to act out because we are not meeting their needs… If there’s not the right support there, that’s not acceptable, not only for the child, but for the general education teacher as well.”

A Portland parent said, “I would rather have my child feel successful than for them to be ‘college-ready’.” She further states, “I want my children to be good, well-rounded human beings that make the world a better place. I don’t think they necessarily need to go to college to do that. I think that children are individuals, and when we stop treating them as individuals, there’s a problem.” Sadly, many parents and teachers have left the Portland School District, and many more are fantasizing about it because they feel the full-inclusion model isn’t working there how they pictured it would.

How much should schools integrate the special education students is the burning question of the hour. In my personal experience some integration is not only possible, but it’s a must. With some support many of the special education students can be in the regular education classrooms.

A few years ago I even had a non-speaking paraplegic boy in a wheel chair who was on a breathing respirator sitting in my regular education social studies class. Every day his para professional and his nurse rolled him into and sat with him. He always smiled at the tales I told of Alexander the Great marching across 11,000 miles of territory and conquering much of the known world at that time. By the way, Alexander the Great also practiced his own model of inclusion by encouraging kindness to the conquered and encouraging his soldiers to marry the captured territory’s women in order to create a lasting peace.

Other important factors to consider in special education inclusion is the much needed socialization and the saving of money integration offers. Kids learn from other kids and money not spent on Special Education could be spent on general education, right? Hmm…

If you noticed, I said a little bit earlier that many special education students could be integrated, but I did not say all or even most should be integrated. There are just some students that are going to take away too much of the teacher’s time and attention from other students, such as, in the case of students with severe behavior problems. When we put severe behavior problems in regular education classes it’s just outright unfair to all of the other children in there. Similar cases could be made for other severe disabilities too that demand too much of the main stream teacher’s individual time and attention.

Hey, I’m not saying to never try out a kid with a severe disability in a general education setting. But what I am saying is that schools need to have a better system of monitoring these placements and be able to quickly remove students that aren’t working out, and are taking precious learning time away from other students. Furthermore, schools need to do this without shaming the teacher because the teacher complained that the student wasn’t a good fit and was disrupting the educational learning process of the other students. Leaving a kid in an inappropriate placement isn’t good for any of the parties involved. Period.

Over the last two decades I have worked with more special education students than I can remember as a special education teacher and a regular education teacher teaching inclusion classes. I have learned to become extremely flexible and patient and thus have had some of the toughest and most needy kids placed in my classes. I have worked miracles with these kids over the years and I know that I am not the only teacher out there doing this. There are many more out there just like me. But, what I worry about is that because teachers are so dedicated and pulling off daily miracles in the classroom, districts, community leaders, and politician may be pushing too hard for the full-inclusion model thinking that the teachers will just have to figure it out. Setting up teachers and students for failure is never a good idea.

Furthermore, I hope it’s just not the money that they are trying to save while pushing this full-inclusion model forward because what we should really be trying to save is our children. As Fredrick Douglas said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Regardless of how the financial educational pie is sliced, the bottom line is that the pie is just too small and our special education teachers and our special education students shouldn’t be made to pay for this.

In addition, I have been a teacher for too long to not be at least a little skeptical when I hear the bosses say that the reason they are pushing for the full-inclusion model is because socialization is so important. I know it’s important. But, I also know that too many people are hanging their hats on that socialization excuse rather than education our special needs students and providing them what they really need. I have seen special education students whose abilities only let them draw pictures sitting in honors classes. There is no real socialization taking place here. It just doesn’t make sense.

Well, finally coming full circle. It will be interesting to see where this full inclusion thing goes. The wise ones won’t let their special education teachers go, or get rid of their classrooms. And for the school districts that do, I imagine that it won’t take long before they realize the mistake they made and start hiring special education teachers back. To my friend and his now ex-principal father from all those years ago who thought special education was going away, well, we’re not there yet, and to tell you the truth, I don’t think we ever will be.