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.

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