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Ask a Trainer: How Can I Establish Credibility With Expert Learners?

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Dear Tim,

I’ve been working in the world of L&D for a few years, focused mostly on designing and facilitating new employee onboarding and training for entry-level employees. However, I’ve recently transitioned into a new position where I’ll be designing and facilitating training for senior-level engineers.

While I’m excited about this new role, I’m also a little nervous. Here’s the thing: With my new audience, they’re all older than me, they all have advanced degrees, and they’re all experts in their fields. Perhaps I’m just experiencing some imposter syndrome, but I get the sense that they don’t take me seriously or think that I don’t have anything to offer them.

So, how can I establish credibility with this new audience? Help!

You know, early in my career, I used to hate facilitating training for experienced learners. In fact, I dreaded it. Like you, I felt intimidated by their expertise, and I worried that I was wasting their time.

However, once I started learning more about instructional design and adult learning theory, I realized that I wasn’t the problem but rather that my content and activities weren’t tailored to account and take advantage of the expertise my learner’s brought to the classroom. This resulted in a learning experience that truly was a total waste of my learners’ time.

Luckily, you’re in a special situation. Based upon your question, it appears you could have the ability to design the content you’re responsible for facilitating. And why does this matter? Well, it’s important to recognize that the learner experience you create for novice learners should not be the same as what you’d create for experienced learners.


So, what do you do instead? Well, you put more focus on letting your learners share and apply their knowledge and expertise rather than providing all the instruction. Do this by creating content that focuses on discussions, case studies, knowledge sharing, and so forth. Creating this type of learning shows respect and acknowledgment for your learners’ expertise. In fact, it makes your job easier—you get to admit that your learners are the experts, and your job is simply to facilitate (not instruct) an experience that lets them apply what they know best.

Trust me, they’ll appreciate it and get more from the experience, and you’ll feel more confident as a facilitator. I hope these tips help.

Best of luck!


Do you have a learning question you’d like me to tackle? You can email them to Also, visit the Ask a Trainer hub to check out all of your questions and my answers.

We welcome your comments and engagement on these posts. All posts are reviewed to ensure appropriateness based on ATD’s requirements for postings in our online communities.

Please note: Content shared in this column is provided by the author and may not reflect the perspectives of ATD.

About the Author

Tim Slade is a speaker, author, award-winning
e-learning designer, and author of The eLearning
Designer’s Handbook.

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Yes, Bring new information or content shouldn't be the only thing that facilitators do, inspiring and sharing are also the main work of a facilitator. learners could learn almost all information and knowledge on the internet and handbook of a company, and why they spend time siting in the class and listening to you. because you can create connection and bring inspiration to them, which is the handbook can' t bring to them.
That's a great point, Rita! I agree...part of a facilitator's job is to make a connection with the learner, not just deliver the information. Thanks for reading and commenting.
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Great topic Tim. When I'm training new trainers, I remind them no matter who you are training, they have a need in that topic area and that's why you are there. Don't let the negative little voice distract you. If you've done the preparation right, you will always be delivering training where and how it is needed.
Hey Leah! Those are some great points! Often time, we project what we think our learners are thinking, which can make us feel insecure. Thanks for reading!
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Thanks Tim for an excellent reminder of the difference between facilitation of expertise and instruction for novices. I'm guilty sometimes of expecting new learners to facilitate their own learning before they are ready. There's always room for growth.
Thanks for reaching, Angela! I'm glad you liked it!
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