On a warm August day in Charlotte, North Carolina, I stepped into the Master Trainer classroom. There I was, a 29-year-old trainer for a small technology firm with barely two years under my belt, stepping into a room full of experienced trainers. Being the sole owner of the talent development function at my company, my professional development up to that point had been largely self-directed. I was eager to fill the gaps in my knowledge and hoped to learn much from the cumulative years of experience in the room.
We were greeted by our facilitator, an eccentric Englishman named John. He informed us that most of the next four days would serve to prepare us for our practice delivery, our performance which would determine whether we obtained the Master Trainer designation. Sensing the nervous tension growing within the group, John set us all at ease with a quick smile and reassurance that he was confident all of us would do just fine.
Early on, John told us that a Master Trainer develops training that “lets the learner do the work of the learning,” and it became clear to me that I would need to put this into practice if I was going to do well on the upcoming practice delivery. In addition to the course content, I began to study John’s methods. I noted how he followed each discussion with an activity that had us writing on the whiteboard, working together in small groups, or providing each other with feedback. I also noted how all of this made me feel: safe, energized, and eager to learn more. I saw how John’s delivery positively affected my classmates as well. We were engaged. There was definite energy in the room and the unmistakable buzz of minds working.
As the course progressed, my perspective on my role began to change. I realized that my job as a trainer is to guide learners to the objective, but that the learner is responsible for learning. Up to that point, I felt totally responsible for how my learners performed on the job after I trained them. The course helped me realize the flaws of this egocentric approach. I resolved to focus on the learners’ needs and to let them do the work of the learning. In retrospect, I’ve found that shifting my focus in this way has helped me become more effective in my training design and delivery.
One of my goals in participating in the Master Trainer course was to improve my instructional design skills. I had read plenty of ATD articles and attended webcasts. I knew all about ADDIE and various other design constructs, but I lacked the hands-on learning I needed to really understand how to put them into practice. The design exercises that John led us through and the materials provided by ATD were indispensable in this regard. I used the OCEAN design scheme to map out the exercises I had planned. I also used the tools provided by ATD to develop a wireframe that helped me plan out every second of the practice delivery.
John told us that one of the biggest challenges a trainer faces is that training is messy. Learning is messy. A Master Trainer embraces this uncertainty and designs training that creates a safe learning environment, allowing the learner to make mistakes and digest the learning material in their own way. I may have had every second of my practice delivery planned out, but knowing this key fact allowed me to keep an open mind and expect the unexpected as well.
When the day of my practice delivery arrived, I struggled to keep my nerves in check despite all the preparations I had made. As I stepped in front of the class and began my delivery, my nervousness gave way to the familiar excitement of live, face-to-face training. As often happens when I’m facilitating a lesson, my sense of time slipped away, and I felt “in the zone.” I transitioned between topics and activities effortlessly, kept learners engaged, and handled disruptions with ease. I also received excellent feedback on how to improve my delivery skills going forward.
As the final day of the course ended and I bid farewell to the friends I had made over the last four days, I felt optimistic about the future. Though I’m still early on in my career as a talent development professional, I recognized that this was a key moment in my development. I had expanded my instructional design arsenal with tools like the OCEAN model and training wireframes, and I now feel much more confident when designing training to meet organizational goals. The ATD Master Trainer program was a crucial step in my professional growth, and I’m grateful for the experience.