Learning and development is a vital part of any organization, large or small. It helps to increase efficiency, generate performance improvement, and support workplace competitiveness. As practitioners, we have a profound responsibility in guiding the futures of our participants and setting them up to be capable and confident learners as well as productive workers. The influence of a bad trainer can have a long-term negative effect, so we owe our learners and organizations engaging experiences that help participants build confidence to take the kinds of risks required to be effective learners.
I have been enormously privileged to work in such a vibrant and dynamic profession. It has allowed me to do something I am truly passionate about and enabled me to meet some incredibly talented people along the way. It has taken me all over the world and provided a base to build a wonderful lifestyle for myself and my family. However, it hasn’t come without its challenges.
I learned early that engagement was important to my success. I reflected upon my own education and experience as a learner, shook up the traditional ways of doing things, and continued to look for new and interesting ways to involve the audience. I discovered that training is not an event, it is a process; and the quicker we involve the participants in their learning, the quicker they will connect with the content.
Ever since those formative days as a beginning trainer, I have stayed resolute in my commitment to creating a superior learner experience. This simple premise has helped me build a successful international training business, become a keynote speaker and author, and a multi-award winning trainer.
The New Face of Learning and Development
A few years ago I spoke at a conference of HR directors and explained that they were the custodians of the future success of their organizations, and they had to take their learning and development roles seriously. Rather than simply being a support function, their role was the engine room for growth. More importantly, I said when we stop investing in our people, both personally and professionally, we stop investing in long term viability and competitiveness.
The race for talent is back on and the organizations that consider learning and development as the centerpiece of their people management will prevail. The challenge will be in wrestling the steering wheel from management teams that seem satisfied in using 19th century practices to solve 21st century problems. Let’s face it, the rules have changed, the game has changed, and if we don’t change our approach to business, we will be on the endangered list. Put simply, as learning and development professionals, we can’t do what we’ve always done. Like natural resources, we should see human resources as non-renewable. Moreover, they have to be developed, refined, and valued before we reap the rewards. It is critical that we move past the traditional mindset of throwing our hands into an endless bucket of personnel and do more to enrich the skills and the lives of those presently in our employ.
This is not rocket science. If we improve the quality of the worker, we improve the quality of the work. The role of a modern learning and development team should be to support the growth of their workers, help them to build a lifestyle, and show them a future in what they are doing. In this way, you not only improve the work, but you have workers who want to improve.
Key Lessons Learned
As a trainer, I have always looked to explore new techniques, activities, and approaches. This has helped me to stay fresh. It is important to take risks, because this is where the learning happens. I didn’t always get it right, but I had the courage to try those new things and stretch myself professionally. Sometimes you just have to throw out tried-and-true techniques, as this ultimately leads to better results. We can’t be cookie-cutter versions of the ideal trainer, because every group is different and requires a unique approach to bring about success. Pushing the boundaries of our comfort zone is an incredibly liberating thing and I recommend that all trainers try something new or different every time they walk into a classroom, to keep themselves engaged. You have to be yourself and back yourself. This will help you to create your own authentic style. Participants want to connect with real people who have had real experiences. They want to know that the trainer is on their side.
Furthermore, the expectations of learners are so much higher today than when I started in the industry and they are more connected (through smart devices) than at any other time in history. Trainers need to recognize that they are competing for the attention of their audience. Like it or not, training is now part education and part entertainment. There are some simple things that we can all do with our performance that can assist in attracting and maintaining the attention of the audience and transform our training into “edutainment.” For instance, music could be used effectively in a variety of ways:
- as an introduction to signpost the beginning of the session
- as sound effects (such as a drum roll or cheering) used when participants share responses
- during get-to-know-you activities to promote positive networking
- during small group discussions to signal the duration of the activity (for example, we come back when the music stops).
The use of chimes or other musical instruments can be a fun way to identify the conclusion of a discussion activity.
Finally, the best piece of advice I can offer is to invest in yourselves. With the ever-changing face of learning and development, continuous professional development (CPD) is essential to support practitioners in their current roles and assist them in maintaining a pathway of career progression. Simply put, if you don’t take your own development seriously, how can you expect anyone else to? Good luck in the next phase of your learning and development journey!