Train me please
January 6, 2011 12:23 PM   Subscribe

So what does "train-the-trainer" really mean anyway?

I work in the non-profit world, and I have for a while. If you have too, you know terminology gets thrown around a lot; and recently, all I am hearing about is new programs utilizing "train-the-trainer" technology.

I get the gist of "train-the-trainer" Its a training/program model in which the trainer trains a group about something, that said group can then re-train subsequent audiences how to do.

I guess I have just been through enough "here's how you use this database - go show your staff how to do it, too" that I am skeptical about the accuracy in the usage of the word "train-the-trainer" in its application to many trainings. I mean, show me how to do something and I can probably show another person how to do (at least a little) of the task.

So, is there anything that actually defines "train-the-trainer" as a unqiue kind or type of training?
posted by RajahKing to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Teaching someone how to teach a topic is not the same as teaching them the topic. Is that what you're asking?
posted by restless_nomad at 12:28 PM on January 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

i am guessing that the term is used rather casually by many. but something that we do at my organization (we put on continuing education coursework) is not only teach our participants the subject matter that we are covering and want them to cover, but we go over how to be a good teacher as well. many people are subject matter experts with no understanding of how people learn/retain/are attracted to information.

i would think a real train-the-trainer model would have parts to it focusing on "adult learning theory" principles (there are many styles), covering the different ways that people learn, and therefore the different ways to teach and share information. (yes, lecture is not the way to go for the most part).
posted by anya32 at 12:32 PM on January 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Person A has skill.

Multitude C need skill.

Person B is trained by Person A to deliver training to Multitude C.
posted by dougrayrankin at 12:33 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I guess I have just been through enough "here's how you use this database - go show your staff how to do it, too"

And if you've just seen it for the first time yourself, your staff (if they're legitimately interested in it) will come up with a hundred different questions about minor nuances and quirks of the database that you didn't think to ask, and wouldn't be mentioned in introductory-level training unless someone specifically asked.

I think "train-the-trainer," in its ideal, goes into a lot more depth, so that after you've taken it, you can answer those questions even if you never thought to ask them. And possibly suggests things like good examples to illustrate certain principles, different ways of explaining the same concept, etc.

That's not to say that reality always lives up to the ideal, but that's what I understand train-the-trainer is supposed to be.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:33 PM on January 6, 2011

It comes up at my place sometimes. "Train-the-trainer" often assumes that you already know how to do something. It should teach you what material to cover when training other people and what institutional hoops you need them to jump through in order to be certified as trained. It's a necessary bureaucratic thing.
posted by echo target at 12:34 PM on January 6, 2011

Where I work, "Train the Trainer" is basically a program to teach supervisors how to be better teachers. I have never gone through the program myself but I was asked to participate in one individual's "final project" or whatever they call it. Basically this woman had to give me a lesson on something. She was able to choose any topic, so she chose skin care, and it was actually well done and she obviously worked hard on it.
posted by radioamy at 12:35 PM on January 6, 2011

I have a modest amount of experience with this, from the outdoor/experiential education end of the nonprofit world. I see the difference this way: a standard skills training generally teaches some hard skill, e.g. database use. "Train-the-trainer" uses that hard skill as a means to develop soft skills - leadership, communication, etc. rather than as an end in itself.
posted by Makwa at 12:42 PM on January 6, 2011

In the world I inhabit -- digital divide type technology instruction -- there's more money available for "train the trainer" than "train the people who will never really learn the stuff and require assistance with these systems forever." People who give money want ot think that their money is scaling and starting a grassroots movement that expands, thousand points of light-like.

When done right then yes, it's teaching people not just the skills but how to teach the skills [with supporting tools and resources as well as contact with other teachers to assist them in doing the work] so that you can train a set of trainers and then they can go forth and train. When done wrong, it's making the devastating assumption that anyone who can be taught certain skills can also be taught to teach those skills to others.

In the digital divide world of technology instruction this is, to put it bluntly, bullshit. People needing basic instruction are lucky if they can get to a point where they can click and double click reliably and may never get to the point where they can grasp the nuances of why there are three different types of "click" or how to know when to use each one in which setting. As a technology instructor, I get somewhat chagrined at train-the-trainer programs because they act like the years of skills and tools I've built over the years can be passed on to someone else over a two hour seminar.

The term is popular because it's fundable, often, so if you can toss in some sort of "train-the-trainer" rhetoric it will look like your plan to teach ten people how to use the thing will blossom overnight into 1000 people being able to use the thing at the cost of teaching ten people. Sorry for the somewhat jaded stinkeye view of it, but I've seen a lot of money go into train-the-trainer programs with completely unrealistic outcome goals and while I think it can be a useful approach in a very narrow set of niches, it's wrong for more of them than it's right for.
posted by jessamyn at 12:44 PM on January 6, 2011 [9 favorites]

Knowing how to do something does not equal knowing how to teach someone else to do that thing.

That's why you sometimes need to show skilled people effective ways of transmitting their knowledge.

Training the trainer, as it were.
posted by Aquaman at 12:45 PM on January 6, 2011

A skill specific train-the-trainer program should not only teach you the material, it should teach you how to teach it. I am a certified trainer in a particular aspect of my field. I have to be re-certified every four years, not only in the material I'm teaching, but also in how I teach it. They are very particular about what I'm teaching, and also about how I'm teaching it. Showing me how to do something, then telling me to go show some other people how to does not take any standards into account. You may show them what you remember most, and you may not get that info across very well.

Generic train-the-trainer programs may be similar to adult teaching certificates?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:52 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some colleagues and I were once paid to write a training course on a technical topic. We were provided with a badly thought out format and outline, and we filled in the material. The customer then had us teach this training course to trainers in various different countries, and this was called "Train the Trainer". I think the idea was that the trainers were already knowledgeable about teaching, which we were not. We just provided the technical knowledge and the trainers worked out what to do with it.

This is a terrible way to go about things and I don't recommend it in the slightest.
posted by emilyw at 12:58 PM on January 6, 2011

In my very corporate job, we have a "train the trainer" class which basically is a classroom session where a group of people get trained by corporate higher ups to ultimately train newer members of the team. After the "train the trainer" class, you become a DT or "designated trainer," which is a leadership role in the lower levels of the company.
posted by katypickle at 1:02 PM on January 6, 2011

It's a pretty common term in my US Gov't DoD agency. Right now I guess the best example is the ubiquitous Black Belt/Green Belt/Lean/Six Sigma bullshit. We need people to go forth and spread the good word, so an expert comes in and shows the trainers how to do so.
posted by fixedgear at 1:03 PM on January 6, 2011

I've seen good things come out of it in technical training situations, where a group of people with a lot of experience teaching a particular subject paired up with a pool of people who knew the subject matter but weren't familiar with the actual process of teaching it.

It emphasized the tools for creating a coherent learning narrative, how to spot people in the crowd who aren't getting the material, how to avoid one or two students monopolizing time, how to anticipate common points of confusion around particular topics, etc.

As others have said, the idea -- whether it's implemented well or poorly -- basically boils down to "Teaching people how to teach a particular topic."
posted by verb at 1:12 PM on January 6, 2011

Isn't this concept basically how education students are taught? I was a physical education major in undergrad. Many of the courses I took were overviews of a particular sport, where I spent part of the time actually learning the rules, part of the time actually playing, and quite a bit of time learning how to teach it to someone else. The latter included concepts like how people learn physical motions, how to demonstrate proper technique, what kinds of drills work best for different skills and skill levels, etc. The objective wasn't that I would emerge from the course as a skilled player necessarily, but that I could show someone the basic movements, recognize poor or unsafe form and know the kinds of words to say to get someone to do it properly.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:21 PM on January 6, 2011

Train the trainer is NOT the process of teaching people something that they then go teach others. It's training experts in a field in how to teach topics in that field to other people.

I'm involved in a small (yes, grant funded) train the trainer program in my field. During the training, we didn't learn what we were going to teach - we already know that. We learned adult education theory and techniques. The books we used are

Training for Dummies
Telling Ain't Training
The Ten Minute Trainer

We spent the training time learning about adult education, writing and presenting sample workshops, etc.

I don't love the concept because it usually focuses on lots of activities, like "make up three questions about what we just learned, then ask them to your partner" which I found difficult to incorporate into my workshops because they seemed patronizing. However, I've presented several workshops and had good feedback, so maybe this approach is not as dumb as it feels to me.
posted by CheeseLouise at 1:40 PM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

I work in this area. For us, it's a way to fund one workshop, and then have the participants go back to their home city/region and give another workshop, and they go on and teach others, and so on. It's not hugely reliable and content gets diluted along the way, but it's how we reach greater numbers than we can fund.

We select trainers who are already experts in the subject area, they need to know some of our approaches to the content, but we do as CheeseLouise says and focus on strategies to train others. In our context, we veer away from too much overt theory and focus heavily on facilitation, cultural sensitivity and strategies for training colleagues. We don't go so much for trainer games.
posted by wingless_angel at 1:59 PM on January 6, 2011

I've come across two interpretations of the phrase "train the trainer"

The good type is teaching generic skills of how to be a good trainer, often including a mix of Accelerated learning and presentation skills along with role play, giving feedback, facilitating discussion and evaluating discussion. Adults Learning is a good textbook

The bad type is where companies try to stretch their training budget by only training one or two people and then having them cascade the training to a multitude of others. This is a bit like having someone else go to watch a football match on your behalf, and then have them act out the key moments in your local ball park a few weeks later.
posted by Lanark at 2:00 PM on January 6, 2011

Wow - these answers make me realise how differently a single concept can be interpreted - good question!

In my field (government IT), "train the trainer" means training people who are already experienced trainers to deliver a new course. It assumes that the participants on the course are people who already work as trainers and have the necessary "soft skills" already - different learning styles, how to manage participants on a course etc. So it doesnt cover those skills as part of the course.

It includes not only training participants on the new system (in much more depth than the course they'll be expected to deliver - so that they can answer odd questions and troubleshoot), but training them on how to deliver the new training course - how to run exercises, how to assess etc. So as well as the user course manual, they get a trainer course manual, for instance.

YMMV but I think any definition of "train the trainer" should be more than "I'll show you how to do it then you can go and show others".
posted by finding.perdita at 2:06 PM on January 6, 2011

My day job is in the training industry. I work for a nonprofit that creates continuing education courses on a variety of so-called hard and soft skills. Under "hard" skills, we include such topics as finance, OSHA and FMLA compliance, Excel and other topics in which factual information is conveyed to learners. "Soft" skills include leadership, communication, motivation, and whatnot. Soft skills training is almost always conducted by a professional public speaker. Hard skills training is usually done by someone from the profession in question.

When we refer to "train-the-trainer," the name refers to a product we sell (in the form of a workshop or a DVD presenting the same material as the workshop) that purports to teach SMEs (subject-matter experts) how to deliver their information to adult learners. How to increase learner retention, tips on preparing your voice for long periods of talking, room preparation, and things that professional trainers need to know.

Let's say you're a labor lawyer who's had a lot of ADA cases, but you want to get out of the legal profession because it's a rat race. You'd rather teach. Maybe you don't qualify to be a law-school professor, but you can collect some speaker's fees for leading a few workshops. My company will sell you some materials (and maybe certify you or hire you - no promises) to help you hone your speaking skills.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 2:14 PM on January 6, 2011

Sorry for the somewhat jaded stinkeye view of it, but I've seen a lot of money go into train-the-trainer programs with completely unrealistic outcome goals and while I think it can be a useful approach in a very narrow set of niches, it's wrong for more of them than it's right for.


I work in the non-profit sector in developing country contexts.

A million, billion times: this.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:44 AM on January 7, 2011

In large computer systems implementations, say a rollout of an extensive MRP, ERP, or DRP system, like SAP, Oracle, MAPICS or J.D. Edwards, "train the trainer" is about identifying a core group of personnel among the client side group, who will be instrumental in guiding the implementation, and setting up the software (which often has thousands upon thousands of feature/function variables) in conjunction with vendor support specialists; "trainers" are given both an in depth understanding of the software, and help in designing end user training, that will be based upon vendor materials, but customized for client business processes. In such projects, "train the trainer" activities typically go on for several months, as systems configuration is accomplished, and parallel testing is done. The "trainers" also typically function as a process test team, verifying the utility of the software and the accuracy of data load/data conversion, as those tasks are accomplished. If business process re-engineering is being done as well, as part of a systems implementation, the core "trainer" group may also be responsible for installing such new processes. About a month before a scheduled "go live" date, the newly trained trainers will begin to do end user training, having themselves become subject matter experts for the sections of the system within their spheres of functional/departmental responsibilities.
posted by paulsc at 5:21 AM on January 7, 2011

Forgot to say, the last ERP implementation I led was for a 110 seat manufacturing and distribution operation in Atlanta, and the "train-the-trainer" part of the project budget was in the upper 6 figures, spent on a core team of 18 people (off-site vendor delivered training and materials, end user training materials, on site vendor training support, and such costs, but not salaries/benefits). So, about $30,000 training expense per person. Before that, I was a principal lead in a much larger MRP implementation, where some economies of scale brought the training budget component down to about $20,000 per head, for trainers.

Nearly everybody I know in the commercial systems software business will tell you flat out, that if you skimp on train-the-trainer methodology, you risk your entire project, if not the core business. Across the industry, vendors have seen more implementation difficulties result from insufficient/ineffective core group training, than any other cause, to the point that most big-ticket vendors of these systems no longer deal with clients that won't commit to their training regimen recommendations, although many clients initially resist making those kinds of investments in personnel, believing that they're possibly creating future consultants for the vendor, instead of competent operations people for themselves.

But in my experience, it doesn't really work that way...
posted by paulsc at 5:49 AM on January 7, 2011

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