A lot of people ask me to describe what makes a master trainer. Are they better presenters? Do they use PowerPoint slides or flipcharts in some magical way? Or is it how they prepare? There’s a lot we could talk about. But if I were to start somewhere, I’d say a master trainer is someone who intuitively practices a learner-centered approach to learning.
Philosophically, being learner-centered means you trust the learner to learn. Practically, it means the learning does not take place at the front of the classroom. I know learner-centered is a somewhat hackneyed expression. I guess it’s because we’re often told a class is learner centered when only elements of it truly are. Being truly learner-centered takes years of practice, experience, and reflection, and the master trainer needs to feel comfortable being in a position to trust the learning to the learner.
Some people are cynical about the notion of learner-centered instruction. I’ve heard some say it’s a cop out so the trainer can be lazy. Others tell me they don’t like letting go of control, while others prefer to trust their expertise in delivering content. Let me assure you, being learner-centered is not a cop out. Nor is it easy.
Learner-centered trainers don’t just waltz in and deliver content. They set up discussions and exercises for learners to practice skills and explore concepts. And they watch and listen to them, adjusting the instruction to make the most of the time she has with them.
Much of what we know about learner-centered learning comes from thought leaders like Malcolm Knowles and Carl Rogers. Knowles talked about the intrinsic motivation for adults when they learn. He suggested that interactive experiences in a collaborative context where learners can direct their own learning was important. Rogers boldly questioned the idea of a teacher-centered approach when he said, “I can’t teach you anything, but I can help you learn.” I find this statement incredibly powerful.
Where Does Learning Happen?
Knowles and Rogers understood that learning does not take place in front of a classroom of learners, but within the minds of each learner. Learners are the ones who do the heavy lifting. Put in today’s context, it’s not about how good your PowerPoint slides are. It’s whether the learner processes the information. Learner-centered techniques are about encouraging cognition.
A lot of trainers approach training as if the learning happens out front. They focus much of their energy on presentation skills, slide decks, how time is managed, and getting through the content. They use phrases like “topics I’ll cover,” “control the classroom,” or, “I’m giving this presentation.” They often refer to participants as “the audience.” And they judge the success of a training session by how closely they follow their session plan.
But the master trainer is less concerned about following the session plan religiously than he is about making sure the learning objectives are achieved. He’s less concerned about delivering a great presentation than making sure learners have everything they need to learn skills they can use back on the job, whether they be cognitive, psychomotor, or affective.
Bottom line: Many trainers present training; master trainers facilitate learning.