by Brenda Zollitsch, Policy Analyst
ASWM is currently working on a project funded by an EPA Wetland Program Development Grant to research what makes up high quality wetland training, assess alternative ways to deliver this training, and pilot some training activities. In the process of assessing characteristics of high quality training, ASWM has been reviewing both peer-reviewed and gray literature on training quality. From this work and contributions of a national project work group, a strong list of characteristics have emerged. The growing list includes everything from technical components and content considerations to trainer skills and even trainer approaches to teaching. A full report will be published in 2017 with ASWM’s findings. But the reason I chose to write my blog this week about high quality training is that I just participated in one. Not a person in the room knew what I knew about these research-based elements of quality, but I promise you everyone in the room KNEW they had been part of something good. The only difference was that I could identify WHY it was so effective.
Let me set the stage. The training wasn’t actually about wetlands, it was about improving practices to reduce chloride in local waterbodies from snow and ice control activities. But that is the beauty of adhering to good training design and practices – they hold regardless of the training content. This knowledge is important for everyone who trains wetland professionals. There are things you can do to make your trainings more effective and learning more meaningful. Alternatively, if you are participating in a training, there are things you can look at to determine if the training has quality elements. We have all participated in POOR training and know the feeling of waste and disappointment that comes from those experiences. This blog shares some considerations designed to help you avoid poor training experiences.
If you are planning to participate in a training and you are looking at options, check whether or not the training:
- Identifies the training’s purpose, learning objectives and expected learning outcomes
- Is taught by a trainer with demonstrated expertise in the training area
- Identifies the minimum skill-level required
- Identifies prerequisites (e.g. minimum one year of experience in the field)
- Identifies the equipment needed to participate (hardware, software, Internet access, etc.)
- Makes clear how the training may be applied in the workplace
- Provides an agenda/syllabus in advance of the training
- Focuses on one or two key topics per section
- Enrollment is limited to an appropriate number of participants for the type of training (e.g. <20 for graduate course, <50 for undergraduate course, <25 for interactive online training session; <10 on the ground training; unlimited for webinars)
- Incorporates an interactive component appropriate for the training design
- Provides high quality printed/electronic training materials (ex. a manual that includes the slides, information, references and notes pages)
- Includes take-home reference materials (esp. quick reference guides)
- Provides the training materials in advance of the first training session
- Includes evaluation of both what was learned and the quality of the training itself
Other considerations that will help determine whether the training choice may be effective for you:
- Do you have adequate equipment/services to participate (e.g. web access, software, car)
- Does it build on previous training/sessions you have taken?
- Does it tap into your preferred learning style(s) – for example hands-on, visual, etc.?
- Is it scheduled at a time that works for your schedule?
- Does it provide adequate opportunities for interaction based on your needs?
- Is it held at a convenient and appropriate location for what you want out of it?
- Is your supervisor supportive?
If you are developing a training, make sure to evaluate and incorporate what makes sense for your training from the lists above. There are some additional considerations you may want to think about as well. The following is a short list to help you make the most of your time together with training participants:
- Conduct a needs assessment prior to developing your training session(s)
- Match your training design to those learning needs
- Schedule your training at a location designed to facilitate learning, with adequate equipment to participate, comfortable accommodations, and minimal distractions
- Make sure content is relevant to the work of the participants
- Do not incorporate too much material for the training time provided
- Use pictures used to illustrate topics (not just bulleted PowerPoint text), enhanced images, and animation with scenarios when possible
- Emphasize and revisit your main takeaway points
- Stick to basics in beginner courses and control the introduction rate of new material
- Leave enough time for questions
- Moderate question time to ensure less verbal participants have opportunity to ask questions
Interactive/Hands-on Components: As noted above, ASWM’s project includes a national work group, which is comprised of a range of stakeholders including state wetland program managers, trainers, on-the-ground wetland professionals and others. They have repeatedly emphasized that trainers need to incorporate as many interactive and hands-on components as possible in order to provide participants with opportunities to practice applied learning. Some examples include scenario exercises, small group work/problem solving and role playing. (Photo Caption: Field work during wetland training course; Photo Credit: USACE)
Presenter Style and Presence: Not to be overlooked is a truly essential element of high quality training and that is the style of the presenter. A trainer who is not only competent in their field and an expert on the material, but also engaging, able to employ a sense of humor and truly connect with those he/she is training is one of the most commonly-reported characteristics of high quality training. Choosing the right people to carry out training is key. While information that allows you to assess trainer style is likely not included in the training promotional materials, ask around for opinions and surely you will quickly find which courses and trainers others have found engaging or not.
On-Line Training Tips: For those developing online courses where face-to-face communication is not possible, make sure to include chat rooms where small groups can discuss issues and relate content to their personal work context, use polls to “listen” to the views or circumstances of your trainees, and capitalize on other online technology tools. Make sure that online courses are moderated in ways that encourage constructive dialogue and exchange. If your online course would have benefitted from a field component, but cannot provide one, an alternative is to design self-guided exercises for the participant to take into the field independently and work on. A wealth of material is available on the web to help guide your online training efforts. ASWM is currently working to compile and condense this information to be useful for wetland trainers. Additionally, ASWM is working to develop a series of online training modules on the basics of hydric soils for on-the-ground wetland professionals in an effort to gain experience adhering to the practices described above.
Best with a Supportive Work Environment: A final element of effective training I want to share with you today is the environment in which the participant is working when they take the training and the context in which they will seek to implement what they learned when they return from the training. As one would imagine, training is more effective when the participant’s supervisor is involved and supportive. It is also more effective when the participant’s organization is open to supporting implementation of new skills/learning/behavior change after the training. We know this is not always possible to achieve, but if it can be, it makes a difference. Working with supervisors to help plan out training and implementation plans ahead of time can increase the likelihood new approaches, tools and behaviors can be adopted.
Avoiding Creating Bad Training Experiences: In stark contrast to these elements, all you have to do is ask someone to describe a bad training experience and you are likely to get an earful. Everyone has been part of a training that seemed to go on forever, that made them feel trapped, wasted their time, was deathly boring… Ala the Ferris Beuhler’s Day Off movie, “…Mesopotamia…Buehler?….Buehler? To this end, avoid at all costs providing endless amounts of reading to teach concepts, or hours of talking heads or PowerPoints where the presenter reads text-heavy slides and avoids interaction with participants. While these may be the EASIEST ways to deliver training, they are surely the least effective.
Good Training in Action: So, back to my training experience. Our trainer was an expert with 20+ years working in the field and seven years teaching on the day’s topic. He started the day by clarifying what we were going to learn, why it was important and how we could apply it to our work after. He made clear there could be accommodations for different learning styles and abilities. He made the audience laugh and relax. He explained the testing and deflated any anxiety around the test with humor and promises to be clear about what key takeaways would be. He outlined each segment of the session, which was well organized into segments. He gave adequate time for breaks and lunch. He was available between sessions for questions. He handed out a binder with all the information he was presenting, support documents, and follow-up links. He gave everyone an evaluation form at the start of the course and reminded people at breaks that he was interested in their feedback. His presentations were filled with images, tables that included interpretation, and photos. He used stories and anecdotes. He kept it moving and fresh. And by the end, I felt like my day had been well spent and that I had learned concepts and practices I wanted to share with the municipalities I work with about improving operations. Most importantly, I knew what I did and didn’t know and where to go to fill those gaps. As I work on ASWM’s training project, it was incredibly useful to participate in an outstanding training experience as a trainee.
Share Your Insights on Quality Training with ASWM: We welcome you to share your ideas and experiences with us to help us with our project. Your insights are valuable as we strive to help wetland professionals have access to high quality training. To share insights about your good, your bad and your ugly training experiences with ASWM, please email me (Brenda Zollitsch, ASWM Policy Analyst) at . We’d love to hear from you!