Adult Training Context: The trainer-trainees relationship and trainees’ attention throughout the training
This article intends to share reflections on challenges related to adult training context. The objective of this article is to provide a perspective on training context resulting from the equalitarian relationship between the trainer and the trainees . The assumption is that the equalitarian relationship between the trainer and the trainee is crucial to set a trustful training environment. The equalitarian relationship between the trainer and the trainee is a step towards a participative methodology. The only one that, in our view, is appropriate in adult training. The training context is therefore the first step through a constructive and result-oriented training. We are assuming that the trainer is prepared and knowledgeable in his/her subject matter (the other option is not analyzed here). There are a number of factors that relate to the context in which training takes place. Such factors impact positively or negatively the training practical undertaking. Below follow those that, in our view, are key factors to keep trainees involved in training.
2. The equalitarian relationship between the trainer and the trainees
The trainer-trainees equalitarian relationship is shaped as soon as the trainer and the trainees enter into the training room. Adult trainees are usually experienced professionals who in many cases have decided to either re-orientate their careers or specialize through training. In both cases, the adult trainee has experience to share and might have a high responsibility position outside the training.
The trainer must be aware of such a reality, and therefore must avoid enfantilization of trainees by underestimating their capacity to be responsible for both their time management and their learning process during the training. The trainee can freely choose his/her level of engagement in the training. Such engagement will depend on the motivation that the trainer is able to instill in the group dynamics rather than on the hierarchical relationship that the trainer might be tempted to create with the trainees. Instilling trust in the training process is fundamental for a constructive relationship between the trainer and the trainees.
The trainer-trainee relationship must remain an adult relationship between responsible persons. A hierarchical behavior would be a guarantee of failure. The trainee will play “the child role”, while not seriously believing in such a dynamic. Such a role would jeopardize learning and trainees’ true engagement in the process. Furthermore, the group will have a tendency to antagonize the trainer. It will be difficult to make the message go through.
There is a mirror relationship between the trainer and the group. Although the trainer might have a role in sharing knowledge, the trainer is not there to show how much he/she knows, but rather to provide trainees with the necessary skills to perform in a given area. Therefore, the trainer shall abstain from diverting from the subject matter of the training. Focus is a must.
3. Trainees’ attention throughout the training
The level of attention of trainees will depend on the relationship that the trainer creates with the group in the first minutes of contact, eye-contact, shaking hands are the first trust-setting acts. The trainer will have to put himself/herself in the shoes of the trainees to understand what types of difficulties they might encounter in their daily working life, and how such context affects the learning process of trainees. Ignoring such a contextual analysis would jeopardize the trainer’s chances to be “taken on board by the group”.
The trainer needs the group’s empathy to be trusted and listened to. To keep the level of attention of trainees focused throughout the training, the trainer has to keep a constant attention on their facial expressions and constantly ask them questions related to the content and/or ask them to provide inputs that support the content presentation (we refer here to substance training where content is highly technical rather than open-ended trainings). Asking questions usually also allows assessment of the level of technical knowledge of participants, thus allowing the trainer to adapt his/her presentation to the level of participants’ knowledge (see previous section).
The group senses when the trainer is not genuine and is trying to bluff at questions-answers sessions. In practice this means that in case the trainer does not know the reply a question it is better to tell the group that the reply will be provided at a later stage after checking documents out. This is a different case from the one in which the trainer has not fully understood the question. Here, the trainer might ask whether the question was properly understood to the trainee concerned.
The participation of trainees shall be encouraged. Some trainers have a tendency to put trainees in a situation where they are hesitant in asking questions by fear of not being able to reply. This is a wrong methodology as it shuts down communication: a key factor in a participatory training context.
Delivering the messages of training taking into account the level of knowledge of the group is another key factor for a successful training. Trainers should focus on continuously assessing (not evaluating!) the level of knowledge of participants by asking questions related to the topic of the training to keep trainees’ attention focused on training content (adult span of attention is quite short). This technique will constantly help the trainer to adapt messages to the knowledge of the group: i.e., no point in going into details when participants master the subject or when they do not master yet the general concepts. In both cases, the risk is to “loose them” in the process.
The temptation to draw attention to complex sides of the issue at stake rather than trying to clarify concepts can frustrate trainees, thus discouraging them from listening and staying motivated. No point either in going too fast – this is a risk particularly when one uses slides - if the group is composed by beginners who will not retain details as they will have to first memorize basic concepts. The “one fit all approach” in training will not respond to the group needs, and will frustrate trainees. Training is definitely a demand-driven activity. Trainers should abstain from imposing their needs on participants but rather stay in touch with the group’s level of knowledge and practical needs.
There are cases where the group is heterogeneous.
When the group is characterized by different levels of knowledge and experience, the trainer shall keep a good balance between beginners and the “experts” of the group. In practice, this means avoiding to focus too much on the “strongest”. First, because the risk is that the trainer might make mistakes if these perspectives/experiences of the “experts” in the group are wrong (for example, in cases where experiences do not comply with the legal texts). Second, the trainer might lose the control of the group dynamic as other trainees will sense that the trainer is somehow carried away by few people only. The group dynamic will be disrupted and the trainer’s credibility diminished. More experienced participants can share their experiences with group, that it is always enriching, but the trainer must remain in control of the group dynamic and training objectives, and avoid being carried away.
Adult training is a challenging activity. The trainer has a crucial role in making the training useful and successful. The trainer has to be aware of knowledge challenges faced by trainees. If the trainer is on a cloud and out of touch with the trainees’ realities, his/her performance will be mismatched from trainees’ needs and expectations.
We have shared some ideas on training context based on experience. They do not intend to be exhaustive but rather to provide some hints for those who are engaged in training as a tool for social development. The equality between the trainee and the trainer is a key factor in succeeding to provide inputs to experienced adults. The trainer and the adult trainees are on equal footing although the trainer is providing a specific input to the trainees’ experience.