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75 Ways of Working with Groups to Develop Their Training Skills – review

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Title: 75 Ways of Working with Groups to Develop Their Training Skills
Authors: Sharon Bartram and Brenda Gibson
Publisher: Gower
Year: June 2001
ISBN: 0 566 084147 7
Price: £195

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There can be few subjects more guaranteed to raise the anxiety and adrenalin levels of trainers than training other trainers. Not only are you expected to have the skills and knowledge that might reasonably be expected of any competent trainer or facilitator, but you are also acutely aware that everyone will be constantly scrutinising whether you are “practising what you preach”. In the training of trainers workshops I conduct, I deal with the anxiety and self-consciousness I feel by discussing these openly at the beginning of the course. In my experience, this usually legitimises a valuable discussion about the anxieties associated with being a trainer. This normally helps everyone to feel a bit more relaxed and, at the very least, reduces my blood pressure.

However, being up-front about feelings does not, on its own, help people to become more skilful trainers. Taking a systematic approach to training; demonstrating a willingness and ability to shape the workshop to the needs and interests of participants and using some engaging methods in the process of learning are all necessary too. It is in these areas that Sharon Bartram and Brenda Gibson’s new manual may prove to be very helpful.
‘75 Ways of Working with Groups to Develop Their Training Skills’ is a hefty loose-leaf manual (346 pages) which forms part of the ‘Gower Complete Train the Trainer’ series.
The authors, Sharon Bartram and Brenda Gibson from SBG Associates, are well-known in the training world for their other Gower publications ‘Training Needs Analysis’, ‘Evaluating Training’ and ‘27 Ways to Integrate Training and Development with the Needs of Your Organization’.

’75 Ways …’ is aimed at those who have responsibility for training trainers and who want to encourage an innovative approach to training design and delivery. The manual aims to model – through its 75 activities – the innovative approach advocated by its authors. Bartram and Gibson succeed in their goal of making the materials “interesting and fun” despite the constraints of the somewhat uninspiring standard Gower layout.

The manual has nine sections covering openers, analysing training needs, learning process, effective communication, preparing to train, training techniques, training delivery, evaluating training and endings. Each begins with a short introduction to the subject and a summary of the activities described. Each activity is introduced using a standard format with a thorough description of the objectives, timing, materials, method and a section on consolidating the learning.

In a manual of 75 activities, it is almost inevitable that some will be familiar to more experienced trainers. So the authors should be commended on managing to introduce many new and original ideas (such as ‘The training game’) as well as relying on more familiar activities such as ‘Arm folding’ (which examines resistance to learning new ideas) and ‘Draw a picture’ (where the difficulties of using verbal instruction are explored). Even some more familiar activities are given a new ‘twist’ – for example one deceptively simple construction activity exposes to excellent effect the challenges inherent in ‘Cascade’ approaches to training.

Despite the thoroughness of the instructions, those using the manual would be well-advised to re-consider the time estimates provided for some of the activities. In activity 40 on ‘Learning methods’, for example, it is difficult to imagine how a small group could, in 30 to 35 minutes consider the 20 listed training methods and, for each, decide its advantages, disadvantages, and the learning situations where it would be least and most appropriate.
Presumably, one of the purposes of a manual about training is to encourage its readers to learn from the experience of others. It is irksome that Gower appears to insist that only its own publications merit further reference. Where further reading is suggested it is under the heading of ‘Other Gower resources’. Whilst this may make sound marketing sense, it unnecessarily limits awareness of other potentially useful material. If this is part of Gower’s editorial policy, it represents a worrying direction for a publisher that also produces well-respected academic publications.

For me, what is underplayed in this otherwise valuable manual is an adequate exploration of the emotional dimension of training. Of the 75 activities, only a handful really get to grips with the important skills requirement of managing strong and often unpredictable emotions. Of the few hopeful activity titles - including ‘Managing group process’ and ‘Problems with learners’, the activity on ‘What could go wrong?’ simply concentrates on the physical training environment. Perhaps the emotional side of training should become another title in Gower’s ‘Complete Train the Trainer’ series? Remember where you read the idea!

Bruce Britton
Framework
www.framework.org.uk

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