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First thoughts, guiding principles


Well, here's my first blog!  I hope you enjoy reading it and - if you do - that you'll let people in your network know about it.

My remit at NatCen is to attend to the learning and development needs of the freelance field force. For readers outside of NatCen, this consists of over 1,000 freelance social research interviewers and their supervisors, team leaders, trainers and others who support them.

Having shadowed some of our interviewers, one of my first impressions is that the role requires a (surprisingly?) complex set of skills and attributes. For example, the ability to be warm and engaging on the doorstep and to use effective influencing skills; contrasted with the need during the interview itself to ask the survey questions without any deviation in a neutral tone and not to influence, or be influenced by, the respondent’s personality or manner. Then there is the need for competence, speed and accuracy with the survey software and the need to complete detailed and accurate records of work and of time spent engaged in the various aspects of interviewing. All of this implies complexity in the training programme to prepare new recruits for the role. In these circumstances it’s all too easy to get a bit bogged down in the detail and it eventually dawned on me that I needed some guiding principles to give some focus and structure to my thinking.

Like most trainers I knew I ‘had something on that’ and eventually found an old note about the Principles of Adult Learning. I don’t know the source of it but here’s the list:

  • Focus on real world problems
  • Emphasise how the learning can be applied
  • Relate learning to the goals of the learner
  • Relate content to the learners’ past experience
  • Use a variety of learning methods and media to present the content
  • Allow debate and challenge to ideas
  • Listen to, and respect, the learners’ opinions
  • Encourage learners to be resources to you (the trainer) and each other

These principles seem sensible - even obvious - and the challenge now is to use them in a practical way in designing training activities that meet the needs of the trainees and of the organisation.

One Response

  1. Training Principles

    Great first blog Leslie!

    A few more misc training tips I’d lke to add? (It’s a great theme for a thread!):

    * Be absolutely clear of your desired outcomes/client brief at the start; challenge it if you need to; and then stick to it.  (If you don’t believe in it, nor will anyone else.  And if you don’t deliver what was required, you won’t last long…)

    * Focus then on your trainees’ needs, not just your material, and least of all yourself.  Help them to feel and look good – not yourself!  (Training is about giving, not taking…)

    * Never under-estimate your trainees’ prior achievements and experience, nor over-estimate their specific knowledge and core skills. (NB: Why? can be just as valuable as What, When, and How.)

    *Never under-estimate your impact, nor over-estimate your achievements.  (Great participant-feedback is always wonderful to have; poor feedback hugely demoralising.  But it is results on the ground that matter most, followed by the knowledge that one can always do better.  (NB: numerical scoring systems are notoriously subjective and unreliable, so focus on the detailed, qualitative feedback.  Your boss might not, but you should!)

    * Make it fun!  Not superficially, but enjoyably.  Not by rote, but flexibly.  Not just by talking, but by listening, watching and encouraging others to participate fully (but relevantly).  That’s what will help make your workshop memorable – not just your formal material! 

    * Build a relationship with your trainees by starting with shared values and at least some understanding of their world.  Say honestly if you can’t answer a question (and ask other participants, or else promise to get one).

    * Confidence is compelling, and practice makes (more) perfect!  Participants hate diffidence and uncertainty, so read as widely as you can about your subject and meet as many practitioners as you can; prepare, prepare, prepare; and be quite clear on your objectives.  (They also hate ‘complacenct experts’, so never believe your own publicity, always welcome new ways of seeing your topic and welcome questions!  Questions most often spell engagement, if they are relevant, which is surely just what you wanted?).

    * Enjoy!  Every workshop you run should ideally be a pleasure for both you and your participants – or at least a learning experience for you…  (If it isn’t, perhaps this job is not for you?) 

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