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Seb Anthony

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Managing differently skilled delegates


Basically I'm a developper who does training from time to time. Last week I got dumped with a Microsoft Access beginners class. OK so the thing about access is that before you can do anything useful you have to wade through all the stuff about relational databases, tables, fields data types etc etc. by the time I'd finished, a couple of my delegates looked traumatised, although others were quite happy. So I decided to throttle back and have the class follow the training manual more, at which point the more advanced delegates got bored, because we were waiting for the less savvy ones to catch up. Does anyone have any general advice about how to handle a class like this ?
Julian Greene

7 Responses

  1. Delegate Diversity…
    I’m a trainer in a Bank and sometimes do software skills sessions.

    In my opinion (and this is only 1 opinion!) trying to deliver one session for people with too wide a range of abilities & knowledge is like trying to play football with a blindfold on.

    There are two ways you could approach it:

    Show yourself where the goal posts are by undertaking an assessment of delegates beforehand & keep it task focused.

    Based on that you’ll have ‘N’ number of people who are at level 1, ‘N’ at level 2 and so on. You’ll know where they all need to get to = The goal posts! From that you can plan sessions.

    If time/business needs won’t allow more than one session, you could split it in two parts. For example – say it runs from 9am-5pm. Have part of the Morning as the ‘Introductory’ session then the afternoon as the ‘Beginners’ session where the more savvy ones will join the complete beginners. Then nobody misses out on what they need, and they don’t get bored.

    There are always going to be people who’ll learn faster or slower. I can appreciate how this is challenging in Technology/ICT in business as the term ‘beginner’ has vastly different connotations in everyone’s mind!! (including the Manager or person who asked for the training in the first place).

    Have fun!

  2. Ability
    I agree with Abi’s comments completely, something else you may consider is buddying up the advanced learners with the newer delegates and set them mini-coaching tasks – this way they feelpart of the learning, they are also helping others in the team and the newer learners won’t feel they are a burden on the rest of the group. You can write some mini exercises that the more advanced delegates can feedback, coach and facilitate the others with.
    If you’d like some help or further ideas on exercises please contact me I’d be more than happy to help if I can.

  3. Another option to consider
    I have used IT workbooks which the trainees worked through at their own pace. The beginners asked for help when they were stuck, which for some was quite often. However, the intermediate to advanced trainees needed very little or no help. They were able to learn independently and in many cases, when they had completed their own workbook-based activities, they were willing to help their less proficient peers. I found this approach was very successful with up to 10 or 12 trainees; any more and I would have wanted a co-trainer present.

  4. Differentiation and peer support
    The best ways I have seen differentation tackled in ICT classes is by having sufficiently challenging resources/worksheets etc available for learners who are able to progress more quickly and suitable materials available for those whose skills are not so advanced or who do not learn as quickly. Ideally you would know the abilities and any learning support needs your learners may have before you start training. I have also seen peer group mentoring/buddying working well, as another colleague has mentioned. In one ICT classe I inspected, all the learners took it in turns to show another one or two learners how to do a certain task or part of a task – those who found the principles of Access hard to grasp found they learnt more quickly when they had to show their peers part of the task – their confidence grew too. For some more guidance, you could take a look on the Adult Learning Inspectorate’s Excalibur website which shares good practce – and click on Excalibur. Good luck!

  5. The Trainers Attitude is the Key
    I have been involved in police training for many years. Inevitably in these sessions I find I am dealing with people with a vast array of experiences and skill levels. I make a point of starting every session by saying that we will all learn something today. I approach each session with the attitude that I cannot possibly know everything about the subject even in sessions which are skills based compared with attitudinal issues. I genuinely go into every session with the aim of not only teaching but also learning. This attitude will bring the more advanced trainees along with you and it means that the entire group become trainers as well as trainees. If a trainer finishes a session without learning something I suggest that the trainer has been less than successful – even if the learning is how to conduct training for a diverse group. Good luck.

  6. Managing differently skilled delegates
    I am a trainer running my own consulting company Phoenix HR. If at any time you feel the audience has a mix of advanced and less savvy participants just use the advanced people to become your co-trainers till the less savvy once catch up. This gives the advance once to experience your feeling and situation and also learn a new lesson in coaching others.

  7. Different Abilities in an IT class
    What concerns me most is the phrase ‘got dumped’ with Access training. This piece of software is/can be quite complex and your extensive knowledge in developing does not necessarily lend itself to being a ‘good trainer’. On a positive note, at least you could see the pitfalls of bringing a group together with differing skills and experience and to ensure that they all learned something. I am an IT Trainer – who is constantly not only updating my own IT skills but learning, development and training/teaching skills. All the suggestions were good – get everyone involved, but sometimes you will come across delegates who object to this (“I am here to be taught – not to teach”). Another good idea is to get those with more experience to work through more difficult exercises whilst the ‘beginners’ are working through their simple exercise. All the best for any other training you are ‘dumped’ into.


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