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Nick Williams

Acuity Training


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Trainers’ tips: how to tell what your trainees are thinking


How do you know if your training is hitting the right mark with your trainees, or if they're bored senseless? Here are some top tips to help trainers take the temperature of the room and keep learners engaged. 

Whether you are a professional trainer, or have been tasked with training up the new recruits in your area of specialisation, it can be difficult to know what’s going through the mind of your trainees.

Understanding what they are thinking is the key to making sure that they stay engaged. If you’re moving too quickly or too slowly it’s useful to know so that you can adjust.

Below we look at a few ways that you can try to understand what they’re thinking.

Skills assessments should be an ongoing task

When you first meet your trainees, you will probably ask them about their skill level and experience, so that you have an idea of where they are starting from, and how to tailor your training for them.

Depending on the nature of the training, this could be as simple as an informal introduction as you go around the room, a test, or a more comprehensive one-to-one before training begins.

While it is useful to know where they are starting from, not everybody learns at the same rate, so it is important to keep assessing your trainees as you go on.

This is especially important if you are training a group of people, as you can easily find yourself in a situation where one or two people are struggling to understand, and keep asking questions that are slowing everybody else down, leaving others left bored.

It is much easier to assess how much your trainees understand when there is a practical element to the course.

It can quickly become apparent that some people finish their tasks faster, while others are repeatedly seeking help from either you as a trainer, or their peers.

Slouching and fidgeting are classic signs of boredom to look out for.

If you set group tasks, make sure you go around each group as they are working in order to get an idea of who is having the most input, and who is getting left behind.

Signs of boredom

As a trainer, you have to spend a fair proportion of the time talking, while your trainees sit listening and taking notes.

It is important to keep an eye out for signs of boredom, as it is better addressed quickly, before trainees start to mentally switch off.  When this happens, simply pause for either an interactive element or a break.

Even interactive elements can start to feel boring if they are too long, or not used in the right way.

There are many signs people may exhibit when bored. If your trainees are talking amongst themselves, or turning away from either you or your presentation, it is a sign that you have lost their attention.

Watch out for people who look as if they are listening, but are actually staring into space. If you have lost their attention, their eyes will not follow you as you move around the room.

Slouching and fidgeting are also classic signs of boredom to look out for.

Lack of questions from your trainees can also be a sign of boredom, as it could mean the course content is too simple or uninteresting, or so complicated that they have switched off and stopped concentrating on what you have to say.

Training can be made fun

If trainees are having fun, they are more likely to engage with the course content and will find it easier to learn.

Trainees who are not exhibiting signs of boredom are likely to be enjoying the training, or at the very least finding it interesting.

If appropriate, humour can also be used to make learning a bit more fun, and the reaction of your trainees to this can speak volumes about whether or not they are enjoying themselves.

There is no better way to gain insight into how your trainees are thinking than to ask them.

Even interactive elements can start to feel boring if they are too long, or not used in the right way.

Make sure that talking, videos and interactions are mixed throughout the day, rather than simply having a morning of being spoken to followed by an afternoon of attempting to put things into practice.

Evaluate, evaluate, then evaluate some more

Evaluation of your training programme should be more than just a box ticking exercise.  It should be an exercise that you get something useful from, and it can start from the minute your trainees walk through the door.

There are many possible teaching methods that you can adopt, and some will work better with some audiences than others.

If a group of trainees sit in an awkward silence until you get started, try a ‘getting to know you’ session, or group exercise to help them relax.

Evaluation of your training programme should be more than just a box ticking exercise. 

There is no better way to gain insight into how your trainees are thinking than to ask them, so make the most of coffee breaks, and make an extra effort to speak to anyone who either looks bored, or is asking lots of questions.

You may find you are able to change things around for the rest of the day to better suit them.

Once training is complete, you should do an evaluation to establish what your trainees learned, what they liked, didn’t like and which aspects they found useful.

This feedback is not just useful information for you when planning future training courses, it can also be used to help your trainees, as you can follow up with anybody who struggled with particular aspects.

Interested in this topic? You may also want to read People development: how to match learning styles to the learner.

One Response

  1. Greetings……As this
    Greetings……As this article is aimed at Company trainers, I recommend instead of asking about experience etc at the session, all that should be done beforehand. One thing that will get folk “on-side” right from the beginning is when you show you have done your homework, so you can talk about their experiences etc from the get-go.

    Also, composition of the group is important……….oftentimes the troops will not be very open if some of their bosses are present……….and those bosses are for sure not about to admit to deficiencies in front of their Team. However, having Team leaders present who you know are well respected by others, can be useful to give examples of how they have benefited from some of the material you are covering.

    Cheers. DonR.

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Nick Williams


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