Earlier this year, I was invited to become an instructor with General Assembly. A few times each month, I would go to their offices in downtown Austin to lead classes such as Intro to Digital Marketing and Intro to Content Strategy. The experience has been more enriching than I originally anticipated. Yes, I’m getting the opportunity to share what I’ve learned by trying and failing or succeeding to others. Hooray for knowledge transfer! Along the way, I learned some valuable lessons and so I perked up when they asked if I wanted to teach even more.
This month I’m leading a 10-week part-time course two nights per week. In preparation for teaching this course, General Assembly (GA) has a thorough onboarding procedure. I call it Training the Trainer. Stepping outside of the usual approach and getting new ideas from GA was incredibly helpful.
Important Aside for Context:
I’ve been training my clients and their teams over the past 4 years on marketing, sales, and project management skills. While I have attended many workshops, training, and classes over the years to support my growth and ability to train others, I had never been through an instructor development class or trainer course before.
Assuming you are an SME (Subject Matter Expert), it’s easy to get caught up in the “fun parts” of your work. That often means forgetting or racing through the foundational information. In marketing, that often means starting with a framework such as marketing campaigns. You don’t simply jump into strategy and tactics, everything begins with a business goal. The sequence of the material taught largely determines the student's understanding. These are the building blocks for their understanding.
When I was a camp counselor as a teenager, we spent the first morning of camp every summer by creating our groups guidelines or values. The same treatment is deserving for adults. Set the expectations about attendance, collaboration, respect, integrity, getting extra help, and other important areas for keeping the classroom running smoothly. If you use a slide deck in your trainings, then add it in.
If people wanted to be in a tired classroom with information that can be read out loud from a book, then they can go to a university or college. Professional development training requires you to bring your real-life experiences into the conversation. This is one of my favorite things to do, because it is where I have learned the most. Share case studies, short stories, and personal insights that you’ve gained from doing the work you do.
Students have no way of knowing what they have learned until you have provided feedback. Depending upon your style and the type of material you’re teaching, there are many different forms of feedback you can offer. During the lesson itself, I like to ask open-ended questions related to the material that I just taught so that I can gather the level of understanding in the room. Facial expressions are very telling.
There’s also the good old fashioned in-class quiz. These are short (2-3 questions) about the specific subject matter you just covered. You could also ask for feedback on how you’re doing using these quizzes. My least favorite, but probably a powerful tool for classic corporate trainers, is the end of the training test. Asking detailed questions about the things they learned throughout the course is great. The students can confidently look at a grade and see how much they have learned. Personally, I prefer a project that you build upon throughout the training. Thinking back to the first point (building blocks), students can build part of their project in each class - culminating in a final presentation. This is a great way for a student to see how the different pieces of what they’ve learned can be applied to the actual work environment.