In running a course, a number of trainer skills are essential.
The Trainer is aiming to create an atmosphere in the room that from the start helps to put learners at ease. You should recognize that some people may not have been in a learning situation for a long time, so they are likely to be anxious and may need reassurance.
- Room layout is part of the atmosphere because of the way it influences learner interaction
- Temperature should be neither too hot nor too cold.
- Regular breaks should be scheduled.
- Disruptions should be minimized – e.g., noise from outside or people coming in with messages for the Trainer or
- Lighting should be adequate – neither too dull nor too bright.
- It is helpful to have signs directing people to the right room for the course and also a sign in the room
welcoming people to the course – this reassures them that they are in the correct room.
- Provide information in advance – e.g., timings for the day, venue, dress code, what will be provided, course
- Welcome each learner and preferably have a brief chat as they come in. This shows interest in the learners, makes the
Trainer appear more approachable and helps to break the ice.
- The beginning of the course is especially important, as the emotional atmosphere at the start influences the behavior
for the rest of the course.
- The Trainer should smile – this will make him or her seem more approachable and will help participants feel
- Prepare a good introduction. The Trainer should introduce him/herself, get learners to introduce themselves;
discuss an outline of the course, what participants can expect, timings, rules and any administrative details – such
as where the toilets are, when breaks will be. Knowing what to expect will help to prevent learner anxiety and
help them relax.
- Use a range of techniques to encourage everyone to contribute to the course – more details are listed in the next
- Be wary of allowing people to work with their friends or in exclusive groups, as they are likely to pay less attention
"Use a range of techniques to encourage everyone to contribute."
There are various options for laying out the room, each with advantages and disadvantages, depending on what you’re trying to achieve.
||Eye Contact with Trainer
||Easy to See
||Trainer Moves Easily in Room|
|Horseshoe / "U" Shape
The use of tables, while convenient for any desk-based work, separates the learners. Groups will find it harder to see each other when they want to report back on activities.
There is no eye contact between learners. This would not encourage discussion, movement or a sense of equality.
Large-group discussions. This is a rigid seating plan, which makes small-group work difficult. If there is enough space in the room, it can be helpful to have smaller breakout areas at the back or in the corners of the room that can be used for small-group work.
Horseshoe or "U" Shape
The Trainer has eye contact with all learners and can move into the middle to speak to individuals.
Eye Contact and Where Learners Sit
As a general rule, eye contact is the key to communication. The more eye contact a learner has with the Trainer or the rest of the group, the more that learner will contribute. The opposite is also true. Where learners do not have a lot of eye contact with the Trainer, they will contribute less.
The Trainer can identify louder / more confident learners and quieter / shy learners from where they choose to sit in the room with reference to the Trainer. (Obviously, this might be influenced by the learner being part of a group and sitting with his or her friends.) This is easiest to see if the tables are set in a horseshoe or "U" shape. The louder learners will tend to sit at the top of the U – at the back of the room and directly facing the Trainer or they will sit at the end of either arm of the U, beside the Trainer. The quieter people will sit at the back corners, at the top of the U, where it is difficult for the Trainer to get eye contact with them.
Where Learners Sit and Movement
Learners will normally sit with people they know. This can mean:
- small exclusive groups
- if one person comes on his / her own, he / she will have no one to talk to
- one group can dominate the learning environment.
People naturally return to the same seat all of the time, and people may think of the seat that they originally picked as "theirs". It is helpful to move people around:
- to encourage them to work with others
- to ensure that no person can "hide" or dominate
- to ensure that everyone contributes equally.
Physical activity helps to keep the brain active and stops learners from feeling sleepy. Giving regular opportunities to get up and move around will be beneficial to learning. This can be done in a variety of ways:
- giving regular breaks
- having tea / coffee / juice in a different area, so that learners have to stand up and move to get a drink
- having exercises that include moving around the room or building to find out information
- getting learners to stand up and move seats for different exercises.
Trainers should be clear about when they want learners to move, for how long and what they should take with them (pen, paper, drink, everything). It can be helpful to have a separate area for coats and / or bags.
Using the Equipment
- Ensure that all learners can see the presentation.
- Do not stand in front of the presentation.
- Give handouts or ask learners to take notes.
- Do not turn around and read from the screen or presentation (means, the Trainer has lost eye contact with the learners, and learners can’t hear the Trainer properly).
- Do not read the presentation - it gives no further explanation and learners can read it for themselves. Instead, try to provide additional information that helps to make sense of the points in the presentation.
- The presentation should be big enough for all learners to see easily, so this can depend on the number of learners, size of room, etc.
- Check that people can see and hear you by asking the person furthest away.
Various types of presentations can be used.
to suit room
|Can be prepared
previous & curren
Switched off, hidden
Be prepared for difficulties with equipment by having an alternative available, such as printed handouts.
||Do not |
- Speak clearly.
- Use questions to check that learners have understood.
- Use questions to check that learners are paying attention.
- Make sure that all learners can hear – possibly use questions to check.
- Sound interested in what you are saying – this will help the learners to find it interesting.
- Use jargon, regional meanings of phrases or big words or acronyms that might not be understood by learners.
- Speak too quickly.
- Use a sarcastic or bored tone of voice – this will make it sound as if you do not believe or agree with what you are saying and therefore the learners will not believe it either.
- Speak in a monotone.
Verbal versus Non-verbal Communication
It’s not only what you say but how you say it that counts. Research has shown that, when someone gives a
spoken message, the listener’s understanding and judgement of that message comes from:
7% words - listeners put their own interpretation on speakers’ words
38% paralinguistics - the way in which something is said (i.e., accent, tone, inflection are very important to
a listener’s understanding)
55% facial expressions - what a speaker looks like while delivering a message affects the listener’s
understanding the most.
* Reference: Trainer’s Pocketbook 10th Edition (2004) John Townsend
||Do not |
- Use open body language.
- Smile appropriately.
- Look interested in what you are saying.
- Look interested in what learners say to you.
- Use eye contact to encourage contributions.
- Have equal eye contact with all learners to ensure that everyone feels included.
- Observe learners’ body language and facial expressions to check for understanding and interest.
- Use small gestures to encourage contributions, such as listening noises ("hm-hmm", "yes"), hand gestures, nodding.
- Keep a barrier (such as a desk) between you and the learners.
- Look away or read when someone is giving an answer or asking a question.
- Make facial gestures that could be rude to any learner or any part of the course (e.g., rolling your eyes,
Remember, feedback is a two-way process, from learner to you and you to learner.
- Give positive feedback to learners, such as "well done", "that’s right", "yes".
- If the whole answer is not correct, confirm the points that learners have gotten correct, e.g., "You are right that xxx". It may be helpful to also highlight the parts of the answer that are not correct, e.g., "You are right about xxx, but perhaps you could reconsider yyy".
- Accept feedback from learners, but keep it in context – e.g., "The course was boring – I know everything already" is a criticism of the course content and is not a criticism of you or your training skills.
- Ask learners for feedback on the course content, the style of the exercises, the training venue, your trainer skills and anything else that can be changed or improved.
- Do a tester course with colleagues asking them for feedback on the course content, the style of the exercises, the training venue, your trainer skills and anything else that can be changed or improved.
- Be negative.
- Be critical of learners if they get something wrong, e.g. "You’re wrong", "That was a stupid answer".
- Laugh at them when they’re trying hard.
- Encourage questions – it shows that learners are paying attention and showing an interest in the topic.
- Answer the question fully.
- Check that your answer satisfies the learner.
- Have a technique for dealing with difficult questions, e.g., one person asking too many questions or questions that are more detailed than you need to cover.
Use phrases such as:
- "That’s a good question and we’ll come back to it later if we have enough time"
- "Why don’t you and I have a discussion about that at the coffee break?"
- "If I understand correctly, you’re asking..."
- "How do the rest of the group feel?"
- "Has anyone else had a similar problem?"
- "You’ve obviously done some thinking on this. What’s your view?"
- Pass the question to another learner with experience in the subject, "Bob, you’re an expert on this."
- Use questions to check whether learners have understood what you’ve told them.
- Use questions to re-cap information covered earlier.
- Say that you will find out if you don’t know the answer.
- Make up answers or guess if you do not know.
- Dismiss questions as irrelevant or stupid.
- Forget to answer the question.
Delivering a Course to a Group with Mixed Levels of Skills and Knowledge
Learners’ backgrounds, current levels of knowledge and skills and their learning capabilities are likely to be varied.
- Find out each person’s skill / knowledge level before the course by asking a basic question about experience when taking the course registration. If this is not possible, then ask them before the course starts or during the introductions exercise.
- Acknowledge the different levels and, if possible, encourage the more experienced learners to help
- Have an additional exercise prepared, so that your advanced people aren’t growing bored or frustrated
waiting for the slower people to finish their exercises.
- Allow opportunities when planning exercises to provide one-on-one coaching, should it be required.
- Remember that people learn in different ways. This relates to the left and right brain. Using a variety of exercises and activities that engage different parts of the brain will ensure that you include all learning styles.
- Provide additional summary information in a variety of formats, such as lists, pictures, flowcharts and
- Pick a specific skill / knowledge level and teach to that.
- Ignore the needs of those who are slower or more advanced.
- Assume that, because one person gave you the correct answer, everyone understands the information.
Dealing with Difficult Learners
There will always be some learners who are more difficult to engage than others. Some general guidelines are given below.
Don’t forget, all learners:
- are adults – you must treat them as such
- are responsible for their own learning – you are there to facilitate their learning experience
- have experience – you must acknowledge this, give them credit for this and remember Trainers can learn from participants as well
- have different preferences in the way they learn – don’t assume everyone needs to take notes or has to ask questions to show they’re paying attention.
Dealing with Difficult Learners
"I’ve got 10 years’ experience; I don’t need to be here. What are you going to teach me?"
- Tell such learners that their experience will be of use to you as the Trainer and to other people on the course.
- Ask these learners’ opinion on topics that are being discussed or ask them if they have an example from their experience that would illustrate the point you’re trying to make.
- Try to get them to acknowledge when they have learned something new.
- Discuss the reasons why they’re here (e.g., they need to have completed training in order to be granted a license).
- Promote the mutual benefits. They might as well relax and get what they can out of the day; if you all work together, then you’ll be able to get through everything a bit quicker.
Dealing with Difficult Learners
Learner who doesn’t agree with what you’re saying
This can come up in a number of contexts. When the facts given on the course do not fit with the learner’s own experience or view of what is right and wrong, this is called "cognitive dissonance". This will make learners feel uncomfortable and they will either alter their current beliefs to make the new information fit or they will justify their current beliefs or behavior.
We must start from their point of view. Help learners to justify changing their behavior, knowledge or attitudes by providing a real need to do so.
For example, during a course on the responsible service of alcohol, you may have some learners who do not think that there is a problem with allowing customers to become drunk.
- Ask them to explain their point of view.
- Give any relevant facts about the subject.
- Try to find ways where they already meet the standards being discussed on the course and the benefits of doing so.
- Explain other benefits of meeting the standards and give them a range of alternatives that would help them to meet the standards.
Dealing with Difficult Learners
Shy / Nervous learners Try to find out what is making them nervous.
If they are nervous because they’re not sure what to expect:
- Tell them as much about the course as possible – content, approximate timings, types of exercises, what will be expected of learners, any assessments, breaks allowed, etc.
If they are nervous because there is a test or exam:
- Tell them the details about the assessment, how much information they’ll be expected to know, whether the course will include a mock assessment or an opportunity to practice the style of questions, how much detail they will be expected to give in their answers (e.g., multiple choice, bullet point / one word answers, short written answers, essay answers), how marks will be awarded, pass mark, how
quickly they’ll learn their results, re-sit opportunities.
If they are nervous because they think it will be like school:
- Tell them what will be expected of learners and how the course will run – e.g., ask questions when you want, use lots of discussion rather than the Trainer telling learners what to do, everyone’s experience is valid.
- Ask them questions that you know they can answer in order to build their confidence.
- Praise / thank them for contributions in order to build confidence.
- Use eye contact and names to encourage contributions.
- In small-group exercises, pair them with a more confident person. This means that the more confident person can give any answers or feedback and the shy person will not have to speak in front of the whole group.
Dealing with Difficult Learners
Loud / Dominating learners
- Avoid eye contact to discourage contributions.
- Ask other people, direct questions by name.
- Use phrases like "Thank you for that contribution, let’s see what everyone else thinks", and ask for further contributions, or "You’ve answered the last couple of questions, let’s hear from someone else this time
- Have a chat with them away from the group. It may be that their contributions are not appropriate, e.g., too many jokes and wasting time. It may be that you have to ask them to be quiet and let others contribute.
- If the learner is particularly disruptive, you can ask him or her to leave. Remember, others are there to learn!