Last week I participated in a 3 day-long "Train the Trainer" course at Hibernian College in Dublin. My goals were to get a better understanding of how to teach to adults and learn how to design and deliver effective training sessions, in order to improve my technical courses and workshops, and teach better. It's something I had wanted to do for a couple of years and I'm glad I finally jumped and did it! I found the course both very enjoyable and very useful.
Choosing the course
Originally I was waiting for Engineers Ireland to put their 5-day "Train the Trainer" course back on their CPD calendar but after contacting them, it turns out they are not planning on running it again in the short term.
Trawling the interwebs, there are a lot of training providers out there and it can be difficult to figure out which ones are legit (perhaps I was lucky!). I decided to go with a FETAC approved course even though I don't truly need the certification at this stage, because I figured if a course is approved to offer a government backed certification it'll be somewhat serious. After that, it was down to the luck of SEO and how helpful people were when I requested information. The Hibernian folks answered all my questions promptly and are lovely to deal with, both by email and face-to-face.
The advantage of a 3-day course is that you don't need to take so much time off work. The disadvantage is that it is pretty intense! I would recommend having a couple of hours available in the evening for homework, particularly on day 2. The course I did was instructed by Maura O'Toole, who also happens to have some background in computing from early in her career which made for a few funny stories. Otherwise as a professional trainer with a couple decades of experience, she had a lot of anecdotes to illustrate her content and advice and make them memorable. I also liked that although we did go through all the FETAC material, she made sure to contrast it with how the real world works whenever relevant, based on her own knowledge and experience.
It must be a somewhat stressful course to teach because as you explain how to do things, people are analysing what you're doing and checking how it matches against what you are saying - and will call you out on any discrepancy!
The first day is the most intense, I think, which is probably just as well since people come in full of energy and expectations. I learnt a ton right from the icebreaker and icebreaker analysis - not only about training in general but also things I specifically want to try in my next course. That got me enthused for the day! By day 3 it was more difficult to keep the energy levels very high, despite the interest still being there.
The class size is kept small, which is actually a FETAC requirement (max 8 people) and makes for a nice environment, particularly as people need to get up and present quite regularly. The participants' backgrounds were quite varied and we all heard presentations about horticulture, clinical trials, powerboat exams, TV production, programming...
The assessment is in two parts: a "skills demonstration" video where you spend 10 minutes - exactly 10 minutes - showing off your mad training/presentation skills, and a ~2600 words written assignment showing how you would prepare, design and deliver (or have already) a particular training session, to return within 4 weeks of completing the course. You need a pass mark (40%) in each component to get the certificate.
The requirements for the video are such that it contradicts a lot of what is learnt during the course. You shouldn't really be interacting with your students on the video (it's about showing your skills) - and it would probably be quite fake anyway. It's important to stick closely to the time. It was strange to pretend to teach programming with slides.
I still did my best though, I couldn't help wanting to try and plant the idea of maybe learning programming, in the head of my fellow trainees :-) They kindly indulged me. No one was particularly fond of the camera and the atmosphere was really supportive during the day, no matter the number of retakes.
According to the instructor, we all passed the skills demonstration (yay!), although the videos still need to go to the external FETAC examiner to confirm the final grades.
It was strange for me to go from nothing to doing a graded presentation on camera within 3 days. I'm used to preparing and rehearsing and rererererehearsing a lot more than that. It's probably good to just get it out of the way quickly, though perfectionists who want to shoot for the highest grades (ahem) will find it weird. I thought it was good.
Material-wise I was able to reuse content from my previous courses so that was one less concern in terms of preparation, I only had to adapt a little. People who never taught or trained before maybe have a bit of a rougher time (then again if they're deeply knowledgeable on a topic, maybe not). Likewise if you're not comfortable with public speaking (as in, at the level of standing up and introducing yourself/talking shite with a handful of supportive people in the room, without having a panic attack) I would carefully consider whether to attend such a fast-paced course.
A few things I learnt
It's comforting when best practices are described and this happens to match how I've been doing things :-) (For instance my way of doing training evaluation is probably not too crap).
It dawned on me at some point during day 2 that what I was trying to fix - the ways my sessions are designed - is not my main problem. My main issue is that the objectives for my courses are not defined clearly - I kinda try to fit as much as I can without overwhelming within the time I have available. Working from the results I want (using the useful "Training Analysis Framework" I now possess!) would allow me to clarify exactly what I want to achieve, which will then help me organise and (re)arrange my sessions as needed, rather than follow the chronological order. As a very important bonus point, it will help me write course descriptions that are more specific and should help "weed out" the people that the course is not designed for (i.e. non-beginners). I am really happy about this, this is a big problem each time.
I also learnt what I thought was my "happy smiley presentation face" is actually "my serious face." Must calibrate better! :-)
There'll be a lot more once I got through my notes again, but the fact that I was trying to fix the wrong thing was a huge revelation and I'm really happy I figured this out. Sadly I got sick right after the course (better than being sick for the filming, I guess!) and I haven't had a chance to sort out the rest of my notes - or, er, start on the assignment.
I have a couple of weeks to complete the assessment. Hopefully I can get a big chunk of it done over the week-end, once the cold is gone. From what I understand, it is quite time-consuming and the instructor suggested doing it for a course we're actually planning on teaching so that the output is useful and usable, rather than a simple academic exercise. I plan to use my intro to programming course for this, except on a different timeline (I'll imagine it's taught over a couple of days rather than in the evening - and who knows, if I'm inspired I might just go and try teaching it in that format too!)
After that, I want to schedule the course and teach again in Tog. I "paused" teaching because I felt my course wasn't good enough and I wanted to overhaul it first. As with many "let's redo it from scratch!" projects, it's just meant I haven't taught in over a year now... So, time to fix this, and as I refamiliarise myself with the course first time around, the only major change I'll make will be to update the examples to Python 3. It's time!