Are you a trainer and about to or have just set up a training company? Here are a few tips and best practices for creating your first training course. They apply to classroom-based courses, distance-learning courses and blended courses combining digital technology and face-to-face classes.
Designing your first professional training course
Designing a training course can be broken down into several steps: identifying the needs and challenges, developing the goals of the training, preparing the programme, developing the materials, delivering the course and obtaining post-training feedback.
Identifying the challenges for the trainer
We don’t need to tell you that the training market is competitive. A crucial challenge for trainers starting out is therefore how to stand out from the competition by proposing original content. Your aim is not only to pass on your knowledge, but to do so in a way that inspires the trainees and makes them want to learn more. You may, for example, find a new way of approaching the subject. Be careful, however, not to fall into the trap of trying to be too original: the course must always correspond to the precise needs and specific characteristics of the target audience.
Another way of standing out is to use innovative teaching methods. Among other things, digital technology offers many ways of alternating between traditional and innovative learning methods (microlearning units, use of blogs or mini websites for post-training follow-up, etc.).
For greater efficiency, the modules should be flexible and designed to evolve to integrate new teaching methods, tools and exercises over time.
Lastly, the training should ideally be designed so that another trainer can easily step in in the event of a last-minute problem preventing you from teaching the course.
Identifying the needs of the client and of the trainees
If you are working with companies or in-house, your client will probably already have identified the skills gaps to be remedied by its employees and the goals it hopes to achieve.
If you are teaching in a training centre, the scope of the assignment may already have been defined by the training centre and its client.
Depending on your situation, ask the right questions to fully understand the context and goals and determine the best means to achieve them.
In order to do this, you really need to know the participants’ background, as well as the field and context in which they work. Simply put, you can’t plan exercises using a computer in a company where the employees don’t have the experience or the necessary IT equipment to do them properly.
This needs-analysis stage is also critical for your reputation. Your role as a trainer can also include giving advice: there is no better way of forging an excellent reputation than by making suggestions perfectly tailored to the client’s needs and proving that its training budget is not a waste of money!
Defining the training goal
Once you have established the needs, you must determine the aim of the training.
The training goal describes the performance to be attained by the trainee at the end of the course. It must meet certain criteria and be measurable in some form.
A training goal should comprise three parts: an action verb expressing some observable behaviour, the conditions for its implementation and the criteria for success.
Example of a training goal: At the end of the training, the trainee should be able to identify and use the tools and methods to design an iOS mobile app based on a set of specifications.
Preparing a training programme
The first step in preparing a training programme is to determine the content and modules. You will also need to choose the teaching methods best suited for each module.
The next step is to develop the activities and materials.
Once the scope and content of the course is established, you can draw up a written programme containing:
- the knowledge and skills to be acquired (e.g. at the end of the course, the trainee will be able to…);
- the target audience, including course requirements and how the training goals will adapted according to the trainees enrolled;
- the detailed content: this must be consistent with the training goals and show the sequential breakdown between theoretical and practical phases;
- the teaching resources employed: equipment (rooms, IT devices, etc.) and skills (trainers). For open and distance-learning courses, be sure to specify the nature of the tasks required and the time allocated to each, as well as the technical and learning support available to the trainee;
- duration, start date, end date and timetable;
- how the training will be supervised and assessed.
Determining the means of assessment
Assessment is an obligatory stage in training. It may take place:
- before the course, to assess trainees’ level of knowledge before the start of the training and enable the trainer to adapt the content accordingly: questionnaires, quiz, etc.
- during the course, to determine if the knowledge and skills are being acquired as expected: oral and practical exercises, quiz, etc.
- and at the end of the training: immediate and delayed assessment of trainees’ performance with the help of questionnaires.
The quality of the teaching is also assessed at the end of the course by means of a satisfaction survey.
Designing a training session
Structuring the content
Once you have defined the goals and content of the course, you need to structure the content of your sessions or modules. You can use the following reference points:
- the teaching goals determined in the previous stage:
- trainees’ existing knowledge: rather than only proposing new knowledge, the idea is to build on what the trainees already know;
- trainees’ practical problems and experiences: how can your training help them to overcome a real-life problem;
- your own favourite topics, which will make teaching the course enjoyable for you and inspiring for the trainees.
Next, determine the themes of the session based on what the trainees should be able to do at the end of it.
Tip: draw up a lesson plan to guide you through the session: describe each topic in detail with the allotted duration, start time, end time, subject to be addressed and techniques to be employed. As you teach the course, note the actual times spent on each activity. This will enable you to adjust your plans for future sessions if you notice significant differences with your initial programme.
Selecting the teaching resources
Once you have established the structure, select the teaching resources that you will use over the course of the session. They must offer the best means of providing the trainees with what they need to know. Consider your own preferences and experiences (choose teaching resources that you are comfortable with), as well as the experience and level of the trainees. Everyone must be able to follow the course properly. Also bear in mind any time and space constraints imposed by the format and venue of the training. If, for example, you are providing training in-house and want to show videos on YouTube, make sure the company’s network has not blocked this website.
Alternate between several types of resources over the course of the training:
- content-based materials: presentations, lectures, etc.
- summary materials: summary sheets, etc.
- exercises: do them yourself before giving them to trainees in order to familiarise yourself with them and ensure that the level of difficulty and conditions for completion are realistic.
- Participatory techniques to liven up the group and stimulate learning: group exercises, brainstorming, discussions, case studies, role plays, etc.
Preparing the materials, equipment and activities
When preparing the materials and equipment, try to identify and make optimal use of the space in which the training will take place.
- warm-up exercises (ice breakers, motivating exercises to start each half-day session);
- presentation equipment (paperboard, video projector, computer);
- training materials presented to the group (videos, presentation documents, audio, etc.);
- exercise materials (character descriptions for the role plays, questionnaires, etc.);
- materials for the exercises (post-its, paper, scissors, professional materials);
- materials for post-training follow-up (forums, blogs, quiz, etc.);
- handouts (training materials, bibliographies, USB sticks, etc.).
Preparing the assessment tools
First of all, design the knowledge assessment tools. These could be practical tests on paper or on the work tool, oral questions during the course, an online quiz on a computer or tablet, written tests, etc.
Finally, include a course assessment: you may opt for quick assessment methods during the course (question rounds) and a satisfaction survey to be completed by trainees at the end of the course.
To obtain immediate feedback, define precisely what you want to assess and make sure you allow enough time for the group to respond. You can also approach trainees again for feedback at a later date, in order to obtain more considered responses.
Apart from being a legal obligation, this end-of-course assessment gives you valuable feedback to help you improve and refine your teaching methods.
- Client’s specifications,
- lesson plan,
- teaching method user guides,
- online tools (presentation design, exercises, questionnaires),
- satisfaction questionnaire templates.
Pitfalls to avoid
- Adapt the programme and modules to the participants’ actual needs.
- Take your own capabilities into account: you may be more at ease with some teaching methods than others.
- Be flexible: you must be able to adapt the training throughout the day or between several sessions.
- Look for inspiration: YouTube, SlideShare, TedTalks, etc.
- Don’t forget handouts: some learners always prefer to leave with documents in paper form.
- Don’t neglect the power of digital technology: digital technology offers some amazing ways of livening up training courses delivered face-to-face and for proposing exercises and simulations that would not otherwise be possible in certain situations. Make the most of it!
Use the satisfaction surveys to continue to improve.