Trainers Do Not Need To Know Much About The Subject They Are Teaching - Myth or Truth? by Robert Bacal

There are a significant number of trainers, training departments, and companies that deliver training on a large scale, that either believe, or act like they believe that trainers do not have to be experts in the topics they are teaching or training. Some trainers and instructional designers say that outright. Others act as if it is true. For example, large (and well known companies) will have people delivering their training who know little of the subjects they cover, but go "by the book", or the training manual that is furnished to them by the company.

The False Logic

There is a logic to this, abeit one based on a horrible lack of understanding of training. It's thought that if a training seminar is properly and well designed, ANY skilled trainer should be able to pick up a leader's manual, and with perhaps some minimum of train the trainer, be able to deliver that training at a high level. This ties in with the instructional design process, where a designer consults with what are called subject matter experts (SME's), who do have indepth knowledge. Then the designer translates that knowledge into training objectives and training activities.

The false logic is that the trainer is seen as a mechanistic delivery agent, someone who only has to follow the book, or the script, and that's where the problem lies. Effective trainers need to understand the content well enough to make decisions on the fly during training. Should we spend more time on this topic? What are they not understanding? How do I answer that learner question? And so on. A major function of any trainer or teacher is to make decisions. If the trainer lacks an indepth understanding of the content, it's not possible to make good decisions.

There is an additional problem, and that is that learners don't follow the scripts. They ask questions. They get confused or lost. They have different reasons for being motivated connected with the content. Only a trainer with indepth content knowledge can answer questions properly, or otherwise manage the learning process.

In short effective training requires a) an understanding of training and learning AND b) an indepth understanding of the content.

The Consequences of Following the Myth

There are real world consequences for learners, trainers, and the training profession that occur as a result of companies and trainers buying into this myth.

If you have been a training participant or learner, no doubt you've attended lousy training, where the trainer can only follow the leader's manual, can't answer questions properly, and generally relies on what he or she has been told to do, thus rendering the training tedious, static and boring. You may also have noticed that a lot of training, particularly in the soft skill areas (like communication, interpersonal relationships, customer service, etc) all cover just about the same elementary and basic elements, in about the same way. Cookie cutter training.

What may be even worse is that trainers used as cookie cutters may be regurgitating information that is false, incomplete or partially incorrect, since they lack the indepth understanding needed to evaluate what they have been told to teach. The outcome is that false information is conveyed to learners.

There are also implications for trainers, the training function in organizations, and for the industry. The reputations of training and training professionals in organizations is normally fairly low. Often they are not seen as experts, or people to be trusted, because quite simply, they aren't experts in the subject. It does nobody, least of all the profession, to have a bunch of trainers running around teaching things they don't understand with the assumption that nobody will know any better.

If you are looking for explanations about why trainers are not respected or listened to, why training is not valued to the extent it should be, and why too much training is not up to quality standards, this myth is a good place to look.


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