What Someone New to Training Needs to Know
By Elaine Carr, ICMI
Often in contact centers, we move agents into training positions, or we add training to the supervisors’ responsibilities. These people may not have any previous training experience but are good at helping other people figure out things on the job. (If they are not good at helping other people, they should not be doing training!) This means they need to learn fundamental things about training before they even begin to train agents. After a couple of decades of managing trainers in contact centers, I’ve boiled this critical knowledge down to five essential areas.
Adults Learn Differently
Adults are not the same as children, and we learn differently from children. That means a trainer can’t just emulate their favorite teacher, even that college professor who was so entertaining and from whom you learned so much.
Instead, new trainers need to think about how adults learn. Adults need to know why they should learn something. They like to be self-directing as much as possible. Adults have different volumes and depths of experience that need to be considered. They also learn to solve problems for themselves and to perform more effectively. And finally, they are motivated by both extrinsic and intrinsic things. The new trainer needs to think about how adults learn and have a conversation with an experienced trainer on how these factors impact what happens in training.
How to Engage Learners
Training is not about “giving” learners information and expecting them to take it in. Trainers need to know how to engage learners with stories, novelty, good visuals, and relationships. How can learning be active rather than passive? Using these four approaches plus many others helps learners learn and retain and apply knowledge to improve their skills and their work. The goal of contact center training (or any corporate training) is not learning but actually improving performance. A new trainer needs to understand what works and what doesn’t work to engage learners in learning and thereby in improving performance.
I always tell trainers that training is not about them but the learners. If we aren’t reaching them with what we are doing, we need to try a different approach. But a lot of trainers, especially if they are new to training, still think it is the learner’s job to adapt to the trainer rather than vice versa. The new trainer might believe that if they cover the needed information, that’s sufficient. So these trainers do a lot of talking rather than letting the participants do most of the talking. They tell long, irrelevant stories rather than making their stories focused and effective. All of the activities revolve around the trainer rather than around the participants. If the trainer understands adult learning practices and how to engage and maintain learners’ attention, then it becomes much easier for the trainer to be focused on the learners and to adapt to their needs.
Focusing on the Need-To-Know
Adult learners need to know what will improve their on-the-job performance. Trainers need to focus on the things that help their learners improve their performance. Often we have an overwhelming amount of information to incorporate into training, but usually, all that information is not necessary. It’s the trainer’s job to weed out what is interesting but not essential—maybe providing a way to make what is interesting available in other formats: as a handout, on a website, as a link, or in the appendix of the training manual.
While it is important to make training fun since it helps engage learners, we always have to consider how we are using fun. Does the fun activity help the learner or is it just fun? We need to use fun activities that are relevant to the learning, and that help learners absorb and apply the need-to-know information that improves performance.
Continuously Learn Yourself
The best trainers are always learning new things about training and are always adding new activities to their training toolbox. We have to make time for learning and experimenting. Will everything we experiment with work? Of course not! But that’s okay since we learned from the experiment. Attend webinars, read books, attend workshops and classes, follow blogs, and talk with other trainers. Do something every day, no matter how small, to get better at training. This can be challenging if we are doing a lot of training, but it is essential for keeping your training skills alive and fresh. We have to make time never to stop learning. One way to invest in your success is to enroll in ICMI’s Trainer Development Workshop.
Yes, being a good trainer is about a lot more than just these five areas, but these are where I start with newbies. If I had to boil all five of these things down even further to the essentials, it would be the “mantra” I often say to new trainers: “Be learner-centered and performance-based.” Everything I do as a trainer comes back to that. How do I help get my learners to the needed performance levels for the job? To do that I need to understand what they need to do on-the-job and the outcomes the business needs from their positions. Then a new trainer can begin to deliver training that is effective and set forth on a rewarding career in contact center training. I, of course, think training is the best place to work in the contact center (or in any industry, but I may be biased).
A professional in the training arena for 30 years, Elaine has more than 15 years’ experience in the call center industry. She has both outsourced (domestically and internationally) call center services and worked in companies doing the outsourced call center work. The variety of business that she has experienced in the call center world includes financial services, transportation, government, healthcare, insurance, retail, and utility services, giving her a wide-ranging view of the industry. Currently, Elaine utilizes her call center and training experience at ICMI as Group Instructional Design Manager. For more information about ICMI, go to www.icmi.com.