The Definition of Train the Trainer

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Strong train the trainer programs happen when strong leaders attend training to learn how to best educate other adults in their workplace or community. In a perfect world, we would have top experts and educators in topics come to teach our teams and communities, but this is expensive and time consuming. Beyond this, outside experts cannot be present for every team meeting, company conference or employee review. This is when training of trainer, or TOT, programs enter the picture and make training possible where it wouldn't be feasible otherwise.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Train the trainer programs give leaders the skills they need to provide effective training to their teams.

Train the Trainer Basics

Some people are very knowledgeable in a particular area but don't yet have the skills necessary to effectively teach others. In a train the trainer course, these individuals are given the teaching skills they need to convey information to other adults in a replicable way. This way, their areas of knowledge and strength can be shared throughout your organization to increase knowledge, performance and efficiency.

In order for a train the trainer course to be successful, it is important to have clarity about the objectives of the training, whether that be education, protocol changes or a boost in morale.

With that objective in mind, the course can include learning psychology designed to make those ends achievable through clear and interactive content. This means that trainers who have gone through this process should be able to engage an adult audience in an entertaining and effective way that results in the desired change.

How Train the Trainer Works

While each TOT training program is unique, they are similar in that they are all designed to equip people to go out and teach others. Train the trainer programs can take place virtually or in person and can last a few hours, a few days or even a few weeks. People who want to teach their peers or who have been selected as trainers learn a variety of things through doing some of the following:

  • Learning about adult education
  • Exploring learning styles
  • Practicing public speaking basics
  • Learning team building basics
  • Participating in training simulation and practice
  • Exercising communication skills
  • Increasing sensitivity to issues of diversity
  • Trying a variety of techniques for sharing information
  • Leading training with other trainers
  • Becoming clear on the scope and limitations of trainers
  • Receiving mentoring and constructive feedback
  • Exploring how to troubleshoot problems during training
  • Learning how to mentor others

After a train the trainer program, trainers should be able to return to the workplace and train their colleagues in order to move the team forward in the desired way without having to hire outside trainers to accomplish this task. These trainers can then mentor other candidates to conduct the same training with others down the chain of command.

Benefits of Train the Trainer

When you need to train your workforce and implement a method of training and onboarding new people, train the trainer offers many benefits. Learning psychology has taught us that people learn best by teaching, so by asking your most promising leaders to teach others, you are strengthening their skills in the process. At the same time, you are saving money by not having to hire outside experts every time you need to train your teams on policies, procedures or team culture.

At the same time, as you strengthen your top leaders, they spark a culture of learning, innovation and creativity within your organization. Their training helps to get everyone in your organization on the same page and ensures information is conveyed in the most effective way possible.

This means having the flexibility to keep training to a quick 10-minute conference call or to engage your team on a weekend retreat, for instance. All of these things improve performance and efficiency while reducing costs for you over the long haul.

Disadvantages of Train the Trainer

TOT training can provide many wonderful benefits for your organization, but it is not without its faults. Like a game of telephone where each person who conveys a message changes it a little until it is unrecognizable, sometimes training loses steam and accuracy as it moves through the levels of an organization.

Even the very best training programs have their limitations. You might want to watch out for:

  • Unmotivated or unenthusiastic trainers
  • Training that becomes out of date over time
  • Employees who don't take in-house trainers seriously
  • Lack of opportunity to connect with others in the field
  • Lack of insight about industry best practices
  • Limited view of the field or issue at hand

Selecting Trainers for TOT

Learning to select the best trainers for TOT can help you to avoid many of the disadvantages that in-house training programs can sometimes present. Look for employees who are knowledgeable, excited and passionate about the subject matter on which you want them to train.

People who are excited about the content are more likely to keep up to date on new material as well as change their teaching style if others grow bored of the material. These individuals naturally network in the field, keep abreast of industry best practices, have a wide view and want to share all of this with their colleagues.

It is normal for trainers to experience ups and downs at work and during their training, but overall, these are people who have demonstrated their desire and ability to overcome challenges in the workplace. They maintain a positive attitude even as they grow, change and adapt. Many times, they are creative, flexible and organized. While they are not strong in every area, they are always willing to grow and learn in order to improve.

Starting the First TOT Training

Getting a train the trainer program started is sometimes more difficult than maintaining a solid program that is already up and running. Unless you have someone on your team who is well-versed in adult education psychology and methods, you will likely need to hire a specialized consultant or group outside your company.

This outside expert can help you design your TOT training program and train your first group of trainers. Once your program is up and running, you can choose to continue to use an outside expert to train new trainers, or you can use the program they design with you to do it on your own.

Your outside consultant will want to know about your business, what you do and why. You should also prepare to share your desired training outcomes and work with the consultant to design a learning process that will achieve those outcomes. Prices will vary based on your company's needs, and often you will end up with a TOT handbook that walks future facilitators through every step of the in-house training process.

Define Train the Trainer Certification

Many outside TOT programs provide certification at the end of the training program. This could look like a certificate in the ADDIE method from your local college, a certificate from an outside consultant or a certificate that you produce in house for employees who complete your own training program to become trainers. In most of these programs, candidates must attend classes, demonstrate skills and take exams in order to receive certification.

If you are interested in designing an in-house certification program, take a look at the certification requirements that other businesses already have in place. Some organizations have their certification checklists available online, and those can give you an idea of the kinds of skills to test for in your own candidates. Sometimes, outside consultants or TOT coaches can also help you design certification standards that will produce the level of training outcomes for which you are hoping.

Choosing a Certification

While designing an in-house TOT certification program might seem like an attractive option, it can also create a lot of extra work for you and your team. Outside training programs can help your trainers become proficient in many adult education skills in a way that equips them to apply their training to any subject matter. These courses can also help established trainers get a few new training implementation ideas to keep your existing training from going stale.

Some things to consider when choosing the TOT certification program that is right for you and your organization include:

  • Is the program aligned with a respected business or educational institution?
  • Do you know any businesses that recommend the certification program?
  • Is the program virtual or in person?
  • How much will the program disrupt the workflow of your teams?
  • What topics are covered during training and how?
  • What is the cost of training?
  • What qualifications do the facilitators possess? 
  • How often will the training need to be repeated?
  • Is the certification geared toward your business type?

Implementing Train the Trainer

Implementing train the trainer in your organization can be an exciting time when people are learning new information more efficiently than they would have in the past. Once you have selected trainers, and they are equipped to train others, you are ready to get the ball rolling.

Consider having trainers work in pairs or with mentors the first few times they train others in your organization. Provide a means for evaluating the trainers so you know their strengths and growth areas.

In addition to evaluating trainers, prepare to evaluate the results of your training programs. If your trainers are training on a new CAD system, track completion times, accuracy percentages and features used in order to see if the training is effective. If your trainers are sharing information on OSHA and emergency preparedness, consider offering drills or short tests where participants can demonstrate their knowledge. By tracking results, you can continue to improve your training materials to get the results for which you are looking.

Define Train the Trainer for Nonprofits

Nonprofit organizations have special uses for train the trainer programs that go beyond training employees. Nonprofit executive directors can only be in so many places at once.

For instance, the executive director of an anti-trafficking nonprofit might want to educate the community on human trafficking prevention but can only handle two speaking engagements per month. Dedicated volunteers can become certified trainers equipped to share this important information with churches, scouting groups, schools and more, making it possible to effect change more quickly and economically.

Define Train the Trainer in Business

Train the trainer is especially appropriate in the business setting when you know that it is necessary to train on a certain subject over and over again. If you need one-time training on a time-sensitive issue, then sometimes outside trainers are a better bargain.

On the other hand, if you need to repeatedly train on how to use a particular system, set SMART goals or meet sales objectives, train the trainer could be easier and more cost effective. Instead of reinventing the wheel for every training, your on-site trainers can use existing materials to hold regular training with new or existing employees.

References

About the Author

Anne Kinsey is an entrepreneur and business pioneer, who has ranked in the top 1% of the direct sales industry, growing a large team and earning the title of Senior Team Manager during her time with Jamberry. She is the nonprofit founder and executive director of Love Powered Life, as well as a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach, certified HRV biofeedback practitioner and freelance writer who has written for publications like Working Mother, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle and Our Everyday Life. Anne works from her home office in rural North Carolina, where she resides with her husband and three children.