Saturday, October 01, 2011

Training Camp! An Un-ToT Design

(Warning, this is a long blog post and rather detailed in terms of design thinking for Training Trainers. If you are a ToT organizer or trainer/facilitator it might be useful. If not, then you will want to check your Dilbert RSS feed right now.)

There seem to be cycles in our learning work and we seem to be in a "training" cycle now - with several ongoing projects to help groups create learning environments for themselves and others. I am not as fond of the word "training" as "learning", for me the former seems to come from the perspective of the provider, with the latter from the perspective of the user of the knowledge or information. From a design perspective, I find more inspiration when I can put myself in the knowledge user or learner's shoes. I know that for the learner a Training of Trainers (ToT)  exercise is a step with a group into the unknown...

There are many ways to create ToT environments and we also know that a great deal of the work that a new trainer (or learning facilitator) needs to do is individual. (See my blog post on "Training-of-Trainers from the Trainee's Point of View".) And if much of the work is about individual assimilation of content and methods for creating that learning environment for participants, then the ToT design should feature lots of guided individual and group learning spaces.

Many of the ToT designs that I see follow a set sequence:
  • an overview of the workshop that is being shared, with rationale, and partners behind it;
  • an introduction to the group of Trainers (trainees in the ToT) and their experience and motivations;
  • an expanded set of sessions that follow the workshop outline - each with a demo of the content by a content expert and then Q&A;
  • a session on adaptation to the local context with a discussion, group work and individual action planning;
  • a run through of the workshop with the new Trainers on delivery (the whole or parts of it).
This is a logical sequence and I have used it or something like it myself, sometimes with a full demo up front so the new trainers can experience it as participants, followed by the deconstruction of the workshop to go through the content and exercises that would be delivered when the trainers are back home.

I am currently thinking about how to do this a little differently these days, to make it more learner centred, and to draw upon some of the interesting "camp" designs that have featured in other sectors for peer learning. This interests me more as I come to the realisation that so much of the "translation" work for new trainers (moving from reading the Trainers Manual to them standing up and delivering it) is individual and can look very different trainer to trainer.

What if you combined ideas from the family of non-traditional events such as Bar Camps,  Foo Camps, Unconferences, and the inspiration for these - Open Space Technology - for a ToT, to come up with a Training Camp?

What might this look like? Here is a possible design for a 3-day Training Camp...

Training Camp Day 1:
  • You could start similarly to the more traditional ToT, just to put people at ease, and to provide context to Trainees, and to give some of the background that is needed to work together (why are we doing this? who we are? what we are bringing to the discussion). Then do an initial slow Walk Through of the base workshop (the one everyone is learning.) Expect everyone's eyes to glaze over at some point.
  • Then you might give the Trainers 30 minutes or so of Individual Work to look through the Trainer's Manual again (let's assume that you were able to send the manual in advance and they didn't want until that morning at breakfast to read through it) and highlight some things they would like to explore further. You might make them a simple Job Aid/worksheet to capture questions/types of questions that would help them frame the kind of sessions they would like to have to learn to use the information in the manual;
  • This could be followed by an hour of Pairs Work to talk through some of their questions to weed out any easy ones (this could even be a Pairs Walk if you are in a beautiful location and people's curiosity is already getting the better of them). This could be followed by a Plenary Exchange of what kinds of things people are identifying for more focused work.
  • Finally, you could open up the Training Camp space, and ask people either individually or in Pairs/Trios to propose learning sessions that they would like to host that afternoon, and schedule those using a simple matrix of time and space, as you would for setting up an Open Space Technology session (See photo for set up). The kinds of things people might want to discuss could include specific activities in the workshop design, content pieces they want to understand better, strategies for getting their participants attention, ideas for daily check-ins, how to identify and involve local content experts. Each session should have an output -  a set of tips, a checklist, a guidance note, or some key steps to follow, etc. - which could be captured on flipcharts and/or electronically and shared with the rest of the trainers, and put into the Trainers Guide (for the future). 
  • Then the scheduled Training Camp session would run itself for the rest of the afternoon. At the end, you could have an individual  reflective time where the trainers could make some notes for themselves on what they learned and what they want to remember. I am a fan of worksheets and job aids with good prompting questions, and I can imagine something like this to both complement the Camp sessions, and also to use at the end of the day.
Training Camp Day 2:
  • You could start the second day with a Table Discussion and Exchange of what people learned from the sessions on the first day (they could share their flipchart artifacts). What were some of the things that they learned that they thought were most useful for their own delivery of the training course under consideration? Take some of the most useful things from the table discussion into a Plenary Collection.
  • At this point it would be interesting to do some Pattern Spotting, and let people generate some of the things in terms of delivery that they think they would like to work on further with the content experts attending. This could be collected on cards, clustered and the grouped into Tutorial Sessions with those content experts. These could then be run in parallel, but have an open format where people can go where they want and ask the content experts questions on a self-service basis, and once satisfied go somewhere else. If there are big questions that everyone shares, then this can be done in plenary.
  • In the afternoon, hold a session on Adaptation. You can give the trainers an hour to think specifically about what it will take to contextualise the workshop to their local context (the trainers may be from different sectors, countries, organizations etc.) They could do it individually or in groups from the same country/organization. Again a worksheet with some prompting questions can help people think about what they can do about identifying local content experts who might speak at their workshops, how they might want to adapt the timing to different workday rhythms in their country, what stories or cases studies they might want to use or identify to replace those already in the workshop to make it more relevant to their learners, etc.
  • For the next 2 hours of the afternoon set up the Training Camp space again, with three parallel sessions organized in 3 rounds of 45 min each this time.  Invite people to host conversations about adaptation - not everyone needs to host a session.
  • At the end of the day, ask people to find a partner and then to identify a piece of the workshop that they would like to co-facilitate on Day 3 for feedback. For this, take an agenda, blow it up to A3, and make slips from the sessions of about equal delivery size (say 30 minutes) that are either presentations that the Trainers would make, activities they would facilitate or discussions they would run. Put all the options on the slips of paper out on the table and invite Pairs to take one and prepare to run that session in the morning. (See photo above)
  • Give the Pairs the rest of the afternoon to work on their design and delivery preparation for their session. Have the content experts hold Office Hours (in the same room), where the pairs can come to find them if they have questions during their preparation. Let people go wherever they want to prepare. Create a materials table where they can find any supports they need, along with flipcharts, computers for PPT etc. While they are doing their planning, make a schedule of the sessions following the chronology of the base workshop.
Training Camp Day 3:
  • Start Day 3 with 30 minutes of free time for people to finalise their preparation for the sessions if they need it, or to practice.
  • Then bring people's attention to the schedule of the day, and how it maps over onto the whole base workshop schedule. To do this you could make a large flipchart schedule of the base workshop, and highlight the sessions that will be demonstrated (use numbers for easy referral). Not all the sessions will be covered, as in one day there will not be time, so you (the ToT Trainer) will play the role of curator, and make the necessary segue ways where there are gaps. Ask the trainers to do this in their sessions too.  
  • Before you start the demo, give people a way to take some notes which they can use to provide feedback on each session. This could be done as a handout, with each session (named and numbered) and a space to write in feedback. But I think it would be interesting to give people index cards and ask people to take notes on those for each session (during and/or immediately afterwards). (See photo above) That way at the end you can collect the cards for each Pair and simply give them the cards to go through individually.
  • Start the demonstration. After each Pair runs their session with the group, take a few minutes for people to write down their feedback, what worked and what the Pair might consider doing differently next time. This appreciative frame will help make sure people are constructive in their comments. Either have them fill and hand in the cards with a few oral plenary reflections, or have people fill in their comments matrix and take a few reflections. Either way make sure to get some feedback for the Pair, and encourage people to take any notes for themselves as well. Also use that time to make points yourself (as the ToT trainer) about that particular part of the programme.
  • In the last hours of the day, hold a session where people individually or in groups will make a Next Actions list for themselves - what will they do when they get home? What is left to do to take the workshop from the Manual to their first live delivery of the materials with a group of learners? Again you can give them an action planning framework to fill in for the steps they want to take (I warned you I was big on worksheets and job aids!)
  • Close with some brainstorming on what the organizers and the ToT Trainees think would help them succeed - what could the group consider putting into place that would make it easier to share their learning, to continue the peer learning, to share any innovations or tweaks that the individual trainers may identify?  This is a perfect social media opportunity! Make some agreements on how to make this a reality.
  • Clap, make noise, have a party!
So, three days may be a bit of a push for this, but possible - if you have 20 ToT Learners, and only a 3-day slot. No matter how long it is, a Trainer who is going through a ToT exercise with a group of other trainers, needs to have a set of tools, a map of what they are learning, and people they can count on to help them when they get lost or need support or inspiration. The metaphor of a Camp, and the open space, with the individualised and group learning that it provides, may be just the model for helping Trainers find their way with a new workshop or process.


Michael Randel said...

Gillian - the wait is worth it, as you deliver another gem of a practice idea!

I find this description very appealing, as it differs from many of the ToTs with which I have been involved, which have included healthy doses of adult learning theory and facilitation skills training.

The assumption that I see behind your practice Camp is that you have designed for a content of working with experienced trainers, who need to be familiarised with the design, content and activities, but not with learning theory itself. Is this the case?

Gillian Martin Mehers said...

Hi Michael,Thanks so much for your message - and yes, in this example, the learner group of Trainers are experienced in adult education and experiential learning.

Even with this as the case, in the delivery agenda I would add a number of "games" or activity-based learning to accelerate relationship-building to help form the team of trainers into a network that could support itself after the event.

I would also facilitate some explicit conversations which noticed what tools and techniques we were using in the ToT that could inform their own adapted designs. And make some of the points on adult learning theory and facilitation. So even with an experienced group we would model our expectations about methodology, and then host an explicit discussion about it towards the end of the ToT.

If I had a group which I was not confident had those skills I would probably add a day to the ToT and then cut in some sessions on adult learning theory and facilitation skills training, and then have reflection moments throughout the ToT for us to notice together how that is going. I might also add a line on the feedback card during the demonstration that asked specifically for feedback on individual facilitation observations.