8 things to look for in a Trainer

By Daragh O Brien
August 13, 2015
21min read

Finding a good trainer or course for Data Protection (or Information/Data Governance or Quality) can be hard. There are lots of choices out there, and it is important to spend your budget wisely. Because we follow a defined quality management system for the development and delivery of our training, and because we are constantly benchmarking ourselves against our competitors, we have had to think long and hard over the past few years about what our customers are looking for (and should be looking for) in a Data Protection training provider. This piece is written from the perspective of Data Protection training, but the basic principles are the same for the other disciplines.

8 things you want to look for:

1. Coalface experience

Do the trainers have any experience at the coal face? And, if so, does that experience extend beyond just one industry segment and does it include experience of things like web application design, data integration projects, managing data privacy in an international context, electronic marketing, and do they have experience handling Data Breach incidents or actually conducting Privacy Impact Assessments? It’s also worth considering whether they have experience in other related areas that would be important (e.g. Data Governance, Information Quality, Change Management).

2. Are they qualified in training, instructional design, or adult education?

Anyone with PowerPoint and a pot of coffee can set themselves up as a trainer. It’s not that hard to do. However there is a world of a difference between Death by PowerPoint and delivering training. Not so long ago, anyone with a clean drivers licence could become a driving instructor. Today, driving instructors have to have formal qualifications in training to improve the quality of instruction. Data Protection is no different.

From the definition of learning objectives, to the mapping out of a syllabus, to the development of materials, and ultimately the delivery of those materials, effective training requires a deep understanding both of the subject matter and how to impart it.

3. Are they any good as presenters?

All the badges and qualiifications matter little if the trainer can’t engage the audience and keep their attention for the duration of the course. Education is one part teaching and one part entertainment. It is worth looking to see if the trainer speaks at conferences regularly, particularly international conferences. The reason for this is simple: conference organisers want to put bums on seats so they tend not to invite bad presenters back, even moreso when they are having to cover travel expenses or other costs.

Quantity of speaking engagement isn’t a guarantee of quality however, so it is useful to look for testimonials or feedback. Social media is a great way to do this – just ask Twitter if anyone has seen the trainer present and see what you hear back. I’ve used this technique myself many times.

4. How respected are they as experts?

It’s worth looking at the trainer and seeing how well they are respected as experts. Have they written or contributed to any books? Do they contribute regularly to industry publications, particularly ones with an international circulation or readership? Are they engaged by other experts to help bring value to projects, research studies, or whitepapers? Popping your head above the parapet as an “expert” means you need to be on top of your game as rebuttal and corrections will come thick and fast from others in the industry. If your candidate trainer is popping up regularly in externally edited online forums or is frequently invited to contribute to research reports or other publications, that means that other people who know a heck of a lot think that your candidate trainer knows a heck of a lot.

Check Twitter, LinkedIn, or other social media to see if your candidate trainer is actively contributing. Check their company website and see what they blog about (if they blog). If they are silent, it might mean that they only have what’s on their slides and might not have the depth of knowledge to adapt to your organisation’s needs.

5. What other courses of this kind have they taught on or contributed to

Good trainers who have deep and broad knowledge will often have contributed to or taught on other courses covering the same, or similar, subject matter. For example, I was one of the original tutors for the Irish Computer Society’s Data Protection certification and I helped design the Law Society’s Certificate in Data Protection Practice and still lecture on it.

Being asked by an organisation to teach their materials is an indicator that the trainer was recognised as competent and knowledgeable by an organisation that is technically a competitor (not a bad compliment really). Being asked by an organisation that could be seen as a competitor to help develop their course evidences that the trainer is recognised as a thought leader and subject matter expert.

For the trainer, it exposes us to new perspectives on the topics and forces us to push our own material harder to be better and, to be blunt, to be DIFFERENT to the material we’re associated with elsewhere. That helps keep things fresh for everyone and ensures we keep our standards high.

6. Size of class groups

There is a minimum size below which an on-site course will be economically unviable. However, there is equally a size beyond which the group becomes educationally non-viable. You need to decide if you want to have an engaged workshop-like learning experience or if you want to sit through a “death by powerpoint” lecture. This is linked to the question of education qualifications: qualified and experienced trainers know the optimum group size for their style of delivery and the design of their course. It would be worth asking what the maximum group size is for any course (which is NOT the same as “how many can we fit in the room?”)

7. Materials and Follow Up

What kind of materials will you be given? What format will they be in? Printing and production of materials and handouts is a cost that must be borne by the trainer in some form and it is invariably passed on to the learner. Of course, it is worth considering the ‘usability’ of materials once you get them back to the office. I know I have a book case full of hard copy training notes going back over a decade that are rarely looked at.

Related to the question of materials is the topic of follow up. How will the trainer follow up with you to ensure that you have actually internalised the learning and are able to apply the skills and knowledge you paid for? As part of that follow up, will you receive updates to your notes and materials if, for example, the law or recommended practices changes?

8. Do they follow a documented Quality Management System for Training?

Finally, has the trainer sat down and defined their Quality System for the development and delivery of training? Do they have quality gates applied to the development of courses, maintaining their materials, and ensuring the quality of delivery by trainers? What sort of learner protection is in place if they are unable to deliver a course or to complete delivery of a course? Just as developing training that works takes more than just PowerPoint and a coffee pot, maintaining and sustaining a high quality of training programme requires planning and work.

There’s a lot more to it than simply booking a room and putting on some PowerPoint.

Over to You

What factors do you think we should be looking for as part of our evaluation of trainers and training providers?

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