I have a good friend who attends a lot of training, and he just returned from a session a few weeks ago. We were discussing his class, and he was telling me that the instructor seems to really know his stuff, and is very articulate, but that he has too much material, and so never allows any time for questions. In fact, it sounds as if the instructor actually does not allow questions.
After our conversation, I got to thinking about the hundreds of instructors I have listened to during my life. We all have the common experience as children of listening to teachers in school. Most of us can't—or don't want to—remember much about those people and their skills, but I'll bet that many of us had one or two teachers from our school days that made such a lasting impression on us that we can still recall many details of them and their classes.
Then we moved on to college, and into our careers. Depending on where you work, you may not have had much of an opportunity to attend in-service training related to law enforcement, but you probably did attend an academy. How many college or academy instructors can you remember?
Then you and I went through a "change." We ceased being professional students, and became professionals that happened to be students. We became adult learners.
When you're in elementary school or high school, and to a certain extent, college, your "job" is to learn. You learn because you're supposed to—it's what you do for a living. Because of that, you probably tolerate a lot of stuff that you might not tolerate later in life.
But when you became a professional that happened to be a student—in other words, an adult attending work-related, in-service training—things changed. You had different needs, and education meant something fundamentally different for you.
As a law enforcement adult learner, you attended—and probably still do—classes because you "had to." They were mandated by someone, maybe your P.O.S.T. council, or your risk management company, or your department. If those were good classes and you enjoyed them, so much the better. But, you were going to be there regardless.
If you're lucky, you've also gotten to attend some classes that you really wanted to go to, especially as a trainer. You sought out training related to your interests, and your department signed you up. It's these classes that are so disappointing when they aren't of the quality you expect.
When instructors are perceived as doing a poor job for whatever reason, that detracts from the pleasure of learning. Sometimes this perception can come from an apparent lack of preparation, lack of knowledge, or even a lack of training skills. Your perception of these things can be influenced by many different factors, including problems with equipment and the training facility, illness on the instructor's part (or yours), scheduling difficulties, and a host of other concerns.
Of course, how the instructor manages these problems when they occur will have a lot to do with your perception of his or her training skills and, ultimately, your enjoyment of the class. Who has not taught a class where the projector bulb burns out, or the computer won't boot-up, or ammunition keeps failing, or the training vehicles won't start, or something similar? We all have. That's when the trainer's true mettle shows through.
As trainers, we are both blessed and cursed. Blessed, in that we are given the opportunity to pursue advanced knowledge that can have a real effect on our officers' lives. Cursed, because we are doomed to not just absorb the material we are being taught, but also to analyze the skills—or lack thereof—of the trainers we are listening to.
Next time you're attending a class, pay attention to the way your instructor handles things. (You probably already do anyway). Note what he does that seems particularly effective, and watch for how she handles problems that come up. After class, maybe on your drive home, think about what you learned, and how you felt about learning it. Then, see if you can draw connections between the instructor's training skills and level of preparation, and your level of learning.
Next time you're teaching a class, spend some time beforehand thinking about your time as a student. How did you feel if an instructor was late, or slow to come back from breaks? Did you consider it a waste of your time? Have your instructors seemed prepared for class? If they weren't, were you a little insulted that they would be so inconsiderate? When you've seen instructors have to "manage" disruptive people in your classes, did you feel sorry for the instructor or for the disrupting student? Were you even conscious that "student management" was going on?
Remember that you are training a very sophisticated audience. Once upon a time, most officers were happy to get to an occasional class. These days, they get a lot of training, and they receive a lot of information through other venues. They have become inundated with videos and PDF files, and newsletters and all manner of other input. They expect things to move along, and for you to solve problems as they arise, or to be prepared with a backup plan. The information that you give them must be perceived as relevant, timely, and competently given.
Put yourself in their place. They're adult learners, seeking your professional input in order to enhance and improve their professional lot in life. That really means that your training should be more of an exchange of ideas, and less of a lecture. What they'd really like is more interactive training, and less "talking at them." Some of the material you deliver has to be presented in a stand-up delivery format, but you can create a more interactive tone by allowing more time for their discussion and input, instead of lecturing them and then not allowing time for their questions, ideas, and information.
As Elvis said, "A little less conversation and a little more action," please.
Stay safe, and wear your vest!