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New term, new work!

So here we are at the start of a new academic year and for 1000’s of students of whatever age an exciting and daunting prospect ahead.  It is also like that for newbie tutors like me!!

I am delighted to be delivering the CIPD Certificate in Learning & Development for Coleg Gwent this year and at the same time terrified of the responsibility.  However after listening recently to a great speaker on leadership I do feel better that the scared feeling is ‘normal’ and means that I am only human….in fact it it me being authentic.

This trait of authenticity is one that is key in today’s leaders, be they tutors at college like me or industry or country leaders.  You have to be yourself because when people see that they grow to trust and respect you.  In my case this is key to helping students  who are looking to me for support, guidance, experience and knowledge to share.

This role has also thrown up an interesting conundrum that colleges have as they are seen as academic institutions, yet they are also tasked with developing a commercial offering to business & industry.  This then leads to a differing of opinion in how the students are treated…are they students or are they customers?  Well, I would argue that they are both and therefore as tutors we have to recognise that we are providers of learning and of a service.   We therefore need to give consideration to our ‘offering’ , how welcoming  we are and how we ‘serve’ our customers throughout their learning time at the college.

This is now happening more and more in academic institutions as more and more students have to pay for their education and therefore want to see value for money.  Something we as tutors need to be conscious of before, during and after our core delivery hours as we do not want to be tarnished with the brush labelled ‘unsupportive’ & ‘elitist’.

This is a fine line to walk for academia going forward but one that cannot be ignored.  Bringing commercial private sector people into the academic arena will help this and vice-versa so that the outcome is a positive one both for the student, the institution & the company involved.

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

Assessing for quality

I guess that most of you drive and here in the UK once you have passed your test then you are able to drive, without any further assessment until you are 70.  So no-one has ever checked whether or not my driving is of a certain standard…is this the same with your training skills?

How often do you assess the standard of your training or that of others who are delivering training for your and your colleagues?  Do you accept that just because they work for a training company that the standard of their training is acceptable?  Bearing in mind that training is an expense to any company you surely want to make sure that you are getting good value for your money?

I believe as professional trainers we should be assessed by our peers & colleagues regularly to help us to ensure that our training sessions are always delivered to an acceptable standard. So as a minimum you as a trainer, or you as a manager employing a trainer should ensure that the session that is being delivered covers different learning styles, is delivered using a variety of teaching methods and that the trainer ensures all parts of the learning cycle are covered.

I have recently assessed some ‘baby’ trainers as part of an accredited course and in some cases their idea of a training session is to talk at the group without any interaction at all.  Yes I know that there are times when you have information to ‘tell’ your group but it is also critical that as trainers we are assessing whether or not learning has taken place.  The idea of formative assessment throughout a training session is key to keeping your learners engaged and to ensure that learning is taking place.

It is also about our professional credibility to ensure that we ‘walk the talk’ and regularly get someone who knows what they are looking for to sit in on our sessions and review our style and techniques.  There is a danger that we get rusty and set in our ways so we also need to be innovative and creative in our delivery style to ensure that our learners do actually learn!

The same goes for the material that we use, this should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that it is up to date and relevant to today’s audience, not the audience of 5 years ago!!  Yes I know that there are exercises that I have been using for a while because I know that they work but you still have to ensure that they are relevant to the audience.  This is what is good about having another professional trainer look at your work with a critical but friendly eye to remind us of our training as trainers.

You might find it scary with someone watching you at the back of the room but it will give you some good pointers on how to improve your work which is what we want to be doing – failing that you could always video yourself and self-critique that!!

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

Measurable learning outcomes

As you know I deliver a number of accredited courses, two of which are qualifications to teach/train others. I have recently completed the delivery of a ‘preparing to teach in the lifelong learning sector’ course (aka PTLLS) with a great group of people.

What happens to me in the weeks after I have assessed their micro-teach I am acutely aware of my own delivery style and whether or not my sessions would pass an assessed observation, whether my session plans would meet the necessary standards and whether or not you can actually measure whether learning has taken place!

It also makes me aware of how loose and vague a lot of learning outcomes are that are being used to deliver training and development programmes as we speak.   It makes me question how the learning will be measured…surely if somebody identified a learning need which led to the training, then there should be some way to measure whether or not the training has met that need?  Here are some examples here for you to consider:

  •     To understand the value of building long term relationships with customers
  •     To know best practice in how to handle difficult conversations
  •     To be more assertive and confident

My point being, how do you measure these objectives, how will you know that an individual has learnt anything or they just had a nice day out of the office? The other issue with unclear learning outcomes, how do you assess the progress of your delegates during the programme? With great difficulty I suggest!  Or as one trainer said to me: ‘you just know that they have got it’.

So this leads me to question how you employ external trainers or training companies, how do you check whether or not they can train & assess, as you want them to? Do you ask the questions about how they will assess whether learning has taken place or not? Or are you sold on their glossy brochure, great sales pitch and the fact that you are buddies with them?

From a business perspective ensuring good value for money has to be a key driver whether or not we are in times of austerity.  You have a responsibility to spend your company’s money wisely and get the best value training for the investment that you are making.  I am not saying that you should always buy the cheapest, nor am I saying that the most expensive will be the best, but you must make your buying decision on who is going to deliver the learning that is required and who will assess it to ensure that the learning has been transferred and that the original learning need is met.

As trainers we also have a duty to ensure that we provide measurable learning outcomes for all our courses and then carry out both formative and summative assessment throughout every programme that we deliver.  We can therefore demonstrate the value of training to the organisation in changing and improving performance and not just by being a nice to have!

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

Personal Development

I have been lucky enough to do some personal development recently which is always good for a number of reasons some of which I would like to share with you.

As a professional trainer it is good to be on the receiving side of a training session for a change & to sit back & reflect on the information that you are being given. Reflecting is a key part of our learning process and something we perhaps don’t value enough in our busy lives. So a key learning point for me was to take some time out each day, maybe 10 mins to look back on what I have done & to consider ‘what went well’ and ‘what could I do better next time’.

One of the biggest issues for me during one of the sessions I have attended recently was the complete lack of involvement by the learners, I was one of about 300!! So practically it had to be a lecture style of delivery. So do you learn in those situations ? Well, yes you do get to know new stuff but the presenter (who thankfully was good) had no idea about my learning & cannot deal with any questions that I may have had. Neither was there an opportunity to practice or measure the learning, so the training cycle was not completed. This is very difficult to prove value for money when you have to consider return on investment.

Also if your audience is bigger than 12 you need to ensure you are engaging in your delivery style, punchy in messages & to add in small activities that could be done by the delegates in 2’s or 3’s. It is important to keep everyone engaged and to check learning which you cannot do with such a huge number of people.

If you know you are going to have such large numbers then plan effectively what the delegates are going to do after your session in smaller groups, in my case our subject area groups. The key point about this was that the instructions have to be clear because as soon as you let 300 ‘get into groups’ and meet in a different venue they have to be organised!! Clear communication is vital here and if not done properly a lot of time could be lost causing the delegates to lose the initiative & enthusiasm generated by the speaker, and if you are really careless you could easily lose some delegates in the process!!

Finally for now is the need at all large gatherings of people, be it for training or a meeting, an effective signing in process and the issuing of name badges. The former sets the tone for the day and if not done alphabetically or by department causes a great deal of confusion and impacts on the clarity of the records. Issuing name badges at events or ensuring you have one of you own is another great lesson for me…it makes it so much easier to strike up a conversation with a total stranger if at least you can say ‘hello’ without feeling stupid – a key point to encourage great networking in any gathering of people.

So personal development is vitally important for everyone to ensure they keep their ‘saw sharpened’ and next time I will tell you some more insights I have gained from the development I have done recently.

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

Trainer centric or tutor centric learning programmes?

An interesting discussion took place this week between a number of trainers, me being one of them. The question we debated passionately was that of course design…..should it be learner centred or tutor centred?

Clearly learner centred has to be our main goal as trainers because when people are engaged in the learning & can see the personal benefit they will be more focused & involved in the session.  So then you think about assessment which we have to do to

a) check that learning is taking place during the session (aka formative assessment)

b) end of session assessment (aka summative assessment)

Both of these can be done based on the input you & the delegates have been engaged in during the session.  The difficulty comes in your pre-course assessment.

The purpose of pre-course assessment is to gauge the level at which your learners are so that you can design a course that meets their needs. What happens if the pre-course assessment is only done on Day 1 of the programme which has already been designed?

Here we have the classic training dilemma. How do you advertise & sell a course? We all know that the course should be designed around the needs of the learner but we don’t know this so you, the trainer, has to decide on the content and learning outcomes based on your own skills & knowledge.  Then you advertise the programme and when you meet the delegates on day one you may realise that you will have to flex your skills and knowledge up or down or both based on the knowledge of the people in the group.

In an ideal world trainers would like to run a course that is totally based on the learners needs and thus the first session of the programme would involve identifying their needs. Then it would be up to the skills of the trainer to then deliver a suitable programme to meet those needs.  However how would you sell that? Hence the dilemma that we have as trainers!!

In my opinion the more emphasis that is put on achieving set criteria the more trainer centric the learning gets which reduces the creativity and flexibility for the trainer.  More importantly it may mean that the training that the learner is given is not appropriate to their needs so the whole event may have been a waste of time and money.

So as a manager invest some of your time at the front end of this process correctly identifying the needs of your people and then talk to the trainer to ensure that the course will meet those needs….it will make it more rewarding for all of us involved!

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

English as a second language – a training dilemma?

Here at Rubus Associates, even though we are based in South Wales, we get involved in leadership and management training  all over the world.  We are often, therefore, in a learning environment with people who have English as a second language.  As professional people developers this is something we have to consider not just in the delivery of our programmes but in all aspects of the training cycle.

As you may, or may not be aware there are four stages to this cycle and they are identifying training needs, designing the solution, delivering the solution and finally evaluating the success of the learning event. So let’s consider each of those areas:


As part of the process of identifying the training needs it is important to clarify and confirm the level and competence of the people who require the training.  This will be vital for you in the design stage.  However if the course you are developing is advertised as an ‘open to all’ course then it is important that the requirements for attending the course are clearly specified, such as having achieved a certain level of qualification or be in a certain role within the business.  Clarification around terminology used to describe the course content and the ideal course candidate needs to be though through very carefully to ensure that the needs of the attendees are met.


Care needs to be taken here to use correct grammar and punctuation in the documentation as well as not using phrases such as ‘wishy washy’ or local sayings such as ‘where you too?’  These will just be too complicated and too confusing for an audience who is having to learn new theories and techniques as well as dealing with translating the information between two languages.  It is also critical in your design to consider the different cultural requirements of your delegates including religion, dietary and general well being.  For example prayer breaks will have to form part of your design and will have to be managed respectfully.


As a trainer you need to have done your cultural homework before starting the course so that you are fully aware of any situation that you may present itself.  Once you are delivering you need to consider the pace at which you are speaking and the use of correct English.  It is therefore very important that the notes that the delegates have and the visual aids that you are using are used to reinforce the key messages that you are conveying.  So remember to allow people time to read the slides/your flip chart; ensure that you write clearly and slowly on the flip chart and most importantly that you do not talk away from the delegates who need to see you facial expressions to assist in the assimilation of what you are saying.

You also need to be flexible around start times and break times to accommodate different cultural requirements.This can be frustrating for you as a trainer as you may have to cut short a session or exercise, but it is also about creating mutual respect and developing an understanding about what has to be covered, especially if the course is accredited.


The methods used for evaluation need to reflect the needs that were identified in the beginning and often need to be developed by the delegate’s organisation.  The first level evaluation that is completed (aka the Happy sheet) is a good base to judge immediate reaction however long term evaluation also needs to be considered.Our role as professional trainers should involve helping & supporting organisations to put robust evaluation strategies in place to assist them in showing an effective return on their investment. As has been stated before the language that is used on the evaluation sheet needs to be considered carefully to reduce any confusion and mis-interpretation.

So if you are about to embark on delivering to an audience whose first language is not English do take some time to ensure that the notes you provide as well as the actual training you deliver consider the needs of the delegates.

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

What is the ideal number of delegates on a training course?

What is the ideal number of delegates on a training course?

As you may know I have been a delegate recently on a course in my role as church treasurer and it brought to mind one of the biggest issues that we have as professional trainers…how many people do you have on one programme?

Well the answer is, as ever, it depends upon the subject, the competence of the learners and how practical the learning needs to be.  Adult learning theory shows us that we all have a preferred way of learning, be it reflective, and thus need time to consider and review the information or be it active, where the learner wants to get involved. It is therefore important that we as managers & trainers design a learning activity that is suitable for all types of learners, whether it is a five day programme or a 20minute tool box talk.

You may be in the fortunate situation that you know the learners whom you will be training and so with that greater insight you can provide a much more bespoke learning experience.  However, if you are running open courses, such as those that I am involved in, you have no idea about the learners preferred way of learning.  You must therefore design & develop your training programme to suit all four learning styles as identified by Honey & Mumford.  Be aware that you are likely to design a training programme that suits your learning style and thus will bore the pants off other types of learner.  I am an activist and like to ‘do stuff’ on a course, so this recent learning experience, which was aimed at reflectors, was hard work!!

Your other consideration is what you are training your people on…on my course there were 50 of us, so there was no chance for the trainer to spend time with us on an individual basis, so there was no practical learning or experience.  This was not too bad for a subject like accounting practice and there were three trainers so their different styles helped to maintain attention. However it is not how training IT subjects would work at all, for example, as people want to be hands on & practical with these subjects…people need to practice the skills as they are being taught them, not just watch the upteenth PowerPoint slide!

The final and most pragmatic answer to the question is that of cost or sales, depending on how you look at this situation.  I recently saw an advert for a ‘hands on, interactive training session where you will be one of only 4 delegates’ which I thought was fantastic.  It was for a very practical subject and meant that you as the delegate knew you would have a lot of attention from the trainer and therefore, able to get a lot of hands on experience with good supervision.  But this approach may not work in an organisation where you have to train a lot of people at once because they can only be released from their job all together, when the line is closed for example, in a manufacturing environment.

Commercial considerations also have to be made especially if you are charging people for attending the programme.   You have to cover the venue costs, costs of the trainer and materials that you produce as well as refreshments and you are a business so you need to run this at a profit.  So this may be the biggest influence on the numbers you train and in my experience this is very often the case.  So despite you, as a professional trainer, explaining that the maximum number for a particular course is X people the company put X+ on the course as they will make more money, but will the learning happen?!

I hope that this has been thought provoking!

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

Creating the right learning environment

Creating the right learning environment

I have just recently been a delegate on a course, not for me as a trainer, but for me in my role as church treasurer.  It was good to be on the receiving end of the learning for a change and enabled me to get a good insight into the perspective of the learner.

Venues vary tremendously from client to client and hotel to conference centre but as a trainer it is one of the areas that nobody tells you about.  Very often you have to spend the first 10-15 minutes setting up or sorting out the room to make it conducive to the learning of your delegates.  This had been thought about a little in the venue I was at….yes there was daylight and yes we could all see the screen for the PowerPoint presentation, but you couldn’t see the presenters and if you had been at the front you would’ve disturbed a lot of people if you had wanted to go out for a wee.

People who design meeting rooms, conference rooms and church halls forget that if they want to sell it as a training venue, that you are a trainer will want to walk in amongst your delegates not lecture from the front…this is especially true if you are an experiential trainer.  Yet the designers/IT people insist in putting the plugs in the middle of the floor so you have to tip toe through the cables all day.  Or the tables are fixed so that you cannot move them, this means that not only can you not move from the front very easily, but also the exercises that you have designed for small groups are very hard to facilitate….or even just getting people to work in small groups is restricted by the furniture.

Daylight is also so important for assisting the attention span of the delegates as well as allowing fresh air to be circulated.  I have trained in a number of venues without natural light and as the trainer you have to take this into consideration with your delegates and their learning capacity.  Last week as a delegate it was great that some of the daylight was allowed into the room, however because the session was completely tutor led and driven by PowerPoint half the windows had to be covered so people could see the screen!!

The other key area to consider is the seating arrangements; can all the delegates see the visual aids that you will be using? Can they see you? How well can they see each other?  This latter point is very important if a high percentage of your programme is based around facilitated discussions. Hopefully as well, the seats will have arms as this assists the comfort of your delegates.  Remember that the mind will only take in as much information as the posterior can endure!!

You also have to consider the number of people that you will have attending your session….I was one of 50 people last week, so yes, it was a lecture not a learning session, consequently there was little interaction between learner and trainer which for learning styles like mine (active, participative) was not good at all.  In fact I spent a lot of the time on my social media sites…my apologies to the trainer but I was bored and that is a whole other subject to talk about in the future!!

So lets make our learning environments more conducive to learning and ensure that our learning outcomes are met and we don’t bore our delegates to death!!

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth

THE MOTIVATION OF CPD (continuous professional development)

THE MOTIVATION OF CPD (continuous professional development)

For the first time in quite a long time I attended a conference this weekend as part of my continuous professional development (CPD) and feel so motivated by it I thought I would share it with you.

What is CPD?

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) continuous professional development (CPD) “is a combination of approaches, ideas and techniques that will help you manage your own learning and growth”.

Why do CPD?

As professional trainers, coaches and mangers we should be encouraging everyone we come into contact with to keep their CPD up to date.  Obviously we should also be doing it ourselves!!  The idea is to keep us up to date with developments in our industry, to keep our ‘little grey cells’ working and to ensure that we are motivated and developing ourselves as well as other people.

However, we are like the cobblers children and very often give this great advice and don’t take it up ourselves…guilty as charged here!!  So as I am interested in eating real natural food I attended the inaugural Harcombe Diet conference at the weekend in Birmingham.

Not only was it good for me to be a delegate…which does make you think about some of the things we take for granted as trainers, such as environment, comfort of chairs, how long until a break etc. It was also good for me to see other people present, manage a large group of over 50 people and give people advice about how to break habits and become motivated.  The latter is always good as you see things from a different perspective, get new ideas that you can pass on and generally feel more motivated than when you arrived!  Well I did anyway!!

So I am going to ensure that my CPD activities feature in my diary on a regular basis as I feel invigorated and motivated as I start the working week.  Hope you have a great week as well,

Thanks for your time, Suzanne Unsworth