By Jack P. Macfarlane, director, Aviation Maintenance campus, San Joaquin Valley College
Delivering effective training on instructional strategies to an audience of professionals who are experts in a particular field can be a dicey proposition. While some may possess—or feel they possess—a natural knack for attending to all facets of effective live training techniques, it is safe to say most do not. Industry experts developed their skill and knowledge through years of focused energy and hands-on experience in a narrow scope of professional work. Although these specialists may hold all of the requisite certificates, credentials, and degrees in their respective career fields, it does not in any way ensure their ability to stand and deliver coherent and effective training.
Senior managers at career colleges, vocational schools, or at any other organization that employs subject matter experts (SMEs) as instructors would do well to recognize and address instructional shortcomings that exist due to the prevalent dismal gap between subject knowledge and instructional ability. Training can help narrow the gap. Research shows that learners benefit from a more engaging and innovative learning environment when their instructors are formally trained in classroom management techniques and instructional strategies.
How can managers ensure their SMEs will perform well as instructors? Beginning with the hiring process, SMEs who apply for training positions should undergo a two-part hiring interview. The first part being the standard meet-and-greet, qualifications review, questions and answers, and so on. The second portion of the interview should require that the applicant conduct a 10- to 15-minute presentation on a prearranged topic. Experts with otherwise stellar qualifications often fail miserably during this exercise. Although a presentation faux pas or two may be expected due to inexperience, some errors are so acute and egregious that they bring the whole process to an uncomfortable standstill. Fainting, heavy stammering, foul language, or delivering the presentation while sitting with both feet on the desk, for example, are all good indicators that the applicant may be better suited for occupations that do not involve teaching.
What, then, are the bare-bones essential tools SMEs should have to be effective instructors? Once hired, SMEs should attend a separate orientation session for instructors, in addition to the employee orientation which usually is choreographed by HR. The following are but a few of the topics the instructor orientation should include:
Finally, in addition to formal training during instructor orientation, SMEs also should participate in periodic refresher training, perhaps yearly, to keep effective instructional skills sharp. Frequent observations and candidly written critiques are also beneficial to instructor development.
Finding qualified professionals is a tough undertaking; discovering capable experts who are also willing to train and mentor others in their own professions is, indeed, a rare treasure worth keeping and nurturing.
Jack P. Macfarlane is the director of the Aviation Maintenance campus at San Joaquin Valley College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.