Invest in Your Development

One learning and development professional’s journey as a trainer and tips on the importance of investing in your own learning and development.

By Aimee Windmiller-Wood, SVP, Training and Program Development, Fierce, Inc.

I am a lifelong learner, as many of us drawn to the training profession are. When you are responsible for training and developing others, it is vital that you continue to invest in your own learning and development. In my journey as a trainer, I’ve continuously learned and honed many skills that have positively affected both my career and the careers of others.

When I landed my first job in training as manager of Stores Learning and Development at Macy’s Northwest, I knew I was “home.” I was certain this would be a fairly easy job for me and a natural fit. My wake-up call came during my second week on the job. I was asked to observe an outside vendor/trainer for experience. She ran out of content with two hours left to go and turned to me as she put the class on a 15-minute break, saying, “I am sure you can fill the remaining time with something wonderful.”

I had nothing. I was new. My bag of tricks was empty. This was the first time I realized how much I had to learn and how little I knew. I had 15 minutes to come up with two hours of content. I had to think fast.

That’s when I came up with a method I continue to use to this day. Out of desperation, I asked myself, “What would I want to have happen if I were a learner here? What have I been frustrated with in the past in courses I have taken? What would be a value add for my participants?” I put myself in the learner’s shoes. By answering these questions, I quickly decided to facilitate table discussions that aligned with the content provided earlier that day, followed with an exercise to create action plans for overcoming, fixing, or eliminating some of their identified issues. We filled the remaining two hours, and it was clear to me that not only had participants learned something, they had actively and meaningfully engaged those skills, cementing that knowledge. I also had learned something about myself—that I was capable of learning “on the fly” and putting still-evolving knowledge and skills to work in a positive way.

What did I learn in this first anxiety-ridden experience?

  • People love sharing their experiences.
  • Self-generated insight is not created by the facilitator doing all the talking.
  • The best learning happens when people connect personal experiences directly to what is being taught.
  • I don’t have to know everything in order to create a learning experience.

Because of this experience, I quickly got down to the business of learning about learning. Thankfully, there are ample resources available that help expand our knowledge, give us practical experience, and help us learn from each other. Many of those resources are free.

The more I learned, the more I realized how much I didn’t know. This prompted me to enroll in the Adult Learning, Training and Development certificate course at the University of Washington. This was a fantastic way to immerse myself in the foundations of my field, network with others in the industry, and learn from instructors who were training professionals. This course taught me the foundations and gave me new perspectives on Adult Education. I learned from the instructors, of course, but I gained even more from insight my fellow students, many of whom—like me—were working in the industry.

My experiences as a trainer have reinforced for me how fundamentally important it is to continue building your skills and keep your own learning fresh and relevant. It is one of the most important things I look for when I interview candidates for learning and development positions at Fierce. If you aren’t reading articles, blogs, books written by talented people in the industry, or taking Webinars and talking with subject matter experts, then I question your effectiveness in the classroom and your ability to develop strong classroom content. We live in a world where the needs and demands of businesses evolve so quickly that we must be prepared to offer training that meets those demands. We have to stay one step ahead.

Here are some suggestions for trainers actively seeking ways to be lifelong learners:

  • Be authentic. Admit when you don’t know something. You open the door to learning right then and there.
  • Learn from your participants. Whether you train or design the courses, learn from your learners and continually enhance your materials.
  • Stay on top of current events. Listen to the news prior to training a class and look for opportunities to incorporate some current events into a lesson.
  • Question your assumptions. As we say at Fierce, “Interrogate Reality.” Ask yourself if your current context about a given situation—your experience of it, how it’s affecting your view of yourself and the world around you—is working for you. If not, change it.
  • Spend time with people who love learning. Participate in industry networking organizations, book clubs, and adult education courses.
  • Innovate. Revampa process that’s not working well or change an old-school way of doing things. What can you add to enhance the learner’s experience? Just because they’re called “best practices” doesn’t mean they are.
  • Embrace mistakes. Mistakes are the best way to learn what doesn’t work. The bigger they are, the less likely we are to make them again!
  • Tweet. Spread the word. And follow other thought leaders who tweet. You never know when 140 characters will capture your imagination.

All of these tips will not only make you a stronger learning and development professional, they also will make you a much more interesting person to talk with. Conversations, especially those that get to the heart of the matter and enrich relationships, are the best way to learn.

Aimee Windmiller-Wood is the SVP, Training and Program Development, Fierce, Inc., a global leadership development and training company that drives results by improving workplace communication. For more information, visit http://www.fierceinc.com.

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