| Volunteer Training and Professional
The Training page for Volunteer Today has historically focused on tips for trainers. Each issue will now have information on some aspect of professional development for managers of volunteers and some articles on how to be a better trainer of volunteers. The author of this page, Nancy Macduff, is open to ideas and suggestions from readers on what might be useful information in the area of professional development. You can email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
~ July 2008 ~
Why Do Trainers Talk Too Much?
Chances are likely that you spend a good share of your time during training spewing out information, with PowerPoint mirroring your handouts. This is the “tell-it” training technique, a variation of the lecture. You are not alone in using this least effective training technique, it is a malady learned from college teachers. Why is it that many trainers and teachers feel the need to talk during what is characterized as group discussion? Here are some of the reasons why. It pays to consider if some of these same reasons are why you are doing most of the talking in training.
Trainers are socialized to believe he/she has valuable information that must be passed on to the volunteer through lectures and PowerPoint presentations. It is sometimes the only method used. The problem with this thinking is that knowledge is not given and received, so much as constructed. Learning is not accumulation, but rather a process. The learner brings their personal experience into contact with new information and the learning begins. Training that takes to heart the social nature of effective training is more effective and lasting, than more didactic forms—the lectures or “tell them” method.
Trainers misunderstand the purpose of training. The idea of training volunteers is not to impart facts, but connect their previous experiences to the new one, so the volunteer can apply in the new situation. This is so the individual can make informed and consistent decisions when actually doing the task or service for the organization. The purpose of the training is to engage the learner in complex and engaging conversations about the work to be done. Its job is to sharpen skills and constructs knowledge.
Trainers succumb to expectations of those around them. Institutional expectations, from other staff or volunteers, can lead a trainer astray. The head administrator drones on at meetings, trainers in the organization always stand and “tell” with accompanying PowerPoint, so an expectation is born that that is training. Everything revolves around the person in the front of the room. This is often because it is the way people were trained by their college professors, so it is easy to assume that this is the most effective way to teach. The myth is that everything depends on the “teacher.” The fact is resourceful adults set up volunteer systems without the benefit of training on a daily basis. For example, the first responders in disaster are not the professionals, but rather those spontaneous unaffiliated volunteers who are on the spot and move into action without anyone handing them a position description or application. In the 9/11 crisis, some of those volunteers established sophisticated systems to check people in and out, manage donations, and keep things moving until the professionals and trained volunteers arrived.
The role of the trainer of volunteers is to become a member of the group. . .a contributor and perhaps guide on the learning path, working collaboratively with the learners to maximize their knowledge. This is a view rarely shared by those in authority.
Trainers underestimate learners. As someone who trains adults quite frequently, I remind my self as I enter the training room that someone in the room knows more about the topic than I do and my job is to find that person and get them to share their expertise. Never underestimate adult volunteers and their experiences. Previous life experience provides a vast storehouse of knowledge that can be applied in the current setting.
Trainers can over estimate the value of their knowledge. It is true that the manager of volunteers is likely more knowledgeable than the new volunteers. And there is a level of “telling” that is required, but limit it. Set a specific amount of time spent on “tell.” Preferably at the beginning and end of the session. Use the “telling” as a springboard to discussion, problem solving, and practice. Get creative with activities and exercises to allow for practicing the desired knowledge. The more quiet the trainer, the more opportunity for the learners to discuss and work out the solutions, something they are often required to do in their volunteer role.
Get Ready for Learning
Any conference or seminar is the opportunity to learn new things or old things in a new way. Here are some tips on how to engage more actively in training.
Training in Olympia, WA
Revitalizing Your Volunteer Programs: New Models, New People, New Strategies
Time: 9:30 AM - 4 PM
Registration information: http://www.volunteer.ws/
Sponsor: Volunteer Center of Lewis, Mason, and Thurston Counties
COLLEGE PROGRAMS ON NONPROFIT AND VOLUNTEER MANAGEMENT
Close to 200 colleges and universities offer academic programs on nonprofit and volunteer sector management. They are usually master's degree programs, but not always. American Humanics sponsors undergraduate programs, as well. If you are looking to push out the professional development window, consider taking a course at one of these colleges. A full list resides at http://tltc.shu.edu/npo/. Thank Roseanne Mirabella, of Seton Hall University for keeping up with this list.
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