I never thought I would ever be a teacher or a trainer – beyond a brief period in my life when I taught drama and theatre studies. But as it has turned out, a large amount of my time over the past 20 years has been spent designing and delivering training or experiential learning programmes. To say I have developed anything as grand as a ‘training philosophy’ is rather presumptuous, but I do realise that over the years I have evolved a style of training and a number of training practices that seem to be increasingly coherent – a kind of dance between ‘art’ and ‘science’. At least, it seems coherent enough to try and share it – but largely to encourage others to create their own ‘training philosophy’ rather than to adopt mine.

There are, of course, many ways to train and the options one selects will depend on the learning purpose.

Learning purpose Description Training options
Knowledge acquisition Learning facts / figures / history * Lectures;
* Written materials;
* Internet
Skills development Enhancing / building new professional competencies * 1-1 or small group training;
* Practice-based / supervised work;
* Skills swaps
Increased empathy / insight Understanding situations ‘from within’ * Action research;
* Internships;
* Study visits
Behaviour modification Transforming operational style * Being ‘coached’ or ‘mentored’;
* Job swaps;
* Role playing
Visioning Developing imaginative capacity / originality in planning for the future * Creative workshops (eg story-telling, painting, drama);
* Inspirational events;
* Futures / search workshops
Building working relationships Strengthening creative collaboration (eg between teams / networks / partners) * Facilitated workshops;
* Secondments;
* E-moderated learning

As a trainer, it is useful to be able to tailor sessions to suit different groups and purposes. It is also great to incorporate many different types of learning into the same training course. Wherever possible (and before the Covid-19 pandemic made this impossible) I took groups into situations, projects, environments where they came face-to-face with issues that are better understood through direct experience rather than by third party description.

The psychologist John Heron has written well about how we know what we know and I have found his work inspirational over many decades. He explores three basic types of knowledge:

  • Experiential (drawing from direct experience)
  • Propositional (working from ideas and concepts)
  • Practice-based (knowing from doing)

To which I think we can add as a fourth and a fifth:

  • Cultural (values-based knowledge linked to your ‘community’)
  • Intuitive – see Using Our Senses (link)

I believe that the single most important thing in training or working with others is to be prepared for the unexpected…

Effective training is far less to do with what the trainer says or knows and far more to do with who the trainer is and how he / she behaves. By which I mean that trainers are only as good as their deeds, not their words. How far does any trainer role model what they claim to be important?

Above all, good training is about transformation – finding the ‘tipping points’ as Malcolm Gladwell explores so vividly in his best-selling book.

” In the end, Tipping Points are the reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped”

From THE TIPPING POINT, Malcolm Gladwell, 2000, Abacus