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Beyond Competence: Creating Learning Spaces for the training and professional development of trainers

December 16th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

Posted below is a PDF copy of a new book: ‘Creating Learning Spaces: Training and Professional Development of Trainers’. the hard back copy will be published early in the new year. The book comes out of the two year TTPlus project on professional development for trainers. The project involved researchers from six European countries and was coordinated by Eileen Luebcke from Pontydysgu and funded by The European Commission Leonardo da Vinci programme.

At the heart of the project was the aim to develop a Framework for the Continuing Professional Development fo trainers. But we had also set out to look at who is responsible for training, what trainers do in practice and how training is changing. In fact, considering how much is talked about the importance of training, it is quite remarkable how little is known about who the trainers are and what they do.

We found that increasing numbers of people are responsible for training as part of their work – as skilled workers, as team leaders or as managers. Very often they do not have the word trainer as their job title, neither do they identify themselves as a trainer. In some cases responsibility for training comes as part of the job, in other cases they were selected because they appeared to have an aptitude for the role. In some cases they had some prior experience of teaching, in others they attended some courses but in many cases they had no training or professional development as trainers. We found that whilst there were differences between countries, especially in regulatory regimes, in terms of practice and changes in practice nationality was not a particularly significant variable in what trainers do. In all the cases we examined there appeared to be a move towards more work based learning and more use of technology for learning. This is important as most studies of trainers in Europe have started from a comparative methodology based on country. We wanted to go beyond this and examine the real practice of trainers. This involved talking to trainers themselves, talking to learners and talking to managers in different companies in the six countries involved.

We felt that if the standards of training are to be raised, improving the training of trainers must be a priority.  However, given the heterogeneous nature of the group and the range of sectors and occupations in which they work, it is difficult to see how this could be standardised, or indeed whether it is desirable to do so.  Certainly some sort of common framework would have advantages. It would provide a degree of coherence to what is a very fragmented field. It would increase the visibility of trainer training and in so doing, increase awareness. It could also stimulate the establishment of communities of practice between trainers.

Previous attempts at solving this problem can be roughly divided into two:

a)    Competence framework approaches
An output based solution that depends on disaggregating the skills and competences that have been identified as necessary for skilled performance. It is often used as a way of providing recognition for the skills already possessed by the trainer, typically though the compilation of a portfolio of evidence. It will also highlight missing competences so that the trainer can see which areas they need to develop. The disadvantages are:

  • It is essentially a backward-mapping exercise – recognizing and rewarding competences rather than providing opportunities for new learning.
  • There are invariably problems with granularity and with designing a credible classification system.
  • It identifies gaps in skills and knowledge but does not fill them.

b)    Qualifications approach
An input based approach that depends on increasing the professionalisation of trainers by providing accredited training-the-trainer opportunities, which lead to formal qualifications, hierarchically arranged. The assumption is that the provision of higher levels of trainer training and thus higher-level qualifications for trainers will push up standards of the training they deliver. The major problems with this approach are:

  • This can only operate on an individual level and is not transferable to organizations
  • There is an issue around occupational identities. Many ‘trainers’ do not see themselves as trainers per se, their occupational identity being based on being a skilled worker or manager but who still have some responsibility for facilitating the learning of colleagues.
  • It implies that progression for trainers is ‘vertical’ whereas in practice many of the trainers’ learning needs will be lateral. That is, they may want more knowledge or skills at the same and not a higher level.
  • The assumption that if qualifications are higher and harder then standards somehow go up, is unproven. In countries with a formal training-the-trainer framework (e.g. UK) there is little research evidence to suggest this.

Instead of a competence based approach we have developed a series of principles and a series of standards, together with a flexible accreditation process. The principles include the recognition of the importance of:

  • trainers in facilitating learning and the role of learning for individual competence development and organisational development
  • different modes of learning and different modes of assessing learning
  • different roles people play in training and learning
  • opportunities for initial and continuing professional development
  • opportunities of opportunities to practice
  • networking
  • partnerships
  • the development of tools and platforms
  • ongoing research and monitoring

The standards are expressed in the form of a series of commitments. The commitments are not only for individual trainers, but for teams, organisations and enterprises and governmental bodies. The proposed accreditation framework supports a process of trainers (or organisations) themselves deciding on what steps they wish to take to meet the different commitments and then of developing a portfolio or evidence to show that they have achieved this. We have also provided examples of the sort of measures they might tackle.

We have discussed the Framework with trainers and other people involved in training and there is considerable enthusiasm for our approach. In the next year we hope to further develop the framework and to run a series of pilots.

Personally I am very happy with this work. We have moved beyond competences to place practice and learning at the centre of the Framework. I would love to hear your comments on the book. And if you are interested in working with us please leave a comment or email Graham Attwell.

To download the book click here.

One Response to “Beyond Competence: Creating Learning Spaces for the training and professional development of trainers”

  1. Graham, thanks for your final efforts to bring our work into a coherent final product. Thanks also for the speedy publicising via this marvellous Wales-Wide-Web and your constant twittering. I hope that the readers of your posts will click the link above. I also hope they have a good look at the content. Looking forward to the comments …

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