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Optimize your training

We all have different skills and attributes, and whilst we might all approach a training session on the same topic in a completely different way, we all have the potential to do the job well.

There is much discussion about what makes a good trainer, and putting a definition together is not an easy task.

The trainer’s role may be to impart knowledge or skills to trainees, or to provide an environment that encourages learning, in which the trainer acts more as a facilitator than as a teacher.

In trying to define the characteristics that trainers need to develop, we consider four ‘domains’ to be key:



This model was developed by Sarah Morgan of EMBL-EBI with input from the GOBLET trainer support task force. It was designed for academic trainers who are subject-matter experts first and foremost, and who train others as a supplementary activity to their core role.



Verbal communication skills – able to deliver information orally in a clear manner that is understood by trainees.

Tip: don’t assume knowledge or lack of knowledge in your trainees; check with them before describing a concept or theory. That way you’ll be able to adapt to their level of knowledge and understanding and will avoid ‘pitching’ your training at the wrong level.
Tip: telling a story can be considerably more compelling than describing bald facts or concepts.


Written communication skills – able to create written information such as tutorials, use cases and exercises at the correct level for trainees and with an appropriate tone for face-to-face situations or to facilitate self-study.

Tip: it’s surprising how much contextual information you provide when delivering tutorials or exercises as part of a face-to-face course. When designing standalone teaching materials (for example, as part of an elearning or blended-learning-based course), you may find that you need to add additional explanatory text. Ask a colleague who hasn’t seen you teach on this subject to critique your written teaching materials.


Presentation skills – able to create suitable slide sets for lecture-style sessions and to present complex information in an engaging and accessible manner.

Tip: use graphics as prompts for what you’re planning to explain; don’t write everything that you plan to explain on the slide.


Expertise and knowledge

Subject knowledge – having appropriate and up-to-date knowledge or expertise in the subject taught.

Tip: teaching a new subject can be an effective way of ensuring that you understand it fully; however, be aware that you need to gain the respect of your trainees. When teaching a new subject for the first time, consider having a ‘buddy’ with you who has an in-depth and/or cutting-edge understanding of the topic.


User awareness – understanding how a trainee will apply the information: “How will this benefit my work?”

Tip: if possible, before the course ask your trainees how they plan to apply their learning in the workplace. If you can select your trainees, this is a good way of ensuring that it’s possible to meet their expectations. You will also start the course with a much better awareness of your trainees’ goals, and you may be able to tailor any use cases or exercises accordingly.


Knowledge of training methodology – awareness of individual learning styles and andragogy.

Tip: when designing a course or planning to deliver training, think about examples of good and bad training that you have experienced. As you work through your plan, check whether you are avoiding the bad aspects and incorporating the good ones.
Tip: think about whether you have catered for different learning styles in your plan; use the learning styles quiz to direct you to learning methods that cater for different preferences.


Planning and management

Session planning – able to define the requirements for a single session; able to plan appropriate activities based on objectives of session and time available.

Tip: Expect to have trainees who work at different speeds, and plan accordingly; build in a suitable break-point for those who are unlikely to finish everything, and provide supplementary exercises or activities for speedy workers.


Curriculum planning – able to organise a balanced programme; clear understanding of target group and course outcomes; appropriate mix of theory and practice.

Tip: if organizing a full curriculum involving several trainers, perhaps over an extended period of time, you need to build in checks and balances to ensure that your trainers are working to an agreed framework. Are you all teaching to a similar level? Do you provide materials in a consistent way that avoids trainees having to interact with a range of different learning environments? Are you sticking to agreed quality criteria and assessment criteria?


Event management – “everything else”! Appreciation of what is needed to make trainees get the most out of the training: adequate breaks, networking opportunities, logistics...

Tip: try to adopt a ‘don’t make me think’ approach to your course design: if your participants (trainers and trainees) are comfortable, if they have opportunities to break when needed and all the ‘housekeeping’ information that they need, they’ll be able to relax and immerse themselves in the course. If possible, work with reliable administrative support to ensure that these aspects of your course run smoothly. If you do not have access to administrative support, plan ahead and try to put yourself in the shoes of your trainees and any guest trainers. Is the AV system self-explanatory? Does everyone know where they need to be and when? Ignore these things at your peril!


Trainee engagement

Flexibility in delivery – ability to adapt your training in real-time based on live feedback.

Tip: Check out some of our training strategies for seeking and addressing feedback in real time: the post-up provides a good example.


Empathy with trainees – recognizing how trainees are engaging with the subject; drawing trainees into the learning opportunity presented.

Tip: Where possible, provide opportunities for trainees to describe the challenges that led to their seeking training, and for others in the room to suggest possible solutions.


Understanding of trainee requirements – understanding trainees’ differing requirements and coping with different learning speeds.

Tip: Provide core and supplementary material; it may also be appropropriate to provide some pre-course work to bring everyone up to speed on some areas.
Tip: expect to have trainees who work at different speeds, and plan accordingly; build in a suitable break-point for those who are unlikely to finish everything, and provide supplementary exercises or activities for speedy workers.


Where do I start?

No trainer is expected to have all these attributes but it is helpful to develop a range of skills across these domains and to work with others who have complementary skills. This model can help you to focus your professional development – by running a self assessment of your current skill-set against the four domains and determining where both your strengths and weaknesses are.

  • Do consider training situations that you have been involved in to determine what level you are at

  • Don’t panic or worry if there are a number of areas that you feel you need to develop further

  • Do look for opportunities for further development, whether through courses, self-directed learning or just delivering more training

  • Do ask for advice or support from a more experienced trainer

  • Don’t give up