Best practices in training adults
Hints on principles and practice
Training is different from making a presentation. Making a presentation is about informing an audience; sometimes inspiring them. A presenter must be informative, coherent, interesting and relevant. Listeners in the audience should be able to follow and understand. By contrast, a trainer is there to help trainees be able to DO something at the end of the session. Essentially it is about building competence and confidence. Newbie trainers often fall into the trap of just talking as if they were making a presentation.
Following are some notes about training adults, in particular training adults who are not currently students in a formal educational environment and may not have been students for a while. While the points relate to adult training generally, here the context is training new editors of Wikipedia.
Outcomes and expectations
Above all, the trainer needs to be very clear what the outcomes are for the session in relation to what the trainees can be expected to be able to DO (as opposed to “have heard about” or even “understand”) by the end. Trying to “cover” everything is demoralising and ineffective for learners. So the trainer must work out in advance what trainees can be expected to do and help them to be able to do that. This is the starting point for any preparation. It means resisting the temptation to explain everything or expect them to be anything other than learners. Trainers cannot expect that trainees will understand or commit to doing everything that the trainer can do. The more expert the trainer is, the harder it can be to remember what it felt like to be a beginner. Therefore, the questions the trainer needs to answer are:
- “What do I want them to be able to DO at the end of the day?” (This is better expressed as “What do they need to know to get started on Wikipedia?”)
- “What do I teach?” (Perhaps even more importantly, this means considering “What do I leave out?”);
- “How do I teach it?” (See "Methodology" below) A helpful sub-question is “What will they be doing during the training session?” (If the answer to this is “Listening to me”, the training will not be good);
- What is in it for them? (This means “What will motivate them to keep learning later?”)
Knowledge, Skills, Attitudes (KSA)
Answers to the questions above fall into the three categories: Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes (KSA). One of the main ways the trainer can control the scope of training and also build in some likelihood of success is to think through the KSA that the session aims to inculcate in the learner in the limited time available (typically, not more than one day). Some answers for Wikipedia training of complete newbies are suggested below.
In Wikipedia terms, the Knowledge might be an understanding of the core policies of Verifiability, Neutrality and No Original Research and a recognition that there are more policies that apply. Policies, rules and other “don’ts” should only be taught when they are specifically needed – not in advance or "just in case".
Basic skills for editing Wikipedia are being able to:
- navigate the interface;
- edit the existing content using the simple parts of the code;
- link two articles [[building the web]]
- fix typos
- add a correct but simple reference;
- add images;
- find the community.
Such a list turns itself into the sections of a training day. (Refer to “Content” below)
Attitudes are important because without the “right” attitude any learner in any field will lose interest or be unsuccessful in the environment. In the context of Wikipedia, the learner needs to know there is a supportive community available to help and also that the community forms a social space for undertaking the work. The other component of attitudes is to communicate that Wikipedia addresses various personal motivations (e.g. contributing and sharing, fun, personal development, working with interesting people). The training needs to reinforce these motivators, especially since learning itself can be frustrating and mastery of the skills often seems a long way off.
In Summary ... In a class of new editors start by editing existing articles rather than creating new ones. Not only is it more likely to build success, it is a better way to develop the attitude that being a Wikipedian is about working together to build quality articles.
When training complete newbies, it is especially tempting to try to teach everything and give many warnings. Such an approach is likely to be overwhelming and counter-productive. The goal is confidence and competence. The content that will be in the session will come from the answers to the questions above, especially from the list of skills the session aims to inculcate (see "Skills" above). Most policies can be left out when training beginners, even “Notability” since it is more relevant to creating new articles than editing existing ones. Learning how to find the community is a critical skill so trainees can make contact and get help later. It is one that experienced editors are likely to forget is a skill in itself.
To save the limited time available for training, select in advance some articles to work on. This can be done as part of the consultations with the trainees or preparations with the session organiser. Encourage the participants to think about this in preparation and bring relevant resources with them.
In Summary ... Choose content that is relevant to the audience and supports the goal of competence and confidence. Assign tasks that are most likely to ensure success.
There are many ways of running a session, depending on trainee experience, resources available, class numbers etc. Possibilities include any combination of:
- individuals work on their own computers;
- pairs or groups working together;
- participants observing the trainer’s work on a large screen;
- individuals’ work being observed on a large screen.
Other methodological possibilities include:
- Having a member of the community offsite participate by adding some of the more difficult things (citation templates, infoboxes, tables, etc) or by improving some of what had just been added. (This helps the trainees see how the community edits content “like magic”, demonstrates how consensus and incremental improvements are made, and leaves the trainer with more time to train rather than fix code.)
- Handing out hard copy resources and explanations (this frees up trainers’ time for teaching and releases learners from having to take notes).
- Team teaching (good because it offers a different style to learners and also provides variety).
Trainers need to be responsive to trainees’ reactions so they can be flexible with methodology. It is also important to remember that in any computer training class it is impossible for learners to work on their own at the same time as watch a trainer do a task, so a clear spoken account of what is happening is likely to be essential. Any visual or hearing impairment or weakness in a trainee may require that the methodology be changed. Remember that the concentration required of learners is tiring.
In Summary ... Consider/observe trainee learning requirements and adjust methodology to suit.
A training model
Since the idea is to build competency and commitment, a model that works is:
- Get to Know
- Try it Out
- Get Feedback
- Try it again (that is, “off they go”).
In Summary ... Give trainees a chance to practise and give them feedback.
Adult women trainees
Women trainees often have different needs, although contrary to what you might expect, they are likely to be unphased by the fact that editing Wikipedia is a computer-mediated activity. They know this and are undaunted by “the internet” or information technology. They recognise and accept it. In training programs it is therefore a matter of how to use it to get the intended results.
Female perceptions of participation in Wikipedia
When it becomes clear that contributing effectively as a Wikipedia editor requires effort, focus, attention to detail and some commitment, women trainees may recognise it as a quintessentially female activity: unpaid, detailed, ongoing, educational, done for the benefit of others. They may even be surprised that most of the work has been done by boys and men. This can be interpreted in two ways. On the one hand, women acknowledge Wikipedia as worthwhile and something that they could do. On the other hand, they may see it as yet another call on their time, demanding effort that would likely go largely unvalued.
The lesson for training is that the motivational factor needs to be explicit. That is, in the middle of learning something new, it helps to state some of the benefits that may seem to be invisible to learners at that moment: for example, that this is a way of sharing knowledge; that it is useful and many regard it as fun; that there is a community of willing helpers. Many of these are motivations to which women trainees can relate, but they should not go unstated.
In Summary ... Remind trainees what they can get out of being a Wikipedia editor.
Women opt for training
Women like training, perhaps because they often think they do not yet know enough and need more skills. The result is that more women will volunteer for training and more men will contribute without it. For stereotypical support of this argument, consider the oft-quoted idea that men will only “read the manual” as a last resort.
In Summary ... Trainees seek competency, so training must work to deliver it.
Reluctance and anxiety
In some sessions, individuals may be reluctant to try editing publicly, that is, in front of the rest of the group. Fears that are common in any classroom, particularly among girls and women, may apply to a Wikipedia training session just as much as they do in any other type of learning environment. Trainees may be anxious about:
- failure (“I would like to get it right before I try”);
- upsetting the social hierarchy, which is important in groups that have to work together later (“that’s Mary’s role/territory”);
- putting oneself forward or standing out (“I would rather try it out at home first”).
In Summary ... Structure privacy into the class activities (balanced with support).
For many adults, the “classroom” may be an environment that triggers unhappy memories of failure, discomfort and powerlessness. Those who have not done any formal education since school may not have fond memories of being a learner in a classroom. Overcoming this sort of anxiety means paying attention to course content, method and atmosphere too. That is:
- expectations of what can be learned need to be realistic;
- the emotional atmosphere needs to be supportive and responsive;
- there should be predictable and reliable breaks.
It also means respecting the knowledge that adults have and using it in the session.
In Summary ... Respect adult learners’ knowledge, life experience and learning preferences.