Split Personalities: Academic versus Organizational Training: Workplace Trainers and College Educators Must Adapt Their Methods When Teaching in a New Environment

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Scene One: You are a college professor, and a local company has contacted your continuing education department requesting someone to conduct in-house training. You know the material but have never trained in a business environment before.

Scene Two: You've been a trainer in business for several years, and you now have a chance to teach for a local college for the first time.

These scenes could easily play out as comedies or tragedies rather than as successful learning experiences. While both workplace learning professionals and higher education professors are in the business of increasing learner knowledge and skills, their approaches are often surprisingly divergent. For you as a trainer to teach well in a college setting, or you as an academician to deliver effective organizational training, you must understand the basic environmental differences.

Transition from workplace to higher education

Some of the most common problems that incoming faculty face include grading, delivering content, and dealing with students.

Grading. Trainers often aren't accustomed to assigning grades, which means they must create new tests and evaluate assignments. Neither of these tasks is a natural skill. Some teachers want to administer only a final test, but it's much better to test at least four or five times during a term so that both students and faculty receive frequent feedback.

Create other measures of student learning through homework, projects, and in-class exercises. The tests need to be valid (directly measure the learning objectives at the correct level) and reliable (consistent across all student categories and multiple administrations), and must include effective discrimination (there is a small but distinct difference between correct and incorrect answers).

Delivering content. Many trainers spend too much time drawing examples from their own companies or industries. These are useful to a point, but students who lack experience or who work in other industries may not relate well. Often textbooks are available for support, and it's important to pace the material effectively. Covering the correct subject matter is imperative because subsequent courses or degree requirements may necessitate student mastery of certain information.

Dealing with students. Trainers may be more reluctant than academics to hold students to appropriate standards. Some college students are so eager that they constantly challenge the teacher, while others are so laid back that they incite frustration. Unlike training in a company, students don't share a common frame of reference or the motivation to keep their jobs.

Additionally, discover what college supports are available. These include instructor manuals, materials from textbook publishers, test banks, and internal professional development programs. Many colleges assign mentors to new instructors; if possible, find an experienced faculty member who teaches the same subject and is willing to mentor you.

An effective new instructor orientation should provide an overview of pertinent information. Review the course syllabus with your dean or department chairperson before the class begins, and check in with him throughout the term to ensure you stay on track.

Transition from higher education to workplace

Professors making the move to workplace training should take note of the following advice.

Pay special attention to the needs analysis phase as you design the program. Most business training is "no-frills." Design your objectives to encompass just the skills and knowledge learners need to do their jobs well. Often this will be limited to factual and procedural information. Only include conceptual information that sheds light on the job facts or procedures trainees need to learn. Conduct a needs analysis to identify any knowledge or skills gaps so you're not sharing irrelevant information or teaching above or below their current levels of understanding. …