Why is it important that trainers be interesting? I’m pretty sure we’ve all suffered, at one time or another, the indignity of having to listen to a boring teacher, professor, lecturer, instructor, or trainer drone on and on about something we probably needed to know—but never learned because the trainer wasn’t interesting.

Richard Feynman has been one of my heroes since my high school days.

He said, “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” As a teacher, I’ve used that statement as a cornerstone of my teaching philosophy.

When my students ask me questions, I listen to them, I paint the question with the colors of their emotions, and I try to understand why they asked this question. Often I find it is caused by my poor explanation of the subject, sometimes it is because I delivered too much too soon, and rarely the question was caused by the student’s failure to pay attention, do their homework, read the text, etc.

I take the opportunity to refine my content on delivery; I use the feedback of their questions to improve my work.

I also listen to my students when they give me feedback. Recently a student gave me feedback on a course I teach—they were brutally honest and, I have to admit, absolutely correct. One of their colleagues attended the same course years ago and had described the experience to them prior to them showing up. Their expectations were not met because the delivered experience had changed. Why did we change the experience? Because we were forced to add three more exams to the course, which changed the nature of the delivery.

I’ve listened to them, however, and I’m working out a plan to restore the wonderful experience their colleague had while meeting the exam requirements. It’s a tough challenge, but I think it can (and should) be done.

I’ve worked for teaching organizations that didn’t listen to the students—it was painful to watch them ignore useful feedback because “we know what we’re doing”.

That attitude strikes at the cornerstone of my teaching philosophy, Feynman’s quote about having answers that can’t be questioned. If we don’t listen to our students, how can we improve our teaching to deliver the learning experience they need?

For more information about how the Dillon Group, Inc. can meet your training needs, visit our education practice.

by Connor Dillon

So you’ve just gotten a degree, maybe you have a job or two lined up (or more likely don’t). Time to start your life!

Except, you probably haven’t thought about this: all those skills you’ve developed and have ingrained in the back of your mind over the last seventeen years of formal education, well, they aren’t going to stay as bright and shiny as they are now.

In fact, you’re probably going to lose a couple of the skills you have and you’ll most likely forget most of the things the professors and teachers taught you.

Essentially, you’re fighting against a continuing degradation of knowledge and skills.

That’s partially why medical professionals like nurses, doctors, and such are required by law to get a certain number of professional development or continuing education hours from certified lectures, courses, or events. Of course, in that example you have to take into consideration that our knowledge of medicine advances quickly these days and no one wants a dentist who still does surgeries.

But several studies show that the knowledge you gain during an education or training event will likely be gone between three to eight months after it occurs. Obviously, directly after the course or lecture most individuals have a greater understanding of the subject matter. Their scores improved from their pre-training scores. After several months, however, their scores drop back down to where they were before!

From that alone we can say that the education you’ve received, well, it’ll really only “stick” with you from several months. The technical skills you can obviously practice and maintain, but that knowledge? In one ear and out the other.

In the interest of not just being technically skilled but knowledgable about your profession, you should continue to pursue educational opportunities. The best part is they don’t even have to be a formal thing! Go to your library and learn to paint, follow YouTube videos and carve wood, or if you have to chance to go to a conference, show up!

But if you don’t care to maintain and improve your knowledge and understanding of a subject, think about the increased chance of a pay raise or promotion..

That’s right- independent research commissioned by  EvoLLLution surveyed 200 employers across North America in companies of varying size. The core questions they asked were:

  1. What do employees need to get ahead?
  2. How are employees rewarded or otherwise compensated for their education efforts?
  3. How does employee learning affect the company and the larger society?

And how did the employers respond?

A huge amount of them believe that employees need continuing education just to keep up with the job. Additionally, employers saw a positive impact in job performance while employees went through ongoing education- and how did they return the favor? “78% of employers said ongoing education has a positive impact on career advancement.” Want to hear an even better number? “…87% [of employers] said educational attainment positively affects compensation and salary.”

Wow. When a large majority of employers say such things, you should really sit up and take notice.

At the end of the day, continuing education doesn’t just help you become a better member of your profession; it can significantly increase your position in the company and your compensation for the work you do.

HERS Rater Training programs typically come in three styles:

  • Jam, Cram, Regurgitate
  • Let’s Do Something!
  • Think About What & Why

Most HERS Rater training falls into the Jam, Cram, Regurgitate model. The trainer presents information, the student memorizes it, and vomits the information back on command. The danger of this method (there are many!) lies in the inability of the student to make the deep associations between facts that would allow them understanding of the subject that brings freedom- freedom to reason, make independent decisions, and to reach reasonable conclusions. Congratulations, you passed the exam (if you were taught the answers to the questions), but you aren’t qualified to do your job.

There are a few HERS Rater training groups that fall into the “Let’s Do Something!” well- and that well can be very deep! Eager to keep the learning experience active, they provide a steady stream of non-stop activity- sometimes overloading the students. The students learn how to do the mechanical tasks very well, but lack understanding of the basic science that supports the task. Congratulations, you have mastered the art of blower door testing, but you can’t pass the exam at the end of HERS Rater Training- so we’ll have to come up with a special exam just for you!

Now we get to a much smaller group of HERS Rater Training Providers- the elite “Think About What & Why”. This group attempts, in a very short time frame, to teach students the facts about the job, the mechanical tasks of doing the job, and how to think about what they are doing and why it must be done. These courses are:

  • more intellectually rigorous
  • take more time, effort, and energy
  • tend to be more expensive
  • tend to have a higher pass rate on the exam

Congratulations, you have earned the right to become a certified HERS Rater, but more importantly- you have learned how to acquire, organize, and apply information that improves you and your work.

The HERS Rater training groups that use the first two styles of instruction (Jam, Cram, Regurgitate & Let’s Do Something!) have confused having a certificate with having some level of competence- and nothing could be further from the truth!

Before you waste valuable training dollars, find out what style of training you will get- and don’t forget that your most precious asset is your people.

In my experience, the Rater training organizations that fall into the elite group are EnergyLogic, EnergyVanguard, Saturn Resource Management, and IBS Advisors.

Trainer

A good trainer is a rare find because many Train the Trainer programs often focus on teaching the mechanics of how to do a certain task, or follow a prescriptive formula for a specific program. That’s not what Train the Trainer programs should be- instead, they should focus on teaching trainers the best ways to TEACH!

Who makes a good trainer candidate? My friend Darrel Tenter and I have been discussing this for a couple of years now, and I’m not sure we will come to a definitive agreement. I am in the “experience doing the job first” camp, and I think he’s in the “be able to teach well” camp.

I believe a good trainer needs at least 8 years of experience doing the work they will be teaching others- mostly because they need to have that kind of experience to support their position, to hold their own convictions when dealing with fuzzy thinking students, and to provide- in the minds of the students- the authority to teach. This is a teaching principle that is at least 2,000 years old. In the Bible, it is recorded that people were astonished at Jesus’ teaching “because, unlike the scribes, he was teaching them as one having authority.” The Greek word translated “authority” refers to his ability and strength of teaching- something that is best gained by experience.

The second requirement of a good trainer candidate is their maturity level. It is extremely difficult for immature people to be taken seriously as any kind of authority figure. They lack the chops that earn the respect of the students and learning transfer will suffer.

The third quality I want to see in a good trainer candidate is the ability to teach. But isn’t that why they attend Train the Trainer courses? Perhaps ability isn’t the right word- perhaps it is more a combination of empathy, humility, compassion, communication skills, and attitude. If the trainer candidate has those qualities, they will do well in a proper Train the Trainer course where they will learn the skills required to become a good trainer.

Once a trainer candidate enters my Train the Trainer workshop, I have a singular goal: help them transform into a good trainer, the best instructor they can be.

A good trainer is someone who knows how to do a job, but isn’t paid for that- they are paid for imparting that knowledge and wisdom into others, creating a productive worker. In order to do that, they really need to know the kind of work they are training people to do. A good trainer also works from a planned course of instruction that teaches all the operations of the trade or craft in a way that allows the student to get it as quickly and easily as possible. This is the cornerstone of effective instruction.

Finally, a good trainer knows and understands the principles and methods of the training profession and how to apply them effectively. But they don’t just know the mechanics of teaching- they understand the psychological theory and evidence that underpins the instructional methods they practice.

My goal is to train the trainers who will become practitioners, not theorists, who will generate enthusiastic, productive people doing meaningful work.

“If you don’t turn in your homework, you will fail this class.”

“If you don’t pass this test, you will fail and be held back.”

“If you don’t go to school, you won’t get a good job.”

Early on we are taught that failure is not an option. Failure means that you are unintelligent, weak, and will never succeed at life.

However, without failure, there is no success.

It sucks to fail. I know that. I’ve failed a lot, and big, and I know the feeling. But this is a part of life and ultimately a part of success.

You learn from mistakes and from your failures. It could just be you learn not to put a fork in an electrical socket. It could be that you learn more about yourself as a person. The lessons range in scale, but each one of them is necessary.

So why is it that when you are school failure is seen as such a bad thing? Because in the industrialized method of schooling, you are taught to do tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible. There is not any room for error on an assembly line because it costs time and money.

The key to failing is to learn quickly from your mistakes. You have to be quick on your feet and reassess the situation so that you can change your course of action and succeed.

I was working on a project in college and we had to put together a very short commercial over sex trafficking. Our group went into the project with an idea and went out a filmed a whole bunch of footage that we would then apply to interviews that were provided for us. When we sat down to edit everything together, it was a disaster. Nothing was working. It felt forced and it was just not working. And it was due the next day. I went to my professor and asked if we could have an extension because it was not working. She told me no. It was due tomorrow, no questions asked. I was so stressed I started crying. I didn’t want to turn in the project late. I felt like I was a failure because I couldn’t put together a 30 second video.

So what did I do? I pulled myself together, and we started over. We went back to the beginning, clean slate, and two hours later, the video was complete. And it was pretty dang good.

This failure was necessary because it taught us a lesson. Our professor intentionally gave us a small time-frame to complete the project. We learned to watch all of the footage we were given before coming up with a concept. Because that is what happened. We expected certain things to be in the interview footage and it wasn’t. So we spent a lot of time filming things that didn’t work when we could have already been done with the commercial.

It was stressful as hell. The experience sucked, but it was needed.

School needs to change how they convey. It puts a lot of pressure on a kid when they feel like the only way they will succeed is to have perfect grades, be picked first when in PE, and never fail. This has got to change, but life is full of failures. It’s how we learn.

So we need to be taught how to pick ourself up quickly when we do fail.

Without failure, there is no success.

Should I go to college?

It’s an important question. One that is asked of you when you start high school. Because that’s the goal of high school, to get you good enough grades and to score high enough on all you AP and SAT tests so that you can get into a prestigious college. The more well-known the college, the better, because once you get your college diploma, you are more likely to get a good job.

But what if you don’t have the necessary scores to get into one of these “famous” colleges?

It’s okay.

The best advice I can give anyone is to find a place that you fit in.

Don’t go to a school just because your parents went there or want you to go there. It may not be the school for you.

Don’t go to a school just because your boyfriend/girlfriend is going there. There’s a chance you could break up and then you are stuck somewhere that you may not have wanted to be at in the first place.

Don’t go to a school just because it has a good track record.

I was at a college that I thought was a good fit, but it wasn’t. I was miserable. The best thing I ever did was leave. And then I ended up at a school that really offered me what I was looking for.

When you go and start visiting colleges, see if they offer an overnight program. That is probably one of the best ways to really gauge a university. A tour of the campus is nice, but they usually only show you the nicer aspects of the school. They want you to see the sparkle and glamor, and shove some of the other aspects under the rug. It’s just the way it is. Hang out with some of the people that go to the school. That is a huge indicator of if you will fit in. I didn’t do this and that was one of the big problems that I had. I just didn’t really mesh well with the other people on campus. Sometimes it happens.

My other suggestion is to go to as many different universities as you can. Get a feel for a small campus and a large campus. When I was looking at colleges, I knew that I wanted to go to a smaller school. In a larger classroom, you are sometimes just a number. I wanted the ability to form a connection with my professor, so I was looking at smaller universities.

College is expensive, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from looking a school that you think would be a good fit. These universities sometimes offer the biggest scholarships. Another suggestion is to go after as many scholarships as you can so when you get to the end of your college career, you aren’t up to your ears in debt.

So back to the original question. Should you attend college?

The answer is this: it all depends on you.

Some people are not cut out for college. And that’s okay. Some people don’t continue immediately after high school but then go back several years later, and that’s okay too.

If you didn’t like high school, that doesn’t mean you won’t like college. College is a lot more laid back and you actually get to take classes that you want to take. There are a few required classes, sure, but you can space them out over the four years and take them alongside what you actually want to be taking. You also have the opportunity to do things that you never could have done in high school.

The best thing I ever learned in college did not come from any textbook. It came from my professors that challenged me to think. Challenged me to solve problems. That is the college experience that has made a better person and opened me up to more job opportunities than just straight knowledge and facts. I had the ability to adapt to any situation. I am in a job that is not exactly within my field, but I was willing to learn. I was willing to take what I knew and apply that to something different.

Is college beneficial? Hell yes.

But if you’re not ready, you’re not ready. But that doesn’t mean that someday you won’t be.

Shop around. Figure out what exactly it is you want to do. You control your own life and destiny, not those around you.

Education

We have an education problem.

Yes, funding is being cut and teachers are being laid off. But that is not the heart of the issue.

Since the inception of public school, education has been about producing workers. This is an industrial model. It is an outdated model. We are creating these workers for jobs that no longer exist. Coming out of high school, the only job you will be able to get is an hourly position flipping hamburgers or stocking shelves.

Well, at least it’s a job.

True, but we shouldn’t settle for an hourly position where the only hope of a raise and being able to make a living is to get a promotion. I’ve been in a job like that and it sucks. Literally. It sucks away your being.

So what’s the solution? Go to college?

Sure. Going to college could help you find a better job. Having graduated a year ago, I can say that it is a driving factor to continue your education after high school. It’s a nice thought until you are holding your diploma wondering what you are going to do now. I was unprepared. A lot of people—scratch that—most people are unprepared.

But why? Why is it that we have this idea planted in our minds about having your life together by the time you graduate college so that you can have a great job that will support you and help pay off the crippling debt of getting the diploma? Because that’s how it used to be. In the beginning, a college degree meant a lot. Guaranteed a job? Perhaps.

The worth of a bachelor’s degree has faded. So you continued your education after high school. Got into a good school. Party a lot. Take and pass some classes. Get what you came for and then head on off to the real world.

Unfortunately, now it is hard to get a job with just a bachelor’s. The master’s is the new bachelor’s degree. And that sucks. For a lot of people, it is hard enough to get through four years of college (financially, mentally, emotionally), but then to turn around and keep going?

We are no longer guaranteed a salary position that we can live off of for the rest of our lives (and I’m not even talking about something that you really enjoy doing). In this day and age with inflation and the high cost of living, it is really easy to just settle for something because of the dollar sign and benefits.

But what meaning is this giving your life? What is your real passion?

And that right there is the problem with education. Passion is being squashed out of you at a very young age. This industrial model of school is meant to create cookie-cutter workers who will obey instructions, do as their told, and get the job done.

Obedience is drilled into each and every student using fear. If you don’t turn in your homework, you’ll get a zero. If you don’t do well on a test, you will fail. If you fail, you will have to repeat the year. This places a lot of pressure on students. They have this fear of failure so they obey the teacher and do what they are expected to do. There is also the added social pressure, of being ridiculed for being a failure. You’ll have to kids in the grade you are supposed to be in wonder why you are no longer in class with them, as well as the kids coming into the grade wondering why you’re still there.

That’s a lot of pressure on someone who barely knows how to tie their shoes (I wore velcro shoes until I was in fourth grade, and even know I wear slip-ons).

Education is all about passing a test, a standardized test that tells you just how smart you are. That’s 10 months worth of learning for a 40 question test.

That definitely doesn’t sound like a big waste of time.

We as students are defined by our tests scores. It is more evident in the SAT test because the higher your score, the better chance you have of getting into the best college, the well-known college.

When I was in elementary school, I think starting around second grade, we could take a test that would gauge our creativity. If you made a certain score, you were considered a GT kid, you were “gifted and talented”. That meant that all the GT kids were placed in the same class and that class would be a little bit harder than normal classes and they would be given more “freedom to be creative”.

I took the test and failed to get in three times. From what I remember, it was a ridiculous test. You were given forty circles and it was your job to create something from each circle. You had like five minutes to try and do forty of them. Another one was they gave you this bean shape and you had to draw a picture incorporating the bean shape. I think I made it into a rocket ship or something. Those are the two parts of the test that I remember the most, both of them are drawing related, and get this, I suck at drawing. Can’t do it to save my life. Even my stick figures are lopsided.

I took that test three times and failed to get into the GT program every single time. Finally, my mom asked why it was that I was never “granted access to the smart people’s club.”

They told my mom I wasn’t creative enough. I don’t think she told me this until a couple years after that, but it still isn’t very fun not being included in what we kids thought of as the “smart kids group” when I thought that I was smart.

But here’s the kicker. At the age of 15, I published my first novel. And that wasn’t even the first novel I had written at that point. I had already written the rest of the sci-fi/fantasy series that was 7 books in length. At the age of 17, I published my second novel.

Did I make a lot of money? No. Am I famous? Heck no. But I was doing what I loved to do. In spite of being told that I wasn’t creative enough to be considered gifted and talented and smarter than everyone else, I created worlds and stories in my head that I was then able to communicate on paper for others to read.

My passion drove me.

That is what is missing from education right now: passion.

How do we fix this problem? By letting the teachers actually do what they became teachers to do—inspire others.

I would not be where I am today if not for two teachers and three professors who inspired me to be better, who recognized my passion and helped feed the flames.

With standardized testing comes a set of rules and guidelines that the teachers must follow. They are limited to what they can do in the classroom. They are boxed in with not a lot of room to maneuver and do something different. Because doing something different would produce students that are outside of the cookie-cutter model needed for industrial work.

Those that inspired me, kept me interested, and actually really taught me something did something different.

So how do we fix it? How do we solve the problem of education?

You are going to be learning your whole life. You should continue to learn something new everyday. It is hard to do this and ultimately grow as a person when you are put through hell as a kid.

So what do we need?

We need teachers who show love in the classroom, not fear. We need teachers who love to teach others. We need teachers who live to inspire (I remember the look on my fourth grade teacher’s face when I brought her my published book and flipped it open to the dedication page).  We need teachers who are passionate, because how can they help cultivate passion if they themselves don’t have it. We need teachers who are not afraid to be different.