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What makes a first-class training programme?

Firstly, an admission: I love training. Not being trained, you understand, but rather training others. (I actually don’t like being trained at all; when attending training, I spend more time assessing the quality of the training than I do paying attention to what I’m supposed to be learning. Most trainers do not make good training session attendees).

I did not realise I loved training until an almost accidental change in career direction meant I moved from being a practising compliance officer into training others to be compliance officers. It was the best almost-but-not-quite accidental career change I ever had.

It is not possible to put all my thoughts as to what makes a really first-class training programme into 1800 words, but what writing this article has done is made me think very carefully about what the critical success factors are in achieving this. So, I am going to focus on three key areas; the quality of the trainer in face-to-face delivery; the quality of the training materials; and understanding the objectives of the training – and making sure that the training meets these objectives.

1. The quality of the trainer

Not all training requires a trainer to be present. However, it has long been acknowledged that face-to-face training, if done well, is the best type of delivery for imparting knowledge and understanding. Knowledge can be learned from written materials or computer-based training platforms, but understanding requires challenge, it requires real-world application and it requires clear explanations.

The most powerful word in the English language is ‘why’ and only discussion, debate, challenge and rationale can lead to true understanding. And understanding should be an objective for almost all training programmes. Without understanding you may well be able to train someone to do a job or carry out a task, but what happens the first time they are challenged? What happens when something goes wrong or something unexpected occurs?

So, if face-to-face training is the gold standard for imparting knowledge and understanding, then the critical success factor for the impact of that training is the quality of the trainer. Subject matter experts can be found for any topic. But finding a subject matter expert who can encourage challenges and debate, listen to counter arguments and objections and who can also influence and persuade others is very, very difficult. By their very nature, someone who is prepared to stand in front of a room and present themselves as the subject matter expert is not going to be shy, but are they also going to be able to respond to new questions and challenges never asked before? Are they confident enough to welcome these questions and challenges and respond to them positively and without prior warning?

This means that as well as a subject matter expert, a quality trainer plays other key roles:

  • Psychologist – Identifying and understanding the needs and behaviour of their audience and the individuals within that audience
  • Performer – Being able to keep their audience engaged and entertained so that their concentration levels are kept high. I have always enjoyed using humour in training sessions and have no doubt that this also enhances the learning environment
  • Motivator – Demonstrating the benefits of what the attendees are learning so that they can clearly see the practical output of the training session

And all of this must be done in direct response to the needs of the attendees. The exact same training session might well need to be run with a significantly different approach, depending upon the psychological makeup of the attendees, both individually and as a group. So, you can immediately add the attributes of adaptability and flexibility to the above.

2. The quality of the training materials

The accuracy of training materials must be a given and so I do not intend to dwell on that here. However, when training in a dynamic area, such as my area of expertise (regulatory compliance in financial services), keeping up to date with current events is essential in maintaining credibility in the eyes of the training attendees. It is a perfectly fair challenge for a practitioner to say to the trainer ‘What do you know about it? You don’t have to actually do the job’.  Understanding the current environment and, therefore, the pressures and risks, faced by your attendees outside of the training room is essential so that the actual training material content can be placed in perspective.

The format of the training materials should be as engaging as possible. Some variety is desirable to prevent boredom setting in and to appeal to each individual’s different learning preferences. In addition to any written materials, this type of integrated approach could include:

  • Virtual classrooms where face-to-face training is not possible
  • Live or pre-recorded webinars/videos/interviews
  • Self-assessment questions (SAQs) for checking progress along the way
  • Practical tasks to enable the application of the learning
  • Discussion forums where attendees can ask questions and share knowledge and experience
  • Real world case studies to demonstrate practical application of the learning and the consequences of failing to do so

And the written materials themselves need to be engaging. What do I mean by engaging? Well, not just lines of text. The text must be broken up by relevant pictures, diagrams, case-study boxes, SAQs as you go, etc. Consideration also needs to be given to the delivery of the materials. Online learning platforms have been with us for many years now, but they need to be easy and intuitive to use if a student is to get the most from them. Frustration with IT platforms or administration can severely detract from the learning experience.

3. Meeting the objectives of the training (and bringing about change)

As with any project, a training programme should start by clearly identifying and articulating its objectives. While this will include the individual objectives of the trainees, at the planning and implementation stages it should focus upon the overall strategic objective(s) of the training. The overall objectives of a training programme should be SMART (specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-related). The what, when, why, how, where and who (or Kipling) questions must also be a focus at the planning stage to ensure all possible considerations are discussed and all risks and potential issues are addressed.


Clarity in the objectives of the training will assist in simplicity. Simplicity is a critical success factor in any project, or indeed wider undertaking. Over-complexity, trying to meet multiple demands or simply trying to keep too many people happy, often results in the fundamental objectives of the training programme being unclear or diluted. If you want your attendees to consider the training worthwhile then they must see a benefit in it for them once completed. Otherwise why did they have to take the training? Training has a cost, not least the attendee’s time in attendance, so the potential benefits must be identified and clearly communicated. Indeed, the attendees should be able to see the benefits themselves (with a little guidance if required) if the training has been successful.

One of the most critical stages of training is the review at the end, summarising what has been learned and why what has been learned is of importance. It may take three hours of training to understand a topic, but the key learning points that come out of this – and how that key learning can be utilised – can be summarised in a 15-minute review at the end of the session. These 15 minutes can be the most important of the three hours.

When asking immediately after a training session whether it was worthwhile or not you could get a full range of responses. But even if 95 per cent of attendees say that they found it interesting and useful, unless something changes in the way that they do things when they return to their ‘normal’ role, it will have been a complete waste of time and money.

At least one of the overriding objectives of training will have been to bring about change in some way, shape or form. Even if that objective was just to change the way an individual thinks, this is a practical change. But for attendees to derive real benefits, objectives for change should be set within the training and a system should be in place to be able to monitor and follow up that change.


So, to follow my own advice (this article could be considered a short written training programme) here are some simple and clear key learning points to take way.

1. The quality of the trainer: A subject matter expert with the ability to listen and adapt, and lead the learning process

2. The quality of the training materials: Must be accurate, presented in an engaging and pragmatic way with variety where possible

3. Meeting the objectives: Define from the outset. Simplicity and clarity. Clear benefits to all

So, what are you going to do with these points? And why?


Ethical Boardroom is a premier website dedicated to providing the latest news, insights, and analyses on corporate governance, sustainability, and boardroom practices.

Ethical Boardroom is a premier website dedicated to providing the latest news, insights, and analyses on corporate governance, sustainability, and boardroom practices.


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