Engaging Learners with Various Training Methods
Trainer and Training Types
You probably fit into one of the following roles:
- Full-time accessibility trainer. There aren't very many of us, but there are many groups, institutions, and businesses who have hired accessibility trainers.
- Accessibility advocate. Many organizations and institutions have accessibility advocates. They often represent employees, students, or public citizens who have disabilities. They are often given the role of teaching about web accessibility.
- Consultant. There is a big need for technology and web design consultants who have experience in web accessibility. The implementation of Section 508 in the U.S. has opened a new market for these individuals. They often consult and train others in web accessibility techniques.
- Web master. Perhaps you manage a web site or other web content. You role may include training other web developers.
- Manager, administrator, or coordinator. Perhaps you understand the importance of web accessibility and want to share this vision with your employees, coworkers, or others.
- Teacher. Many web design and development teachers are including accessibility in their courses. In fact, teaching accessibility also teaches many valuable skills and principles to future web developers.
There are several ways in which a web accessibility trainer might teach others. These might include:
- Lectures/presentations. Many times accessibility trainers find themselves teaching in a presentational or lecture format, meaning that you present content and perhaps answer questions from an audience. This method is best for teaching a lot of content to a lot of people in a short amount of time, but does not allow detailed instruction or give you an opportunity effectively evaluate learner comprehension.
- Hands-on lab training. If you are teaching specific accessible design skills, it is often best to have your training participants at a computer. The use of a computer allows them to learn in a hands-on environment where they can access and use their own content. They can use assistive technologies and other web accessibility tools, which give you an opportunity to present very rich and engaging content. When learners are using computers, audience size is limited, and you must also deal with technical problems and participants' distractions (it's just too tempting for them to check their e-mail in the middle of your training).
- Small group training. Small groups typically give you, as an accessibility trainer, very close contact to your training participants. You can provide more individualized content and can better monitor learner progress.
- One-on-one training. When teaching one person, you have total control over the content, timing, and interactions within your training. You have the ability to tailor your instruction to your learner's needs and abilities.
- At-a-distance consulting. Often, accessibility trainers are called upon to give feedback or provide educational materials or instruction to learners at a distance. This might be in the form of phone conversations, e-mails, faxes, or even video conferencing. Though at-a-distance training and consulting eliminates travel expenses and allows you to train individuals whom you otherwise would not be able to reach, this approach does limit the interactivity and face-to-face communications that are often important in training.
As you can see, accessibility trainers often wear many hats. You must be flexible in the ways and in the content you teach. Regardless of your role or the ways in which you teach, there are a few important principles that can help you be more effective in your instruction.
Effective Training Strategies
- Be enthusiastic. Your success as a trainer depends as much on your attitude as your expertise. You must believe what you are teaching. Be excited about web accessibility and share that excitement in your training - it will rub off on your training participants.
- Always be positive. The level of accessibility of web content is abysmally low. It is easy to be condescending, negative, or even rude when people don't see the need or importance of web accessibility. At times I have been discouraged by the inaccessibility of the web, but in recent years, I have begun to see a tremendous growth in accessible content. Much of this has come about because of people like you. Inspire your training participants to design accessibly because they want to, not just because they're supposed to.
- Do not apologize. Making your learners feel that you are not prepared or not fully qualified is a cardinal sin of teaching. I have often sat in training or presentations where the first words out of the presenter's mouth are an apology for not being prepared, not having the right resources, or for forcing you to listen to them. Immediately my expectations go out the window. Even if you are not prepared, feel unqualified, or don't believe you know everything there is to know about the topic, don't let your audience know. A good trainer is confident (not cocky) and appears knowledgeable at all times
- You don't know everything. Even though you should appear knowledgeable at all times, you don't know everything, and don't be afraid to say it. When faced with questions or problems that you don't know or can't solve. Don't fake it. It's better to say, "I don't know, but will find out and get back to you," than to provide incorrect or incomplete information. When you express your own opinion or idea, be sure to let your audience know it.
- Be yourself. Training a group of people can be nerve racking. Relax and be yourself. Don't be afraid to share personal experiences and stories - these are often what training participants remember most.
- Get to know your training participants. In small or medium sized groups, ask people to introduce themselves. Even in large groups, you can invite the audience respond to questions by raising their hands (e.g., How many of you are comfortable with HTML?). Call them by name. If you're terrible with remembering names, like I am, then name badges or papers are helpful. The relationships participants form can be as valuable as the content you give them.
- Give an overview and a review. Always tell your learners what you're going to teach them, teach them what you're going to teach them, then tell them what you just taught them.
- Involve the audience. I can usually tell that a training session is going well when the audience is talking as much as I am. Let them get their hands dirty. Keep them busy. Your training participants should be saying, "Is it over already?" rather than, "Is this ever going to end?"
- Build on content they already know. Ask them questions and use their experiences, situations, and knowledge to teach web accessibility. Use analogies and stories they can relate to.
- Find a good balance between depth and breadth. This is one of the hardest things for me as a trainer - deciding how much content to cover in a training versus how in depth to cover it. You must often choose between training a little bit about a lot of topics or a lot about a few topics.
- Be careful with jargon. As an accessibility trainer, you are intimately familiar with the content you are teaching. Sometimes we forget that others don't understand 'techno speak' or some of the technical words, terms, and acronyms that we use. I still remember being several minutes into a presentation on accessible graphics when someone raised their hand and asked me what one of the terms was that I kept using - 'alt text' (short for alternative text). I realized that I had been using terminology they did not understand. Be especially careful with acronyms (i.e., the WCAG of the W3C's WAI).
- Use the tools at your disposal. If your training participants have computers, make sure they use them. If you have access to an overhead or LCD projector, use it to demonstrate and present techniques and information. Invite individuals to share their experiences or insights. This especially applies to individuals with disabilities. Provide plenty of examples and resources. If your training participants leave empty handed, they're probably leaving empty headed to. Give them handouts, notes, URL's, examples, contact information, and anything else that they could use in the future. Chances are they will forget most of what you will tell them, but if they have a resource they can turn to when they need it, you have done your job well.
- Give thorough instructions before starting activities. If your training involves small group or hands-on activities, give them all of the instructions they need, before allowing them to begin. Once your learners are engaged in a task or conversation, they are less likely to hear additional instructions. Avoid giving the same instructions multiple times by giving detailed instructions the first time around.
- Give them a break. One and a half hours is usually the longest you want to go without a break (especially right after lunch). If training participants are off-task or dozing off, give them a chance to stretch and get a drink of water.
- Be prepared. Show up on time and have everything ready. Know the training setup. Test technology beforehand. Know the content you are going to present inside and out.
- Have a backup plan. Some of the wisest words of wisdom I have ever heard are these: Never, never, never trust technology. What will you do if the bulb burns out on your LCD projector or if your Internet connection goes down? What if that dot-com web site you were going to demonstrate suddenly disappears into the abyss of the Internet, never to be found again? For on-site training, I always try to plan for the worst-case scenario. In my case, it would be to have my laptop computer die on me. Does your backup plan cover all possible situations or does it simply contain the word, "hide"?
- Ask for and apply feedback and evaluations. Whenever possible, ask for feedback. You'll never become a more effective trainer if you don't get feedback as to what you can do better. Ask the specific questions on your evaluation that will give you specific feedback. Encourage your training participants to honestly complete them. Use the feedback you are given.
- We're all on the same team. There are many accessibility trainers, information resources, service providers, projects, businesses, and individuals who are working on making the web accessible to those with disabilities. They may have different motivations than your own. Some of them may not approach accessibility in the same way that you do. Many do not provide useful or even beneficial information. Despite this, we're all working toward the same important goal. Never criticize or degrade one's accessibility efforts.
These are just a handful of tips for being more effective in your instruction. Most of all, understand that being an effective accessibility trainer does not happen overnight. I know that I have much more to learn and improve on. Effectiveness in teaching only comes through trial, perseverance, and patience. Hopefully these tips have helped you think of ways to be better at what you do.