Engaging Learners with Various Training Methods
Trainer and Training Types
You probably fit into one of the following roles:
- Full-time accessibility trainer. 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 accessibility in the wake of legal challenges and complaints has opened a new market for these consultants. They often consult and train others in web accessibility techniques.
- Webmaster or web manager. Perhaps you manage a web site or other web content. Your 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. Accessibility trainers often find themselves teaching in a presentational or lecture format, meaning that they present content and perhaps answer questions from an audience. This method is best for teaching a lot of content to many people in a short amount of time but does not allow detailed instruction or provide an opportunity to effectively evaluate learner comprehension.
- Hands-on lab training. If you are teaching specific accessible design or development 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 may be limited, and you must also deal with technical problems and participants' distractions.
- 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.
- Virtual synchronous training. Many different types of training have shifted online. If you are providing remote training in a real-time environment, it requires special skills to engage the learner from a distance. Technology that is best suited for this may include those where screens can be shared, presentations made, and interactions are allowed. Can someone participating in the virtual training use assistive technology get to the chat, raise their hand, participate in a poll, follow the PowerPoint, and engage in the Q&A? Does the platform support live captioning? Be sure to use highly accessible delivery platforms and maximize the accessibility features present.
- 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, documents, or 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 your methods 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. 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. 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, 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 to respond to questions by raising their hands (e.g., How many of you are comfortable with HTML?). Call them by name. If you're have difficulty remembering names, 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. 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. Effective training sessions involve the audience talking as much as the trainer. 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 questions and use participant 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 often difficult for trainers - 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. A masterful teacher can distill complex content they know intimately to a learner who does not have that expertise. It's easy to forget that others may not understand 'techno speak' or some of the technical words, terms, and acronyms that are common in accessibility.
- Use the tools at your disposal. If your training participants have computers, make sure they use them. 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 too. Give them handouts, notes, web sites, examples, contact information, and anything else that they could use in the future. Chances are they will forget much 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 repeated instructions by giving detailed instructions the first time. Consider putting the instructions up and leaving them up during the activity.
- 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. 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 web site you were going to demonstrate suddenly goes offline? What if your computer crashes?
- 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 on what you can do better. Ask 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. Effectiveness in teaching only comes through trial, perseverance, and patience.