4 Ways to Progress from a Trainer to a ‘Thinking Coach’

4 Ways to Progress from a Trainer to a Thinking Coach

If you are a trainer or a SME who delivers training, one of your major responsibilities, and possibly one of your major challenges, is knowing how to use the conversation that takes place during training delivery to meet your learning goals. Some trainers welcome unplanned, spontaneous interaction with learners. Others prefer a more controlled Q&A session at the end of each training module. No matter what your preferences are, you need to let the conversation go far enough to take advantage of the learner’s insight or concern without going down the rabbit hole of inefficient, off-topic rambling.

I read an article in TD Magazine that gave me a new way to think about this process. The article is titled “Think on It” by Michael Kallet (accessing the article may require ATD membership). Kallet focuses on what leaders need to do to be effective “thinking coaches.” A thinking coach builds critical thinking skills in others, helping them solve problems more efficiently and effectively. Rather than just telling someone who reports to you what to do to solve a problem, a thinking coach leads that person to discover the best solution on their own.

This applies to the process of leading training conversations in important ways. Every workshop you deliver has the same business goal. Learners should walk away able to do their jobs better or more efficiently. No matter the topic or the level of experience of learners, it always comes down to those very simple goals.

As you know, reaching those goals is not simply about delivering information. It’s about helping learners think about what they’re learning. For example, they need to think about

  • how they can apply learning to their job
  • the challenges that application may involve
  • how their learning helps the business as a whole

When these things are understood, learners will be more willing and able to learn.

That’s where being a thinking coach comes in. As Kallet says, “Critical thinking helps people make better decisions because there is a clear understanding of what the problem or issue is.” In the classroom, the learner’s decision to learn (and it is a decision) is closely linked to why the training is taking place. What individual or business problem is being corrected through it?

What that means is that the trainer’s responsibility is to help learners think critically about what they’re learning. It’s about reinforcing context and relevance on both the individual and enterprise-wide levels. Here are four of Kallet’s recommendations for thinking coaches that apply to your role as a trainer.

  1. Don’t rush
    Learning conversations take time. Because they are driven by the learner’s needs, not your needs as a trainer, they can feel slow and laborious. So, the first step is to be patient and listen to what learners are saying. When you don’t, you may discourage learning and shut learners out.
  2. Allow the person you are helping (or training) to think out loud
    Give learners a chance to mull over what they’re learning. By doing this, you’ll encourage them to bring their perspective, concerns, and skepticism into the conversation. This will help you better understand how they think, which will, in turn, help you help them learn.
  3. Keep in mind that all responses have merit
    The desire to correct misconceptions and wrong answers is huge. Before you do, though, it’s a good idea to talk about how learners reached the wrong conclusion. Do this with real curiosity and without judgment. This will build trust and make them more willing to take risks and bring their thoughts into the open.
  4. Know that if you give an idea or suggestion, your thinking coach session is over
    And that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with bringing conversations to a close. Without your guidance or correction, learning won’t happen. The thing to remember is that there is a right time to step in, course correct, or comment. That time arrives when the relevance and business application of the learning point are understood and when continuing the conversation would feel inefficient to learners.

Our success in the classroom relies on our learners’ sensing the relevance of the information they are learning and the sense of efficiency they feel as it is delivered. Realizing that part of your job is to be a thinking coach is one way to reach both of those goals.

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