Spending Smart to Train Smart: Best Practices for Choosing a Training Program
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How can program managers be sure that spending money on staff training will pay off? It can be difficult to assess how training will translate into improved job performance. The Homelessness Resource Center shares best practices to help homeless program managers select the right training program for their staff.
Training is an ongoing and urgent need for employees in homeless services. Workers employed by mainstream agencies as well as those working at targeted homeless service agencies can benefit from training opportunities. For example, at mainstream agencies, employees may have little grounding in homeless services but work with people without homes every day. And workers at targeted homeless service agencies may have little or no formal training, but a strong desire and commitment to serve.
How can program managers be sure that spending money on training will pay off? It can be difficult to assess how a training program will positively impact staff members’ job performance.
There are two common challenges to translating the subject matter of training sessions into day-to-day practice. First, standard one-shot approaches to training are often ineffective. Second, conventional classroom courses have a limited reach.
Best practices for effective training suggest that training should be learner-centered rather than instructor-centered. Training based on dialogue, discussion, or hands-on simulated experiences rather than lectures is most effective. It is very important to follow up formal training with supplementary tools, both online and written. This helps to extend training beyond traditional one-shot sessions. Using different methods to offer repeated learning opportunities helps to ensure that new knowledge sticks with students.
The Homelessness Resource Center suggests that program managers look for the following best practices when selecting training programs for staff. For the best results, training should be:
- Case-based. In case-based learning the instructor facilitates small group discussions where the students do the work of learning. New information is gained by working through cases that generate learning questions for discussion.
- Skills-based. Training for the workplace must be oriented toward new skills. Instead of simply acquiring knowledge, students must be sent home with the improved ability to perform tasks. Skills-based learning gives students new skills for responding to a particular problem or situation.
- Experiential. This approach uses active learning situations to help trainees experience the skills the course is trying to build. Adults learn more effectively when engaged in the learning process. This involves getting students into the field to master new skills by doing. Site visits help students discover through active investigation.
- Participatory. This training style recognizes that the instructor is not the only expert in the room. The instructor elicits and builds upon the expertise of students. This approach assumes that the group is already knowledgeable. People often learn better when speaking than when listening. The role of the instructor is to draw out student knowledge and engage them in dialogue with each other.
- Peer-driven. Student-centered or peer-driven learning is an active learning technique. It develops students’ problem solving skills and trains them to function in self-directed workplace teams. A large part of the instructor’s job is to create a fluid, team-based atmosphere for learning. This can be done by building on the collective knowledge and wisdom of course participants.
- Project-based. Trainees participate in a team working on a project with practical application to the workplace. The project may be to develop new tools for evaluation or new information resources for providers. The goal is to stimulate learning by engaging students in solving a problem with real world complexity.
- Multi-modal. Trainees are repeatedly exposed to new concepts, which can be practiced in real world settings. Sharing information through multiple rather than single methods helps to engage learners and ensure that the knowledge and skills are retained.
Multi-modal training is especially important for workers in homeless services. The demands of working on the front line often leave providers unable to take time off even for a single training session.
It is critical to plan multiple avenues to offer training, including web-based interactive programs that can be completed at the worker’s convenience.
Did you know? Starting in Fall 2009, the HRC will be offering online training modules for homeless service workers. Training topics will include Outreach and Engagement; Homelessness 101; Strategic Practices; Partnering & Planning; Financing; and Evaluation. All trainings will offer Continuing Education Unit credits from selected agencies. Check back soon!
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