Stories behind workshop plans, post-its and markers.

Why are there no digital tools for professional trainers?

Despite the obvious teething problems, e-learning is sweeping through the worlds of education and corporate training. EdTech start-ups are increasingly the target of generous funding and investment. Classroom innovation — especially using interactive technology — is a multi-billion dollar business.

Education is being rapidly and dramatically transformed by technology. Except, it seems, in one area: the business itself of professional training, where a generic, unfit-for-purpose and un-integrated set of tools is the trainer’s resource of choice. Or is it the only choice? Online desk research comes up with a big fat zero when one seeks for dedicated professional tools for trainers.

You might argue that, for example, there is Microsoft PowerPoint and that everyone uses that software to create training presentations — and it works fine, surely?

But let’s look at the bigger picture — the visuals that are used in the classroom are a very small part of the work of planning and delivering a training session. Making them is just a single task in a whole process; it hardly defines the training profession and what they need (or could conceivably get) from technology.

If we think about processes and look at different corporate jobs, then most of them tend to have software that is tailored around the daily work of that profession. For example, there are probably thousands of competitors to Microsoft Dynamics and Salesforce in the business of CRM software in order to help sales professionals manage their daily work. Or accounting — it has a plethora of software options, yet, just like managing a sales process, it could be done, and has been done for a long time, on paper. But that’s just not the most efficient way.

So if we look at training as a process/project that needs managing then maybe some general project management software like Basecamp or Microsoft Project would do? I don’t really know many or even any trainers or training companies that would use such software. Because trainer workflow is a very specific.

It is not the only niche that needs managing though, for example here is a list of 183 Top Construction Management Software Products and I will not even start with software development.

Hey, but what about Learning Management Systems (LMSs)? Well, they are designed for the HR departments and maybe even for the learners, but not for the trainers. Sure, in cases they do help trainers as well — for example, it would be hard to imagine the whole e-learning without them.

But let’s concentrate on classroom training.

What is the most important document a trainer has?

The training plan!

The document that tells the trainer what will happen during the allocated time, when will it happen and why it will happen — in other words, the goal or main learning point of that block of the day.

When creating such a plan I’ve seen trainers use — and used myself — mainly three solutions:

1. Paper — it’s great to jot things down on paper and even more to play around with ideas with post-its, but in most cases, a digital copy is also needed — it helps in designing better structure; with showing work to others and with archiving for future reference.


Playing around with Post-it notes

2. Text document — most commonly a Word document. It’s good to write longer things down, but it’s very hard to give proper structure indicating the times and goals of each block of training ‘content’.


Public Speaking training plan in Microsoft Word

3. Spreadsheet — an Excel table is great for giving the training plan a structure, but it’s too rigid. It is uncomfortable to play around with ideas, make changes and reuse previous materials.


Public Speaking training plan in Microsoft Excel

A fourth option I’ve seen used is more of a methodology, another way of structuring instead of tables — a mindmap. This can be done on a paper or on a computer and is great for initial brainstorming as well as linking things to each-other, but hard to put together as a flow of the training day. In the end, all of these are just generic tools that can be used for many things, including only one — an important one, but still just one — task of the training process.


Mindmap is great for getting ideas down, but timing and ordering — not so much!

So, is there really no tool for designing a training plan? Not to mention for the whole workflow starting from the client communication for needs assessment and finishing with feedback, reporting, and monitoring the learners using the newly gained knowledge?

I haven’t found anything and I’ve searched a lot. Also asking questions from many trainers’ communities online I haven’t managed to get any further. And if you take a look a list of Jane Hart’s list of Top 100 Tools for Learning 2013 which is compiled from the votes of 500+ learning professionals in 48 countries then you can see that it contains not one specific tool, technology or app that is designed for the trainers themselves — the tools mentioned are, without exception, either specific tools for creating learning content i.e. e-learning materials or they are generic tools like Evernote or Yammer, which could be used by trainers, or even Twitter. The start of the voting for this year doesn’t look any different. Neither do lists of some other training professionals who blog about training.

So why is that? OK, training and development might be a smaller niche than sales or software development, but if there are thousands of tools for professionals in those fields then there surely should be at least something for trainers.
The functionalities that Microsoft Office or Google Drive offer are needed for trainers for certain tasks, but they are not the whole picture. Recently I signed up for a trial account on Planbox, which is an agile project management tool for software development, and their welcoming email included a promise: “We guarantee that you will now plan, collaborate and deliver more efficiently”. I loved it! I feel that this — more efficient planning, collaboration and delivery — is exactly what is needed for trainers as well!

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