Martell Ackerman – Designing a Course for Students Entering Training & Development Fields

Purpose: Design a rigorous college course for students interested in training and development.

While many colleges offer a selection of courses on group dynamics, presentation, and general organizational theory, there are very few options that leave students with proven experience they could bring into a career. Yes, the academic side of training and development is important but without proven implementation the student is poorly prepared to use what he or she has learned. There is no standard of excellence in this field that applies below the graduate level. This leaves many students with a degree that is simply inadequate in today’s workforce. While a teacher or a nurse can use their degree as proof of ability, an individual wishing to work in training and development is left on their own to try to prove to a potential employer that they do indeed possess valuable skills. I set out to design a course to fix that problem. My goal was to design a class that could produce students with proof that they can see a problem within a team, design a solution, train the group, and track success.

Syllabus for COMM 480 – Training Development and Facilitation

Course Outcomes
1. Become well-practiced in group training facilitation and presentation.
2. Become acquainted with industry-standard training software and general best practices.
3. Identify a “people problem” or a technical training need within an accessible group. Create a solution based on changing perception and behavior. Train the group on this solution. Measure and report results.

Week 1: Class intro, syllabus quiz, and 3-minute presentation by each member to the class about themselves. Prep for student-led teaching. Intro to Leadership and Self-Deception book.

Week 2: Begin student-led teaching. Teaching material is given to students for one day of class. Students teach the given material by applying best practices of group facilitation. Students are evaluated, provided feedback, and graded by the professor and peers.

Week 3: Continue student-led teaching. Deep dive into measuring success metrics. Intro to industry-standard learning management software. Intro to student training program requirements. Student training program idea brainstorming session led by a professor.

Week 4: Continue student-led teaching. Exam on industry-standard LMS. Intro to remote training best practices. Remote facilitation challenges and solutions are discussed and practiced. Class switched to remote all week.

Week 5: Intro to midterm exam. List of approved midterm books outlined. Remote requirements discussed. Top players in the training and development industry researched and contacted.

Week 6: Practice midterm presentations – In-person and remote. Report on key takeaways from 5-7 job postings from multiple training and development companies.
Week 7: Midterm exam covering LMS usage, remote best practices, and basic facilitation practices. Part 2 of the midterm is a 10-15 minute facilitation of a concept from an approved training/leadership book. Part 3 of the midterm is a remote facilitation utilizing all the tools unique to Zoom/MS Teams, etc.

Week 8: Midterm review. Intro to student training program requirements. Group selected and problem to be addressed chosen. This process would be quite regirous with a high degree of input and guidance from the professor.

Week 9: Submit a draft of all training materials to be used. All external and original material must be approved. Success metrics decided upon and approved.

Week 10 – Initial metrics established. Begin weekly check-ins with the professor. Training materials finalized. Training plan finalized with specific curriculum outlined.

Week 11: Begin student training program. Continue weekly check-ins with the professor. Class time is used for question and answer sessions, addressing struggles, etc.

Week 12: Continue student training program. Mid-program evaluation conducted with the professor. Class time used to workshop ideas, brainstorm with peers, and practice new facilitation ideas.

Week 13: Final week of the student training program. Data collected by students on the level of program success.

Week 14: Final report on metrics. Interviews with the professor. Final write-up on experiences.

Challenges: The main challenge I ran into was a complete lack of data on who is preparing students the best for this field. I was hardpressed to find any information on where the best graduates are coming from. I also learned that discovering the actual course material for other colleges was not an option. This meant I had to lean more on current best practices from the top companies in the training and development space. While the lack of information was difficult, I believe it only points to how much of a need there is for a revamp of the current offerings.

Process: I began by researching the current literature on adult learning. This was extremely interesting and was foundational in the rest of my work. I then started researching the top communication schools in the country and looking into how they taught, what their attitude toward their students is, and any documented praise their professors garnered. I even looked into the response of top schools to teaching during Covid and how they handled switching to remote. I believed this to be worth my time seeing as training and development is one of the fastest-growing fields in the remote work era and a student’s familiarity with remote platforms will be highly useful in a career. I then began aggregating what I could find from leaders in the training and development space about the skills they look for in their teams. I also worked with my mentor to hammer out the structure of the course and how to divide the workload, test for understanding, etc.

Overview of experiences. My experience in general was eye-opening. I had no idea how few offerings there were for students wishing to begin a consulting career in training and development. As I brainstormed ideas to add to the course I found myself wishing I could have taken a class during my time in college. I hope that in the future as this field grows that there will be more comprehensive offerings at this and other schools. For those like myself who hope to make a difference through a career in training and development, I would caution that real-world experience will drastically outweigh your coursework in value to an employer.

Key Insights: My main takeaway from this project had nothing to do with the work itself. I realized as I was finishing the course outline that all of the things listed were things I could do on my own without paying a dime of tuition. Some of the most valuable experiences I could think of were entirely within my grasp. The “perfect communication course” was something I could do for myself without waiting for an entire college department to design. At the end of the day, your professional progression is entirely in your own hands.