Dear Santa (or Boss),

Thanks so much for the great gifts you gave me last year. The rapid eLearning tool was real neat and the new LMS was just awesome (I did tweet you about it, didn’t I?). Anyway, I’ve been a really good trainer (or instructional designer, or performance technologist, or whatever) this past year, so I hope you’ll bring me some nice new goodies.

This year for Christmas (or Hanukkah, or whatever), I’d like a nice little social network to play with, but most important of all, I could use a few great teachers. You see Santa, after several years of playing with all the nice computer toys you brought us (and doing some cool things with them) we let our classroom quality slip a little bit. Oh, I still want more tech stuff next year (thinking about a few hundred tablets), but this year, some really good instructors will do.

 I’m sure you know what great teaching is, but just in case your elves need a little guidance, here are eight characteristics of truly great instructors (you can turn this into a checklist for them):

  1. Content expertise. I know, I know; this is usually a given. But it’s amazing how many people find themselves in teaching situations when they don’t know the content. Let’s look for people who really know what they are talking about. The old axiom, “If you can’t do, teach,” just doesn’t cut it anymore. I’d like some of our best people to step up to teaching, at least on a rotational basis, so that they can share their expertise with as many employees as possible.
  1. Experience and authenticity. Expertise is a starting point, but it is not the same as experience. Having actually done what you are teaching about is critical, and being authentic about it is icing on the cake. I’ve seen instructors be highly accurate in their explanations, but just can’t relate them to the work, and the work environment, that actually exists. A turn-off, for sure.
  1. Empathy. This brings me to a related requirement for a great instructor: empathy. When a student comes to a teacher and says, “You really understand our problems and situations; you really get what it’s like to work here and do the job,” you have a real teaching/learning breakthrough.
  1. Communication skills. Once we have expertise, experience, authenticity, and empathy nailed, let’s look for people who can actually communicate with learners. Speaking skills are great, but insufficient. Can they communicate at the learners’ level? Do they understand what the learners know and don’t know? Can they explain things and give feedback? Instructors may be rocket scientists, but their students usually are not. Let’s keep this in mind.
  1. Facilitation skills. The last thing I need is just more great lecturers. If that were the case, I’d find the best presenters I could get and put them on video. Let’s look for instructors who are also great facilitators. This means many things: the willingness to step off the stage and let learners take the spotlight, the talent to ask great questions and provide guidance that enhances understanding and capability, the ability to accurately evaluate performance, and the skillfulness to challenge learners in increasingly complex ways, allow them to make mistakes, and coach them to success. These may be difficult skill sets, but they are extremely important.
  1. Freedom from PowerPoint. PowerPoint is a great tool, but please, please, please, give me instructors who can break free from a desperation-like dependence on it. Teachers who can’t think outside the bullet-list, or who judge their classroom time by how many slides they plow through, need not apply.
  1. Sense of humor. A real bonus. We’re not talking about a full-time comedian here, but if we can find instructors who can laugh with the students and bring some joy to the learning situation, that would be a plus.
  1. Belief in learning. This is critical. Let’s look for potential instructors who understand the importance of their role and who take teaching seriously. Even if you bring them in from the field for a short time, if they get psyched about teaching, if they are motivated by the challenge, and if they get personal satisfaction from being a teacher, the results will be much better. No matter how expert someone is, if they just don’t care about helping others learn what they know and can do, they might not be worth the effort.

So Santa, you already know that I’m a great believer in learning technology. But I also know that excellent teachers are essential too. And great instructors can sometimes make great learning (and eLearning) developers down the road. So send me a few great teachers. Look around the company and pick out the best and the brightest for a stint in training. I promise they’ll go back to the field even better and brighter than before.

Have a great holiday season,