Major disruptions in the learning industry mostly due to advances in learning technology, has caused a stir throughout the entire learning supply chain - affecting everyone from publishers to education providers, including learning facilitators. These days, it is not sufficient for learning facilitators to merely present a body of knowledge to their intended audience. They also need to keep in mind their learners’ requirements and capabilities, how to keep their audience engaged at all times, and most importantly, how to remain relevant in an environment where information is instantaneous, specific and does not necessarily require a classroom.
The financial services industry, perhaps more than most other industries, can be considered unique from a learning and teaching perspective, as it is not only subject to general learning theories and requirements, but also has to remain compliant with the standards that govern the industry. According to Jeffrey Koit who is a certified trainer and learning and development consultant, compliance is an aspect that always needs to be taken into account due to the fact that the financial services industry is heavily regulated. “Aside from focusing on the ‘soft skills’ part of the programme, there is a need to ensure that there is regulatory compliance.”
Dr Prebagaran Jayaraman, a seasoned trainer across a wide range of sectors including leadership and scientific management, highlights that Malaysia is one of the few countries that is ahead of the curve in the field of training for the financial services sector: “The Finance Accreditation Agency (FAA) Quality Framework which was derived from industry-driven competency frameworks and international best practices for quality talent development, is a unique feature guiding training programmes in the financial services sector.”
Evaluating the quality of learning
Learning, especially amongst adults in the corporate world, has moved far beyond traditional lines and is no longer viewed as a passive activity which requires hours of classroom teaching. The term learning these days is almost automatically associated with terms such as ‘interactivity’, ‘participation’, and most importantly, effectiveness. The concept of measuring training effectiveness has come into the mainstream over the last few years, and is popularised through measuring the ROI or return on investment of the learning material and activity itself, enabling corporations and institutions to gauge the relevance of the training modules, and perhaps to some extent the competency of the learning facilitators themselves.
According to Dr Jayaraman, the principle of measurement for ROI in learning is based on the value the training brings. However, he warns that there is an element of subjectivity to the science of doing so. “Performance improvement requires a balanced training intervention - such as the initiative to improve competency, and non-training intervention which includes leadership, systems, policies and so on. If planned and managed well, measuring training effectiveness is a very viable and valuable project.” With regards to the sophistication of the tools for ROI measurement and industry understanding of the subject matter to enable its widespread use, Dr Jayaraman is of the opinion that very few organisations in Malaysia have actually implemented the system. Even fewer organisations have gone beyond the third level out of the four in Kirkpatrick’s Levels of Evaluation (Reaction, Learning, Behaviour, Results).
A 2010 report by McKinsey Quarterly found that only 8% of organisations actually evaluate the value of learning and development initiatives, despite employee training ranking as one of the top priorities amongst employers. Keri Bennington and Tony Laffoley at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School in North Carolina are of the opinion that participant feedback forms administered right after a learning programme are no longer enough to gauge the effectiveness of a training programme. “HR and talent management professionals are feeling the pressure to look for more solid evidence to justify the investment in their programmes. This is particularly the case in leadership development programmes, where the focus is often on the development of intangible skills. It makes sound fiscal sense to go beyond smiley sheets and to establish robust measures that capture ROI so that even the most critical of reviewers can see the value of L&D programmes in an organisation.”
Measuring the ROI of a training programme goes deeper than just calculating the return on investments for an employer, and enabling them to gauge if they are spending their budgets wisely. According to Bennington and Laffoley, then a researcher for the American Society for Training and Development, studies in the mid-1990s conducted by Laurie Bassi discovered that the more a company invested toward developing employees, the higher its stock value rose the following year. “Learning opportunities result in higher levels of employee promotion, retention, satisfaction, skills and knowledge, and this translates to better organisational performance. Yet connecting the dots by demonstrating a real bottom-line ROI remains a continued challenge,” they stated.
Professionalism and ethics
Of course, no learning experience is complete without a great facilitator or mentor. No matter what the learning area or level, educators – be it in a formal or informal setting - play a crucial role in inciting interest amongst their students and enabling the knowledge they are sharing to be properly conveyed in the manner that is intended. They are also bound by a code of ethics to ensure that the information is accurate and not misleading. Koit elucidates that there is more than one way to impart knowledge from a learning facilitator’s perspective: “Conveying, as in imparting information and knowledge is more akin to teaching, where the teacher is the subject matter expert. In training, there is more than one way to impart knowledge. The trainer and participants need to engage in a meaningful manner so that learning can be wholesome. The trainer plays the role of facilitator, not just a teacher - and learning comes from within the participant; i.e. not just receiving an input from an external source.”
Mohamed Mustak Aboo Bakar, founder of Coach 2 Success, a Learning and Development consultancy in Kuala Lumpur, believes that trust, stemming from unwavering professionalism, is the main pillar behind any successful learning experience. “Professionalism is crucial to ensure credibility and trust. Once there is trust, the learning facilitator can make learning happen.” Koit is also in agreement with Mustak, stating that the levels of professionalism of a learning facilitator reflect the organisation which is facilitating the training itself: “Professionalism would carry with it a sense of importance and would move organisations away from the old mindset that Learning and Development need not be structured and aligned with the organisation’s key strategies.”
There is also a strong sense of accountability amongst learning facilitators especially in the finance industry to deliver applicable, pertinent and structured content to their pool of learners. “New trainers have to take the time to understand the regulatory requirements and framework for which the training is designed,” says Koit, while Mazuki adds: “Training is not only about delivery of information, but more importantly the application of the information especially at the workplace. The challenge is always about getting the right trainer who is able to provide the latest information effectively.”
Because being a learning facilitator entails constant engagement and the ability to excite and inspire, a heightened sense of perceptiveness towards human behaviour within and beyond classroom walls are also of great importance. “Excellent trainers are sensitive to the participants’ condition and needs. Therefore, trainers consistently monitor the participants’ level of attention and will take the necessary action to maximise learning. The trainers also need to be emotionally intelligent in interacting with participants so that the participants will give their best when pursuing learning,” says Mazuki. Dr Jayaraman also adds that an excellent trainer must be passionate and committed to the entire process of learning and development: “An excellent trainer must be a practitioner of lifelong learning and genuinely enjoy the process of helping the individual and organisation to grow. They must be personable, charismatic, have good communication skills, are willing to learn new skills and be able to empathise with their audience. From a professional standpoint, they must have a strong grasp of product knowledge, are well-versed in course design, have good presentation delivery skills and organisational skills and must be willing to collaborate with others.”
In today’s business world, time is of the essence. Facilitators and learners are equally aware of this, and therefore creating a learning programme that will immediately address learners’ needs from the outset is a priority for every facilitator. The Certified Training Professional (CTP) by the Finance Accreditation Agency (FAA) allows facilitators to produce programmes which are immediately relevant to learners by focusing solely on the learner. “The focus of our programme is always learner-centered, which is a shift from conventional facilitator or instructor-led programmes. The programme is also based on industry needs, so it is immediately applicable,” explained Sarala J Marimuthu, Associate Director of Research and Development at FAA.
The CTP course is benchmarked against FAA’s globally recognised Learning Standards. Benchmarking the CTP to the FAA Learning Standards helps to mitigate possible gaps in the learning experience, and provides a more integrated learning approach. It also helps facilitators to identify the areas in which individuals are lacking. These would be the learning outcomes that need to be achieved in order to develop the desired competencies and capabilities, as well as learning methodologies and programme mechanics for various sectors within the Financial Services Industry.
So, can anyone be a trainer? Perhaps, if you have the right attitude, skills and approach to learning!