Last night I returned home from the first three days of a four-day Train-the-Trainer workshop sponsored by LibraryLink New Jersey and the New Jersey State Library.  It is an intense, but excellent program based on the book, Train the Trainer by Karen Lawson and designed for librarians and library staff who don’t train people on a regular basis. It’s different from any other workshop or conference or other professional development activity in which I have been a participant in that the sessions/activities go from approximately 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and all meals are taken together as a group. There are 19 of us in this year’s class. Before the program, all participants completed assessment surveys to determine our learning and teaching styles. This information formed the basis for our initial classification as learners who learn by feeling, thinking, observing or doing (or a combination) and as teachers who instruct by selling, coaching, entertaining, or lecturing (or a combination).

Most of the 19 participants are from New Jersey; however, since the program graciously welcomes out-of-state participants, there are learners from New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, too. I’m not aware of an equivalent program in Pennsylvania (but I think there should be one). The group is just the right size–large enough to be diverse and interesting, but small enough to allow for the development of a rapport and a level of comfort, which will become especially important when we return next week to present a 15-minute segment from an hour-long training session on a topic of our choice.

As with any professional development opportunity, there are two sides–the program itself and the social aspect and learning takes place in both contexts. The program content is excellent. All sessions have been extremely helpful and build upon each other. I think it’s safe to say that one of the universally favorite and most useful sessions was held Thursday afternoon and included instruction on how and when to use training aids to enhance a presentation, from low-tech flip charts, handouts, Google Docs, and the ubiquitous PowerPoint, to how to incorporate newer and multiple technologies like Webinars, Skype, Dropbox, Slideshare, Prezi, and Evernote (a great way to keep your presentation notes on a mobile device), and screencasting. While fee-based services were discussed (particularly for Webinar software like GoToWebinar), the emphasis was on free software that is readily available online (like free screencasting Web sites, including Jing and Screenr). The main point was not to use technology for technology’s sake, but to use the right technology when and where it makes the most sense.

As for the social aspect? Some of the best and most memorable learning took place at the dinner or lunch table during conversations that revealed both the similarities in our common experiences and the disparities in our personal backgrounds. Of course, there are always those few, memorable personalities that fill the journey with laughter; however, everyone’s unique perspective and personality adds to the richness of the experience.

The instructors are enthusiastic, well-prepared, and positive. Most are alumni of  previous Train-the-Trainer workshops. They seem united by a common bond. On Thursday afternoon, we were honored by the attendance of the New Jersey State Librarian, Norma Blake, and the Associate New Jersey State Librarian, Peggy Cadigan.

I look forward to returning next week (although I don’t look forward to traveling the New Jersey Turnpike!) to meet with my fellow learners one last time and to practice what we’ve learned. For those not particularly comfortable with public speaking (me), this group will certainly act as a supportive environment in which to hopefully become more at ease with our own styles of presenting and to learn what works best for us.

I look forward to using what I’ve learned in my job. Our System trainer will be highly envious of the 3-ring binder course book loaded with exercises and examples (I hereby promise to share!). And I recommend the program–it was informative, fun, and comprehensive. The accommodations were comfortable. The downside? Other than the New Jersey Turnpike (sorry New Jersey!), as I said before, it was intense and time-consuming. But worth it.