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Train for Success: CTT+

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Are you a technical trainer? Have you considered becoming a technical trainer? This profession is rewarding both financially and internally. Trainers and potential trainers should check out CompTIA's CTT+ certification. You can find the details here.
Joseph Phillips writes a weekly column on professional certification for InformIT. See all of Joe's articles at Joe's author page.

Don't read this unless you are a technology trainer or want to be one. I mean it. Stop here.

Okay, now that the only folks left are the incredibly nosy candidate trainers and those of us who earn our living from teaching, let's proceed. Trainers are a unique blend of people. That's a nice way of saying that we're all weird. We learn a technology, inside and out, and then teach others what we've learned. Our goal is to take complex topics and explain them in simple terms. We have to learn fast and think faster. The great trainers make it look easy.

As a trainer myself since 1993, I can say with confidence that we have a tough job. Think of your college history professor. Did she have to learn something new every year? Doubtful. It's not like the outcome of the Revolutionary War changed since last semester. Our jobs, as technical trainers, however, are in a constant state of flux. We learn. Deliver. Learn again.

No matter which technology you teach—Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, Mac, you name it—there is a common credential I think each technical trainer should have: the Certified Technical Trainer+. This credential can help in several ways:

  • It establishes your expertise as a trainer.
  • It demonstrates that you are a professional trainer.
  • It creates value for you and your training organization.
  • It looks nice on your business card.

Many of you may already be familiar with the CTT program from the Chauncey Group. CompTIA acquired the certification and, as with all of CompTIA's certifications, add the plus symbol to the title. If you are already a CTT through Chauncey, you do not have to complete the certification process again. CompTIA reports that a letter was sent to all current CTTs early in September to automatically transfer their status from CTT to CTT+. That was nice of them.

For those of you who want to earn the CTT+ title, there are two requirements you'll have to complete:

  • You need to pass a computer-based exam.
  • You need to provide a video of yourself teaching.

Pass the Exam

Let's focus on the exam details first. The CTT+ computer-based exam is labeled TK0-001. You have one hour and 45 minutes to answer 45 multiple choice, multiple-response, and drag-and-drop type questions. The cost of the exam is $140 for CompTIA members and $190 for non-members. There are 14 areas of competency on this exam.

Competency One: Analyze Course Materials and Learner Information

This competency will test your ability to review materials and make adjustments to the materials. You will also have to defend adjustments you've made—great and small.

Competency Two: Assure Preparation of the Instructional Site.

There are few things I dread more as a contract trainer than walking into a training room for the first time and finding a small disaster. This area of the exam will test your ability to respond to such situations. How will you arrange the room, control the physical environment, and minimize distractions? Think of physical distractions such as sounds from equipment, lighting problems, and noise from outside the classroom.

Competency Three: Establish and Maintain Instructor Credibility

As a CTT+, you have to be able to establish your credentials, your expertise, and your ability to lead a class. This includes the ability to demonstrate authority of the subject matter, your personal conduct, and acceptable social practices. (Sorry, belching the seven-layer OSI Model isn't socially acceptable.)

Competency Four: Manage the Learning Environment

Every learner is different: Some are hostile, others are eager to learn, and others couldn't give a flip. Your job is to work with and motivate each of these learners. This objective also involves your ability to keep the class on schedule, resolve learner behavior problems, and adjust your performance to suit the learning environment.

Competency Five: Demonstrate Effective Communication Skills

This is standard "train-the-trainer" stuff. You should be a master of verbal and non-verbal communication, have the ability to communicate effectively to different types of learners, and determine whether learners understand your message.

Competency Six: Demonstrate Effective Presentation Skills

Have you ever had a class in which the presenter was as exciting as a dead fish? An effective presenter can massage the message, maintain eye contact, work the room, motivate, involve, inspire. It's our job. This includes your ability to use silence, movement, posture, props—general public speaking basics.

Competency Seven: Demonstrate Effective Questioning Skills and Techniques

Are you good at asking questions? How about answering them? Have you ever allowed other students to field questions for you? How do you pose questions to your class? Have you ever read an entire paragraph full of questions?

Questions allow you to accomplish many goals:

  • Involve your class and keep them focused on the subject matter.
  • Allow you to lead the discussion.
  • Review the material you have already covered.
  • Introduce new material.
  • Confirm whether your class understands the material you've presented.

Competency Eight: Respond Appropriately to Learners' Needs for Clarification and Feedback

A couple of years ago, I was taking a five-day SQL 6.5 class led by a trainer from Ohio. My classmate asked the instructor on the first afternoon how the data actually got entered into the database. This instructor (jerk) responded that this student was in the wrong class to ask that question. Guess what my fellow student did the rest of the week? Solitaire.

The moral? If you are to be a CTT+, you have to know how to respond to users' questions, appropriate or not. There are techniques to put off questions to be answered later or outside the bounds of the class hours.

Competency Ten: Use Instructional Methods Appropriately

You need to be able to teach the material through different instructional methods, manage group dynamics, and employ different techniques to deliver the message as situations warrant. Basically, you have to have more than one trick and have the ability turn on a dime to pass this objective.

Competency Eleven: Use Media Effectively

As adults, most of us learn by doing, not by listening to some dolt drone on about the beauty and wonder of Active Directory. There are times, however, when a lecture is necessary to introduce and build a foundation for learning. To supplement lectures, we often need overhead projectors, slide shows, videos, and other electronic gadgets to create an above-average learning environment.

As trainers, we need to know how to work with and troubleshoot each piece of hardware and media that we use. There are few things worse than watching an expert fumble with an overhead projector like it's time to watch the vacation slideshow at Uncle Walt's house.

Competency Twelve: Evaluate Learner Performance

How do you know if students are really understanding and learning? You need to have different tools to test their comprehension: tests, quizzes, feedback, discussions, and others.

Competency Thirteen: Evaluate Delivery of Instruction

As trainers, we can also be our own worst critics. Sometimes, we are right. We need to know how the class is going, how our performance is while we teach, and then how to adjust our performance to make it better. This includes the instructional design of the course, our ability to react to poor design during and after the delivery, and our ability to learn from our mistakes.

Competency Fourteen: Report Evaluation Information

As a trainer, I keep a journal of each class I teach: how the class went, how I reacted to problems within the course, and how I handled troublemakers within the course. When I teach the same course again, I have my notes to prepare and adjust for technical difficulties, areas of confusion for students, and inaccuracies within the course material. You need to do the same.

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