Trainers Talking: Maurice Coleman and Sarah Houghton-Jan

January 11, 2010

When two of the great voices in training meet (virtually) to explore their craft, the rest of us can listen with pleasure. And learn. Which is exactly what happens in a new special recording in the T Is For Training series. Program host Maurice Coleman, Technical Trainer at Harford County (MD) Public Library, interviews Librarian in Black Sarah Houghton-Jan in a session now available online, and the result provides comfort and inspiration for all of us.

Worried about feeling overwhelmed by the flood of information we drown in nearly every day? Then you’ll be relieved to hear Houghton-Jan admit that having subscriptions to approximately 690 RSS feeds and more than 30 newsletters finally forced her to do a massive amount of trimming to bring that deluge under control.

“I have this drive to know everything all the time,” she explains before noting that she is now “down to about 100” feeds and just a few newsletters. She still consults too many sources, she acknowledges, but is finding sites including ReadWriteWeb (web products and trends), technology strategist Emily Chang’s eHub blog, and Lifehacker (a blog designed to help readers efficiently and easily accomplish a variety of technology and other tasks) helpful in efforts to remain current as a writer, trainer, presenter, and the Digital Futures Manager for the San Jose Public Library system in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Wondering how trainers can acquire a better understanding of the market they serve? Then her description of traveling up and down the state of California while teaching for Infopeople provides a great reminder that the best workplace learning and performance practitioners are continually learning while they work.

Curious about whether well respected trainers and other presenters feel the same nervousness you feel when you stand before an audience and, if so, how they deal with that challenge? Then you’ll enjoy Houghton-Jan’s description of how she has learned to remove the shakiness from her voice at those moments by “quieting” her voice: “I don’t think it matters who you are…We all get nervous,” she says.

And if you’re still struggling to come to terms with how to strike an adequate work-life balance, you may benefit from the words she offers here: “…some sort of work-life balance is not a luxury. It’s a necessity…It’s not OK to spend 18 hours a day away from home…and then, when you get home, spend another three hours on the computer.”

Which is fine, as long as we don’t spend so much time away from our computers or mobile devices that we overlook the pleasures of passing an hour or so with colleagues like Coleman and Houghton-Jan.

Training, the Intersection, and Breaking Down the Barriers (3rd of 4)

June 1, 2009

Sometimes what we know may hurt us and those we want to help.

Our expertise may actually work to our detriment, Frans Johansson writes in The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, & Culture. The mental associations which we naturally make, he suggests, “inhibit our ability to think broadly. We do not question assumptions as readily; we jump to conclusions faster and create barriers to alternate ways of thinking about a particular situation” (Johansson, The Medici Effect, p. 40).

We help ourselves and our students if, on a regular basis, we consciously work to break down these associative barriers—including our own assumptions of how easy a particular subject is to master. If we have, for example, learned how simple it is to use wikis, blogs, or RSS feeds, we also have to remember that there were moments when we struggled with these subjects.

There is nothing quite like the experience of returning to a classroom or a workshop to remind ourselves how our students—and we—feel while learning something new. We might, for example, be sitting in a class and find ourselves annoyed by an instructor who is impatient or annoyed because we are not quickly grasping a concept which the instructor finds elementary. When this instructor makes the mistake of criticizing us for being slow, we snap in two ways: we remind the instructor that we are trying to learn, and, more importantly, we remind ourselves of how we hinder learning when we are insensitive to our learners’ struggles.

Through this associative and empathetic process, we become better teacher-trainer-learners. Those whom we help become equally excited by the possibilities they might otherwise have ignored. And our entire community—onsite as well as online—becomes more vital than it was even a moment earlier. We learn. We grow. And everybody wins.

Next: The Intersection, Failure, and Success

This item was originally posted on November 6, 2007 on Infoblog at

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