Assigning instructors is a complex task. Not every instructor is suited to teach every subject; an instructor can be much more effective when allowed to focus on topics within a given scope. That said, every training organization must also have solid “utilitarian” instructors that can be called on to teach a variety of topics on short notice.
Even with the shift to distributed learning (current estimates show about 28% of learning takes place online or in a virtual classroom  ), the need for instructor involvement continues. Instructors must be able to interact with students online. Good instructors must deliver content that was previously delivered face-to-face by new methods.
We often tend to think of instructors in terms of the overall organization; in fact, the best organizations think of instructors as a resource for specific classes – or even specific sections of a single class. When considering instructor assignments, there are six traits to be considered.
1. Experience / Expertise
Identifying individuals with appropriate experience may seem easy to quantify and validate. An instructor’s resume is a good starting point. Ask your team – are you looking for experience or expertise? On the surface, that may seem a bit trivial, but when it comes to transfer of training its a crucial distinction.
Experience can be defined as exposure to a broad range of experiences in a given field, typically over a period of time. When looking for experience, consider what the person’s scope of decision making and responsibility might be.
Expertise can perhaps be defined as a very deep knowledge of a specific topic or area. Expertise can be gained through education, experience, and many other mechanisms. Unlike experience, expertise may not be related to time in a single position or function.
For each curriculum you adopt, consider the experience and expertise a good instructor should have in to teach it effectively. Develop processes that support your standards.
Remember that it isn’t just the length of experience that matters; it is the quality and frequency with which a potential instructor performs a specific task. A person that performs a task for three years, but only once a year may be less experienced than a person performing the task daily for six months.
Professionalism is a broad term, often with a positive connotation. So what makes someone a professional in the realm of an instructor or trainer?
- They smile, have a positive attitude, and say “Thank You” frequently. They praise their mentors, peers and students – not themselves.
- They constantly share their knowledge in both formal and informal environments.
- A professional communicates effectively, remembering to focus on what is meant and what is heard by the receiver – not what is said. A professional has mastered the art of listening.
- A professional often does more than what is required or what is expected.
- They adhere to high values and principles. Dress properly. Be honest and fair. Have high ethical and moral standards. Use good manners and proper etiquette.
- They place the task of helping students reach the desired outcome(s) as their top priority.
3. Enthusiasm & Motivation
Enthusiasm is contagious. A properly motivated, enthusiastic instructor can have a huge impact on virtually any program. But simply appearing energetic and enthusiastic isn’t enough. The best instructors can clearly communicate ‘why’ they are enthusiastic and motivated in a way that touches the student.
Each instructor candidate should be prepared to answer the question “why is teaching this particular program important to you?” Understanding what motivates an individual to teach a specific program can give the manager valuable insight. In addition to knowledge, skills and abilities – the instructor often transfers some of their own personal motivation to the student population. Look for motives that are consistent with the values of the curriculum and the training organization as a whole.
An important but often overlooked aspect of selecting the right individuals to teach a program is the dynamic between instructors. Students that move from an outgoing, highly motivated instructor will face challenges if their subsequent instructor is equally knowledgeable but quiet and less expressive.
Dr. Stephen R. Covey defines a great leader as someone who communicates to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves. His definition makes it clear why leadership is an important quality of the right instructor. How do you go about identifying instructor candidates that have leadership potential?
First, recognize that leadership and the decision to become an instructor is a choice. Individuals who are pressured into becoming an instructor rarely perform at an equal level to an individual who chooses to teach. Beyond that initial step, look for individuals that:
- Inspire trust
- Clarify purpose
- Align systems and ideas
- Unleash talent
5. Instructional Ability
Instructional ability is a major component. What kind of abilities has the instructor developed, either from past teaching assignments or past experience? An instructor has to take on a variety of roles or characteristics throughout the delivery of a program.
- Taskmaster, Salesperson, Cheerleader, Critic
- Mentor, Administrator, Friend, Moderator
- Peer, Authoritarian, Entertainer, Arbitrator/Judge
- Evaluator, Supervisor, Public Relations, Logistics
- Guide, Explorer, Resource, Architect
- Safety Officer, Expert, Clerical Staff, Research Analyst
Based on the curriculum, a few of these roles may have greater significance. Correlate an instructor’s known characteristics with ability and needs of the individual topic.
6. Technological Ability
An instructor’s ability to understand and utilize technology becomes more important each year. There are a number of reasons and ways programs continue to expand their use of technology. Gauging an instructor’s ability to use classroom technologies effectively can be very difficult. Some instructors are exceptional at setting up and delivering realistic scenarios in a hands-on program, yet struggle when setting up a classroom’s audio and video.
Be honest in the assessment of the curriculum and its components. Develop a ‘technology tool’ for each component, identifying not only the technology required but anticipating the challenges an instructor can face. Ask specific questions of instructor candidate, assessing their ability to overcome the challenges.
Maintain a profile of each instructor’s technological skill set, just as you keep track of an instructor’s qualifications to teach a specific topic. This information can be very useful when selecting adjunct instructors. For example: You have an instructor who is an excellent speaker and subject matter expert, who is familiar with Windows-based networks and speaks frequently at hotel-based conferences. If you are placing the instructor in a room outfitted with Apple hardware and a SMART™ Board instead of a traditional LCD projector, you can augment him with an adjunct instructor familiar with the different technology.
Instructors: Closing Thoughts
Deciding what qualifies an individual as an instructor for a specific course or class is very different from selecting the right instructor for a class. Program managers must maintain an accurate inventory of each instructor’s tool set so that assignments are made in the best interests of the training organization and students.
The process of identifying and vetting instructors for an organization or program is time-consuming and detail-oriented. However, the training organization has an ethical responsibility to provide qualified, capable instructors for programs they offer. Instructors are the ones directly responsible for bridging between the curricula, the technology, the environment and students. Instructors define students, which in turn define your training organization.
 American Society for Training & Development. (n.d.). 2008 Industry Report: Gauges & Drivers. Retrieved December 5, 2011, from American Society for Training & Development: http://www.astd.org
 Norton, A. (2010, July 27). 10 things that define a true professional. Retrieved February 6, 2012, from TechRepublic: http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/10things/10-things-that-define-a-true-professional/1685