The guidelines collected here should give prospective trainers an overview of general (common sense) best practices for executing training courses. We focus on training events targeted at professionals from the microbiology field. The points in this guide are partially based on Recommendations for Teaching Carpentries Workshops Online by The Carpentries (CC BY 2020).
There are many different formats for training events, ranging from short lectures to week-long summer schools. Thus, these general guidelines will not apply to every single event (format). Feel free to evaluate each point raised on this page with regards to your planned training course, and adapt the suggestions listed to your needs.
In general, we give tips and reminders regarding preparation, communication, and the like. We do not suggest/recommend specific software or tools. We only mention certain software products to illustrate our points. We separate the guidelines along the timeline of before, during, and after the training.
Before the Training
A large part of the trainer’s work will already be done in preparation for any training event. Here, we list some points that should be considered when preparing to provide a well-received training event.
Choose the right format and the right tools
Starting from your training goal, you need to decide what format will best help learners to attain the expertise you want to impart them with. How much time do you need to adequately teach the topics you intend to? For this question, keep in mind that the learners will not be as quick to grasp the knowledge you mean to transfer, and not be as fast working on hands-on exercises, as yourself. Does it make sense to offer this training online, or should this be on-site, or even hybrid? How many participants can reasonably benefit from your training at once?
Especially online, but also for certain training courses, you will need to decide on which tools to use, e.g. for communication/presentation purposes. Generally, you should use tools you are already familiar with. That is, if your institution already uses Zoom or MS Teams to communicate, consider using this for online training courses as well. This will help you and your helpers to be more comfortable with the technology. Consider what other software/tools you will need to prepare, or execute, for the training event. You might want to have participants collaborate in real-time collaborative environments such as Google Docs or Etherpad, or collaborate on code through GitHub or GitLab. If you plan to use such tools but have no prior experience with them, make sure to familiarize yourself with the tools you intend to use.
In addition to being familiar with the software tools, you should also be familiar with the “infrastructure” setup. For example, for an on-site event, you may want to check that the planned rooms offer sufficient capacity for the planned number of participants, have no accessibility concerns, and the beamer works as expected. Make sure coffee, drinks, and snacks are organized for breaks and reserve a table in a restaurant for a “workshop dinner”, if appropriate. Online, you might need to test whether your setup is sufficient. That is, does your microphone produce a good sound quality and does your setup allow for what you have planned (e.g. maybe you need an additional monitor). If you plan to use additional software (such as bioinformatic tools) during the course, make sure that they can be used by all participants. For example, you could give detailed installation instructions before the course, or provide some form of virtual environment (i. e. cloud). You could also prepare, at least some, loan laptops for an onsite training. Test data should be easily downloadable in a reasonable amount of time. Create some form of documentation that the participants can follow during and after the course for reference.
In order for people to want to join your training event, they will need to know about it. Use what communication channels you have at your disposal to advertise the existence of your training opportunity. Make sure to advertise early (i.e. 45 to 90 days before the event) to give participants time to plan and for word-of-mouth to spread. Also consider sending and tweeting reminders.
You should give prospective training participants a concrete understanding of what they can expect of your training event. Your event description should clearly list the intended learning outcomes, so that potential trainees know what benefit the course will bring to them. You should also list the requirements for the target audience for your training event. That is, is this open to everybody, only open to students and/or staff of a particular institution, or something else? You should detail any prerequisites, such as particular skill levels in a given programming language, the prospective participants should already have to successfully participate in the course.
Finally, you should also make clear what format the training will have. You do not have to provide a detailed program/schedule at this stage, but participants will need to know where the course is held, online or at which on-site location, and what times/dates the training will take place.
Most training formats work better when not being carried out by a single person. For example, one person may present the content while another helps struggling trainees with installing software. Or, in an online setting, one person may talk and present, while another monitors and responds/reacts to chat.
For hands-on sessions, it is also advisable to have more than one person offering assistance, so that there is no single group or person that monopolizes the trainer.
In preparation for the training event, all trainers/helpers should meet and discuss what each person’s role is (in preparing the event and in carrying out the event).
Contact the participants
About a week before the training event starts (depending on your format, possibly earlier), you might want to contact the registrants to remind them of your training event and provide additional details/info. When communicating via email with a larger group of people, possibly from different institutions, do not put the full list of your participants’ email addresses in the visible to or cc fields. Instead, set up a mailing list, or set the email addresses on bcc. Do provide your preferred contact details, such as email address, and that of your helpers to the participants too. They might need a way to communicate with you and your helpers in preparation for the training.
Depending on the event format, especially for on-site events, it might be necessary to inform the participants with regards to the logistics of the training event. Where do they need to go? For out of city participants, how to best get there? You might hang up flyers in the building to guide the participants to the training room. What is the program/timeline for the training event? If there are accessibility issues, mentioning them beforehand gives people the chance to respond and enquire about solutions.
At this point, you should also explain what tools will be used during the training course and, most importantly, what tools need to already be installed, ready to go, for the training to start on day one without delay. This, again, includes installing communication tools (if needed), or needing to be registered to platforms such as GitHub or GitLab. This can also include more specific tools such as having the latest version of Python or some bioinformatics software installed. Do not forget that this kind of information also needs to be passed on to last minute registrations that may occur after you sent out the original notification. Even having given detailed instructions to future participants regarding required software, you should not expect all people to successfully comply with this. It is a good idea to schedule some time for technical problems at the beginning of the course and plan for a fallback in case some participants are unable to install certain required software elements. For example, most communication tools such as Zoom offer participants to join a call through a web browser. Ideally you would also give the participants a contact person who is able and willing to assist with software issues in preparation for the event.
Plan the content/structure
When preparing the content/structure of the training course/event, there are a few points you may want to consider. To not overwhelm the trainees, split the training into multiple shorter intervals/sessions. Each session should be limited to no more than 90 minutes. There should be a good balance between teaching presentations and hands-on exercises. Even during the teaching sessions, especially online, you may plan to encourage audience participation by periodically involving the trainees in short (anonymous) surveys or quizzes, show of hands, or similar. This will not only lead to a better engagement with the audience, but also allow you the opportunity to evaluate whether the content you mean to teach is understood and/or your pacing is appropriate.
When planning the time-slots, you need to realize that trainees will need more time to work on hands-on exercises than you yourself would. Similarly, do not underestimate the time it takes to teach new content during teaching sessions. Generally, when it comes to teaching content, value is more important than volume. That is, rather than trying to cover a lot of new content, it is better to be clear and repeat key points to cement the understanding of the learners. Your teaching content should improve the understanding of the relevant topics and enable the trainees to independently solve the hands-on exercises.
You should already plan for optional content that can be dropped from the curriculum in case the training progresses slower than anticipated. You do not want to realize that there is not sufficient time for all your content and have only crucial information left to teach. So, know beforehand what content to skip.
When preparing training materials, you should consider to follow the FAIR principles, i.e. make your material easily accessible for other researchers. For example, you could use GitHub for a documentation on your hands-on session, that can be read, reused and extended by everyone. A good introduction is given in “Ten simple rules for making training materials FAIR”.
During the Training
Before the first session of your training event, you should aim to be 10-15 min early at the facilities (on-site) or online. This will give you time to finish your setup (e.g. connecting to the beamer on-site) or to recognize, and hopefully fix, technical issues (e.g. a missing link for an online meeting), as well as greet the attendees.
Before you begin presenting the actual content you mean to impart on your trainees, introduce the training team (i.e. yourself but also any helpers) involved in the meeting. This will allow the attendees to recognize contact persons for questions that might arise. You could also start with a short introduction round where every participant and teacher explains their background and previous knowledge on the course topic. This might also give you an idea on what points of the program you should focus on and who might need more assistance.
Along with any other information that you deem useful, introduce the planned program to the attendees and say when the next break is scheduled. You should also already give an overview of the intended learning outcomes, such that participants know what to expect.
In general, be mindful of your language. E.g. be respectful and inclusive when addressing the participants, helpers, and other entities. Make sure to address the audience. On-site, this may mean turning towards them instead of speaking towards the blackboard/whiteboard. Online this may mean turning on your camera, even if not required for the participants.
Use the introduction to establish how to ask questions and make comments. E.g. Should participants ask immediately, or wait for the end of a topic/session? Online, should they raise their hand or ask questions in the chat such that other people, e.g. helpers, can answer or bring the question to the forefront? When answering questions, it is a good idea to repeat the question you are responding to, so everybody is on the same page with regards to what is actually answered and how you understood the question. Also, there are undoubtably stupid questions. However, keep the point from above in mind and be mindful of your language. Thus, when it comes to participants, there are no stupid questions. Some questions that are not of broad interest to most participants can be deferred to a more appropriate time, such as a chat during the next scheduled break.
Also be mindful of privacy issues and the related legal questions during your training event. Legal advice is beyond the scope of this resource, but do consider what rules/laws apply to your jurisdiction e.g. regarding taking (online) recordings of the event, taking pictures and publishing them, e.g. on social media, or for requiring participants to write down their names/email addresses or similar in shared documents.
The presentations should be kept relevant to the topic and further the understanding of the intended learning outcomes. They should enable the listeners to work on any following hands-on exercises independently. It is a good idea for each session to start with an overview of what topic you are going to cover.
When presenting content with slides, make sure to keep the content simple and easy to grasp. That is, avoid long walls of text or complicated formulas. Attribute figures and references you include in your teaching materials correctly. Important information that participants need to retain, such as your contact details, and/or links to installation guides for the hands-on exercises, should not only be available/visible for a short duration during a slide show. Make important information accessible to the trainees at all times. E.g. by uploading the slides to repositories accessible to the trainees, or handing out printed teaching materials. You could also share the relevant information in a shared pad.
Limit the passive (screen-)time trainees are exposed to. In addition to planning hands-on exercises, your online teaching segments may be enriched by occasionally asking for audience participation (e.g. via (anonymous) polls, quizzes, shows of hands, etc.) that can also help you to gauge how well your intended learning outcomes were reached, and/or live examples (e.g. live-coding, or tool demonstrations). When doing a live demonstration, be sure to explain clearly what you are going to do beforehand, and again in more detail during your demonstration. You might also review what you did after. Allow for short pauses in your workflow for the listener to digest what you are doing. E.g. for a live demonstration of a command line tool, explain why you set the options/flags you did, and wait a second before pressing enter once the command is fully typed.
Depending on the format and topic of the training event, hands-on exercises are great for engaging the trainees and reinforcing their understanding of the material. You should aim to find a good balance between teaching presentations and hands-on exercises. The instructions in preparation for the hands-on sections should be simple and easy to understand such that the trainees can work on the problems independently, or in groups. Nonetheless, the training team should be prepared to support struggling participants during the hands-on segments by answering questions, giving technical support, or feedback. As during the presentation part of the training, you should make it clear to the participants how to ask for support. You may also proactively ask the teams/individuals how they are doing and whether assistance is needed.
Allow for frequent breaks. New information can quickly overwhelm learners and breaks help to alleviate this. Further, breaks offer a good transition point from one topic to another, or one activity to another (e.g. switching between teaching and hands-on exercises). Breaks also offer the participants an opportunity to refresh themselves or socialize. When the break starts, expect questions/discussions to be directed at the training team. Thus, if possible, the people in the training team should not immediately disappear as soon as the break (for the participants) starts. In order to facilitate a seamless training environment, communicate breaks clearly. That is, when can the participants expect breaks, and when will the training event resume afterwards. When the time for a scheduled break comes, make sure that you do not go over time. Participants, especially online, may have made plans around that schedule.
At the end of your training event, you should give an overview/summary of the achieved intended learning outcomes from the introduction.
You should make sure that you do not go over time. The trainees have likely received a lot of input during the training event, which can be mentally taxing. They may also have made plans or travel arrangements for after the event. You should already have planned what content to drop without losing too much value beforehand, such that the schedule can be respected.
Do run a feedback survey to evaluate whether the participants enjoyed and valued the course and/or what can be done to improve the training in the future. Do try to ensure that the feedback can be anonymous and that the questions highlight points of improvement to enable you/the team to provide an even better experience the next time.
After the Training
Shortly after the event, you should meet with all trainers involved and gather their feedback. Collect points that should be improved for the next course of this kind and document them in an appropriate way, so that you find them quickly for the next time. Also, evaluate important points from the feedback survey once you have the results.
Finally, you should consider to share any teaching materials (slides, recordings, etc.) you can with the former participants. This can be done via email, shared repositories, or dedicated platforms and should be easy if you followed the FAIR principles during the preparation. The goal is to enable the participants to look up, or reflect upon, certain topics they may want to internalize or refresh for themselves, as well as look up details for methods they may have learned/been exposed to during the event. You are also encouraged to share the teaching materials with other trainers such that they can benefit from the work you already provided. If you do so, make sure to state under what license you provide your work. We suggest a permissive license such as CC BY, or „CC 0“.