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What Is a Train-the-Trainer Model?

A core component of Training Within Industry (TWI), the train-the-trainer model is a framework for preparing practitioners to pass these methods and expertise on to others, who may then become trainers themselves. The initial training is typically facilitated by an outside consultant or Master Trainer, after which the process can (and should) be sustained by internal trainers.

This chain of skills transferal can look something like this:

A flowchart diagram with a dark background and light blue graphics depicting a training hierarchy. At the top, 'Instructor Trainer Training' flows into 'Instructor Trainer'. Below, 'Instructor Training' leads to two 'Instructor' boxes, each branching out to 'Frontline Worker Workshops' and then to individual 'Learner' icons, illustrating the trickle-down effect of training from top-level trainers to frontline workers

Workplace train-the-trainer courses consist of both function-specific skills instruction and methods for teaching these skills to others. For example, a Master Trainer can lead a course that focuses on the basics of effective leadership while also teaching select attendees how to lead a similar course for their teams.

The train-the-trainer approach proliferated in the United States during World War II, when factories needed to train a largely new workforce quickly while enabling trainees to pass their skills along to others. This method was a cornerstone of the federal TWI program created by the U.S. Department of War and remains at the heart of TWI; the same script is even used in today’s training dialogues.

The train-the-trainer process has been standardized to the point where, no matter where a trainee attends an initial facilitator training, they will receive the same instruction, in the same format, from the same TWI manual. Of course, the skills and practical exercises taught in the training will be tailored to a specific industry or workplace, but the course format and process remain the same.

Train-the-trainer courses are meant to be a dialogue between facilitators and learners. While the initial session led by a Master Trainer can have a significant lecture component, subsequent sessions are more participatory and hands-on, with trainees applying their learning in exercises and facilitators continuously asking for participant feedback.

Goals of the Train-the-Trainer Model

The initial “pilot” phase of training with a Master Trainer can last anywhere from several days to several weeks, after which the newly trained facilitators will pass their instructional skills on to successive sets of employees. While the initial training phase has an established timeframe, a train-the-trainer approach should become a perpetual part of organization-wide continuous improvement.

In other words, the ultimate goal is for an organization to call upon an outside Master Trainer only for the initial phases of implementation. During the pilot phase, it’s helpful for an organization to identify a few employees who could become future facilitators and have them attend the Master Trainer’s course after they master the basic program and its content. This lays the groundwork for a sustainable, scalable internal training program.

In terms of specific skills, initial train-the-trainer course content prepares instructors to:

  • Present information effectively following prescribed training manuals
  • Respond to learners’ questions
  • Lead hands-on activities that reinforce learning
  • Direct learners to supplementary resources and reference materials
  • Lead group discussions
  • Listen effectively
  • Make accurate observations
  • Help learners link the training methods to their jobs
  • Learn the importance of effective communication, including maintaining eye contact, conveying a positive attitude, showing interest in both course content and learners’ progress, speaking in a clear voice and addressing confusion

Related reading: 20 Essential Frontline Leadership Skills For Success


Benefits of the Train-the-Trainer Model

Since WWII, the train-the-trainer model has delivered tangible results to organizations across the world.

Consistency: The standardized nature of the train-the-trainer model means that newly minted trainers receive the exact same teaching materials they were trained on. As a result, they ensure their own trainees receive the same instruction and skills. This standardization also makes gathering data on group performance much easier.

Learning retention: Trainees in this model have been shown to grasp and retain information much better than in a static teaching model. This is partially because, according to psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, when instructors and students both feel fulfilled by the learning process, students’ learning retention increases. Facilitating training also helps trainers reinforce their abilities, since teaching someone else is the best way to learn and improve a skill.

Timeliness: Due to the multiplicative nature of train-the-trainer, the model can disseminate information and skills across an organization quickly. This is particularly useful when a large group of new employees needs onboarding all at once, or when new company-wide initiatives are deployed.

Familiarity: Employees are much more likely to accept training and seek guidance from someone they’re familiar with, such as an internal trainer, rather than an outside consultant. From the opposite perspective, internal trainers have the advantage of familiarity with an organization, its processes, people and culture, and can tailor their approach accordingly.

Competitive edge: A strong internal training program makes an organization an attractive place to work, since it conveys to applicants that the organization cares about developing its people.

Professional development: Opportunities for growth can incentivize workers to aim high, even if they may not have otherwise considered moving up in their organization. Becoming an internal trainer can open more doors in an employee’s future by building new skills in coaching, leadership, communication and problem-solving.

It’s important to note that, while a train-the-trainer model can seem like a major investment of time and personnel up front, it saves time and money in the long term by:

  • Reducing the need to repeatedly hire outside trainers and consultants
  • Streamlining the new employee onboarding period
  • Improving communication between workers and their supervisors

Potential train-the-trainer drawbacks

Some trainees may have initial misgivings about the standardization of the train-the-trainer model. They may be skeptical about whether a standardized approach will “fit” their organization. However, while TWI instructors the world over may use the same manual and follow the same process, the specifics of each course can be tailored to countless industries and job skills. The very nature of TWI is foundational, which means it’s designed to be adaptable — instead of telling course attendees how to do their jobs, Master Trainers help trainees start to build their own robust internal training culture.

Some train-the-trainer programs are lecture-heavy, or only rely on simulations to help trainees practice problem-solving. It’s important to partner with a training program that builds practical, immediately applicable exercises into its course framework. In fact, TWI Master Trainers will ask course attendees to bring real, on-the-job tools and materials and problems to training sessions so they can see how the methodology applies to their own work.

There may also be a risk of information getting watered down as it passes from trainer to trainee and so on. Therefore, it’s important to have experienced trainers periodically audit new trainers and provide actionable feedback for program adherence.

How to Choose the Right Participants

Ideally, any employee who facilitates internal training would benefit from an initial train-the-trainer course. However, if your organization prefers to have only a handful of internal trainers, candidates for a Master Trainer-led course should possess a few key qualities:

  • Future trainers should be well-respected by their employees and coworkers.
  • Communication, public speaking and active listening skills are helpful; Master Trainers can help trainees further strengthen these skills.
  • Candidates should be self-reflective and open to receiving feedback.
  • Trainees should have a positive attitude and willingness to help their colleagues.
  • Some degree of experience and expertise in the given field or subject is ideal.

On a practical level, future trainers should be flexible and generally available to give regular training sessions. Internal trainers who are stretched too thin by other job duties cannot deliver effective training to others.

How to Succeed in a Train-the-Trainer Program

Set yourself and your team up for success by doing some internal prep work:

  1. Clarify the purpose of an initial training program. Identify your goals, both company-wide and granular.
  2. Make sure all potential trainers and trainees understand the need for an internal training program.
  3. Define and record your processes and job content.
  4. If possible, simplify your processes as much as you can.
  5. Don’t try to expedite training. Allow enough time for complete transferral and mastery of skills and methods.
  6. Choose a train-the-trainer program with a practical component so that trainees can learn by doing.
  7. Design a progress measurement and assessment rubric.
  8. Don’t certify trainees before they have mastered the subject matter or the skill of instruction.
  9. Make experienced trainers available to audit new trainers’ courses.
  10. Increase new trainers’ opportunities to teach over time. Start by having them attend a training course, then co-teach with the instructor, then take over from the instructor, then teach a new course in front of an auditor.

An instructional 'Train the Trainer' graphic. It includes four stages illustrated with icons and text: 1. Learn, showing a group of people under a presentation screen; 2. Co-teach, depicting two figures leading a group; 3. Takeover, with one figure in a different color joining the leading figure; and 4. Deliver, where the new figure stands alone before the group. Below, a key indicates 'Master Trainer', 'Potential Trainer', and 'Student' with corresponding figures in black, grey, and yellow.

While you may know your organization and its people best, building your own train-the-trainer program can be challenging. An outside consultant or Master Trainer can gain an objective view of your teams and what they need to succeed in the long term. Certified Master Trainers like those at the TWI Institute have decades of experience helping organizations create train-the-trainer programs that lead to long-term success.

TWI Master Trainers can help your teams:

If you’d like to leverage world-class expertise when building your internal training program, start a conversation with the TWI Institute today. Our people-centered training programs help develop your organization’s workforce into your greatest asset for years to come.


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