4. Taking the needs of the participants into account

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The trainer needs to ask him/herself the questions:
Who are the participants? Will they all have the same background knowledge? Will some of them have accomplished some of the learning objectives already? What are their needs? How will they learn best? Do I need to modify the content, structure or learning outcomes of my event?


As has been emphasised several times now, effective delivery of a training event depends very much on knowing your participants. It will help the training event if you know a little bit about the background of the particular participants that you will have, but also some background information about how people learn.

Knowing your participants

Those who train panel members need to remember that their participants are in some ways very different from the usual participants on training programmes or activities. Trainers need to be mindful of these special characteristics as they design training.

Participants are not always your ‘employees’


If you recruit panel members from other organisations, such as universities, then your participants will not be your employees: they will be employed by the own institution. This has two main consequences. First, they will be carrying out panel work in addition to their ‘day job’, so may find it very difficult to give up the time required both for training and for the panel work. Secondly, the normal incentives to encourage good performance in an employee – such as promotion, monetary reward, or disciplinary procedures – will not be available to you. You will need to build on other incentives to encourage successful performance. These other incentives must include building up a community of panel members who have loyalty to your agency and to each other; and who will take their panel work seriously and find value in it, even if it is not very well paid!

The subject matter of the training may not be part of the participant’s ‘job description’


This may mean that they do not have all the skills and knowledge that you expect (that is the point of giving them training), but again it probably means that the participants will be carrying out panel work in addition to their normal job, and you will need to demonstrate that both the training and the panel work is worthwhile for them. Participants will normally be very busy people so every minute of the training programme must count for them. They have to understand what is in it for them. They will also need to feel valued and appreciated in their panel work. In addition, the participants might not be using the skills and knowledge acquired in the training event for some time afterwards. A participant may not be allocated to a panel event (review, accreditation, etc.) until some time after the training. This will mean that retention of the training material will be a problem and you must bear this in mind in planning the training and any post-training events that you may be able to organize. We shall return to this matter in section 6. How to ensure that training has been effective.

Understanding who the participants are, and what their needs might be, is crucial to communicating well with them. There are many techniques, tips and tricks that can be learned to help a trainer communicate well in a training session, but these are little use if they are applied inappropriately to the audience because the trainer has not taken the time to find out who the audience is. One of the crucial rules of effective communication is know who you are talking to!

Needs analysis

You can start to get to know your participants and their learning needs by sending them a short questionnaire before the start of the training. From a short questionnaire you can find out the role that participants play in their own institution: are they academics or students or employers or agency staff? Are they international reviewers who may not know your national system very well? What experiences do they already have that you can take advantage of in the training? What are the major skills or knowledge gaps that you will need to address? In the short questionnaire remind them of the aims and learning outcomes of the training event so that they can tell you specifically where they think their main skills and knowledge gaps might be.

You could also use a more detailed questionnaire before the training to check out each participant’s perception of where they think their strengths and weaknesses lie as far as carrying out a review activity might be. You can then repeat the same questionnaire after the training to see whether the individual’s perception has changed. This will enable you to assess the effectiveness of the training, and also allow the participants to assess the effectiveness of their learning, and perhaps construct action points for further learning.

When you analyse the questionnaires you will almost certainly find that your participants have mixed experience and needs. Of course, you cannot fulfil every need of every participant, so you will need to prioritise those needs that must be met in order for you to achieve the overall aims of the training programme.

How do people learn effectively?

Much research has been carried out to find out how people learn most effectively and there is a vast literature describing the results of that research. One idea that is frequently used is the ‘learning cycle’. This suggests that there are particular stages which a learner goes through as they learn. Various terminologies have been put forward but they usually suggest that the leaner goes from experiencing something, to reflecting on it, then to thinking conceptually about it, and then to actively testing out our conceptual understanding. This in turn, can create new experiences – and so the cycle continues. Understanding of the learning cycle can help teachers and trainers to structure the content and format of training. Similarly, work on the preferred ‘learning styles’ of individuals has been important in informing how delivery of teaching and training can best be carried out.

This handbook will not summarise that work but instead simply alert you to the fact that it exists. You can follow up the work in various publications and websites given in the Annex 2: References. Here we shall just consider some basic principles of learning as it applies to our training activities.

Adult learners

It is important to remember that in our event we are training adults – people with experience of life behind them. Student reviewers may be younger than some other participants but they will have significant experiences to bring to their learning. Adults have some particular requirements when it comes to learning.

  • They need to know why they should learn something; you cannot simply rely on telling them what to do and expect them to do it happily and effectively! They may need reasons or theoretical justification for what they learn.
  • Adults have an image of themselves as responsible, self-directing grown-ups - they will want to have a say in how and what they learn; but they may also consider it their responsibility to help the trainer make the training effective.
  • Adults have a wealth of experience and a lot they can contribute to the training. As a trainer you should learn to use this.
  • Adults learn most readily those things which will help in ‘every day’ life. This matches well with the aims of panel member training because the point of this is to enable participants to go into the ‘real world’ of panel work and to carry out their task effectively.
  • Adults will devote time and energy to something that they think will help them with a task. On the other hand do not expect them to devote themselves to something for which they cannot see any point.
  • Adults will respond well to internal motivators like increased self-esteem. This is a good thing for panel member training because you may not be able to pay participants to attend, and even the work that they do afterwards as a panel member may not be well paid. However, you will need to ensure that your training event increases self-esteem, rather than reducing it!

What does this mean for the trainer? As trainers we can capitalise on these characteristics by creating a learning environment that is safe and stimulating, so that learners will participate well. The trainer needs to be well organised and have well-defined aims and outcomes for the training event, and these must be clearly communicated to the participants. On the other hand the trainer needs to be flexible when it is necessary to be able to capitalise on the experience and knowledge that the participants have, and also to allow participants to take responsibility for their learning. The trainer must ensure that the content of the training means something to participants and is relevant to the real world task that they will be expected to do. The trainer must always treat learners with respect. Your participants may well know more than you do about some aspects of the training, and may want to demonstrate that! Accept their contribution with respect and allow all participants to benefit from it. Invite all the participants to share their experience and knowledge.

Learning styles

Even within the general category of ‘adult’, people have preferred ways of learning. This doesn’t mean that they cannot learn in other ways, but that they will have to work harder or put more effort into learning. For example, one can learn about scientific experiments by reading about them, or by looking at a diagram or video, or by actually doing an experiment. Some learners may feel more comfortable and relaxed doing one thing rather than another. That does not mean that there is a right or wrong way to learn – just that we apply different learning styles. As noted above there have been various attempts to classify the way people learn and if you would like to find out more about this there is a huge literature. You can find out more about the various models in Annex 2: References, Section 3. All of the models have some disadvantages: no one model can describe every person all of the time. But they are useful in reminding us that each of the participants will come with a different background and present different opportunities and challenges to us as trainers. It might be comforting to know that a participant who looks bored or restless during your PowerPoint presentation may simply not be experiencing his/her preferred learning style and will participate more actively in group work or personal reflection!

It is inevitable that our participants will not all share the same preferred learning style – and in any case the learning style of an individual can change from time to time. The trainer may not know how each of the participants learn best: indeed, the participants may not know themselves. Even if the trainer did know each individual’s learning style, it would be impossible to design a separate programme for each participant. So perhaps the best we can do as a trainer is to remember that we are training adults, and that like any learner, they will find some ways of learning more effective than others. The trainer should try to use a variety of delivery methods so that no-one has to work harder than anyone else all the time. In the next section we shall consider effective delivery of the training.

When you have thought carefully about who your participants are, what their needs might be, and how they might learn you should go back to your programme for the training event and double check that it is appropriate for the participants you will be training. Are the sessions in the right order? Can some sessions be left out? Do you need to add anything else? When you are happy with the programme for the event you can start to think about how to deliver it effectively.

Handbook chapters


King, G., 2012. Handbook for training panel members for quality assurance procedures, ECA Occassional Paper. The Hague.