"When you're training someone to be a teacher, you are training that person to be a leader," says Lisa Skow, a specialist in the branch of education sometimes called "training the trainers." Lisa has worked with adult learners from graduate teaching assistants to employees at Amazon.com to health care professionals in the Extended MPH Degree Program at the University of Washington (UW). Across all these fields, she says, the basic tools and processes of empowerment are the same.
These tools can be technical, but the more personal side of the field may be the most rewarding. "What drew me to training teachers," Lisa explains, "is the way you can see them develop. If you can provide them with support and feedback, you realize that there is so much power and leadership that they have to offer."
Illustrating this point, Lisa describes her work with a UW-based nonprofit organization that trained health care workers in developing countries how to teach their rural colleagues methods for treating HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). She talks about working with women constrained by their roles in patriarchal cultures—nurses, for instance, reticent to speak up in the presence of doctors. As these women learned not only how to diagnose HIV and to monitor antiretroviral drug therapies, but also how to teach others the same skills, their increasing empowerment benefited not only themselves but also their patients and communities.
Lisa speaks with equal enthusiasm of her work with Extended MPH Degree Program students. The course she teaches allows health care professionals to create actual workshops or trainings specifically tailored to the needs of their workplaces. In the process, they learn general methods to apply to other situations, but this is "just the basic five-step model. It's boring," Lisa says. "What's exciting is what the students bring to the course" the specific possibilities and challenges of their projects, whether those are developing a needle safety training program for their staff or creating a sex education workshop for parents.
Lisa's MPH course, focused on adult learning and training, takes place partially online, and although she regrets the reduction of face-to-face contact that this entails, she is also intrigued by the possibilities online education will offer in the future. At Amazon.com, she also works with online learning, managing instructional designers who create online tutorials. In the world of corporate training, she says, "you can't be a traditionalist if you want to stay employed." More importantly, she hopes that the Internet will democratize adult education. Eventually, she sees a possibility that it will "change the landscape of society," harnessing education's power to create and spread empowerment. After all, this is the power of "training the trainers"—if the students she teaches then inspire and teach others, the possibilities are potentially limitless.