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Training volunteers on tech teams
Each level of this taxonomy builds on the previous level, and it starts with the most basic concepts.

Keep it Simple: Training Team Members Starts with the Basics

Before determining how we will train new team members, it is important to understand how people learn, in general.

How many times have you seen this happen … a brand-new volunteer shows up to learn how to run a camera, so you put your most seasoned camera operator in charge of showing them the ropes.

The six categories of Bloom’s Taxonomy are (in this order): Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, Create.

Within five minutes, though, your veteran has inexplicably plunged into a master class with that volunteer about the intricacies of shooting the close-up “down the neck” shot of the electric guitar. Then he quickly moves onto the finer points of the tight follow for the preacher, who has a tendency to bolt across the stage with no warning whatsoever.

In the midst of that, you find that the new trainee has either had their eyes completely glazed over, or they;re ready to bolt across the floor, to the preschool ministry to see if they’re looking for volunteers.

I don’t think it would shock you that if I said that when training new team members, it is important to start with the basics, and keep things simple.

Unfortunately, too often, we do the complete opposite!

There are many reasons for this, but oftentimes, it is because we (or our veteran volunteer) have been doing this for so long, that we have forgotten what it’s like to not know anything about it.

We forget that this person who has shown up for the first time, wanting to learn how to run camera, is actually a CPA or a sales manager for a parts manufacturer when not volunteering, and he or she has never touched a camera before.

It’s easy to do.

We need to find ways, though, to overcome this negligence, if we want to create successful volunteers.

Before determining how we will train new team members, it is important to understand how people learn, in general.

A fantastic tool to help explain this is Bloom’s Taxonomy. In 1956, Benjamin Bloom, along with several others, created a framework for categorizing educational goals and it has been applied ever since then for K-12 education (Armstrong, P. Bloom’s Taxonomy.).

This philosophy posits that people learn with maximum retention when they are taught the foundational building blocks first, and then that foundation is built upon, with gradually increasing complexity.

In other words, we don’t learn the English language by starting to read a novel; we begin with learning the alphabet and building from there.

The six categories of Bloom’s Taxonomy are (in this order): Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, Create. In the graphic above, note the words that are associated with each level of the pyramid.

As you can clearly see, each level of this taxonomy builds on the previous level, and it starts with the most basic concepts.

Where we get in trouble is when we expect a team member to be able to analyze a situation, when he or she doesn’t even have the knowledge to name the parts of the camera or console!

For those of us who have been doing this for many years, this means we need to take a step back and think about how to break down complex and technical operations into palatable, bite-sized chunks.

The first step in developing a “Bloom’s-appropriate” training system, is to determine what the goals are for each position. Ask yourself these three questions:

1. Which positions on my team are appropriate for brand new volunteers?

If you have a larger tech team with multiple positions, it’s not likely that a greenhorn is going to jump into the director’s chair. You also might not want that person running the tight follow camera for the sermon.

Always make sure you have identified positions that are realistic for a new person, who might need some time to get his or her skills developed and honed.

2. What do I actually need this position to be able to do (bare minimum)?

It’s easy to look at a position and feel like we need to teach this person everything about it. But most of the time, this is scalable. Does your lighting operator need to know how to program effects and macros, or do you just need them to hit “GO” at the right time? This is a great reason to create different “levels” of operators depending on how much training they’ve received. This also keeps them in a constant mode of improving, with the prospect of achieving the next level.

3. How much do I need this position to know/understand?

This might seem an odd question or possibly very similar to the second question, but the idea is, it is important that we not create a bunch of “fader monkeys,” who have no idea why they’re doing what they do. When teaching someone how to run a camera, we want them to understand the basics of how a lens works so they know why focus gets harder the more you zoom in.

The question is, do you start by introducing them to Charles L. Chevalier’s original invention in 1840 and work your way forward in the history of lenses, or is it OK to just show them a diagram of the particular lens you’re using? I’ll leave that up to you…

Now that these questions have been answered, there’s actually a fourth question to ask – “How do we train them without blowing their minds (in a bad way)?”

Well, you have to answer this for your specific ministry, but here are my guidelines:

First, create an outline of all the things you believe this position needs to know at a given level (always start with a “Level 1” operator to determine the bare bones needed for that role). This outline should include all of the basics – observation time, history lessons, objectives/goals for this position, gear introduction, gear operation, how to communicate on intercom, etc.

Don’t be afraid to get very specific on this outline, because this is the backbone you will build out into training materials. These outlines are best created with a small group of experienced team members.

It is vital to have multiple perspectives on what needs to be learned and how, but it’s even more important that everyone has buy-in on the plan!

The outline also allows your team to evaluate in what order the elements need to be taught, and it brings up some great clarifying questions.

Do we teach them how to use the intercom, before or after the lesson on zooming and focusing? Do we allow them to touch the gear before they do an observation? Also, how do we break this outline up into teachable chunks?

It is beneficial to create multiple “sessions” of training to ensure you’re not trying to cram too much down their throat at once.

The final benefit of the training outline is that it provides a teaching guide for anyone who is doing the training.

As long as all the trainers follow the plan, you are ensured that each and every volunteer is learning exactly what they need to learn and in exactly the correct order. Each trainer may have their own flare they add to the curriculum, but you can be assured you won’t have a camera operator that doesn’t know the difference between pan and tilt.

Hopefully.

What’s my last piece of earth-shattering, mind-blowing (in a good way) advice to you?

Do the training.

Dedicate times for training to happen – Wednesday nights, Saturdays, Sunday afternoons, quarterly workshops – whatever works for your team’s culture and schedule.

Do not neglect the importance of dedicated training time.

Sunday morning before service is not that time.

The reason I stress this point is because we’re crazy busy. As tech/media/communications/creative directors, our lives never stop, and we have a tendency to live in the Urgent.

At the end of the day, it’s easier to throw someone on a camera or a switcher and say, “I’ll talk you through it during the service. You’ll be great.”

This is a disservice to the volunteer, to you, and ultimately, to the worship experience of the congregation.

Put the effort into answering the three questions. Put the effort into getting a team together to create the training outline. Put the effort into doing the training.

Start with the basics and keep it simple. The result will be a worship environment that allows the congregation and broadcast viewers to worship and hear the Word of God without distraction.

And that’s why we do what we do.

 

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