Being an Adjunct Professor Made Me a Better Trainer


In addition to my Federal gig, I have a side job that I adore: I’m an adjunct professor at a local college. I don’t do it for the money (I often wonder if it costs more for them to prepare and print my W2 than to pay me for a semester). It’s a labor of love that I started doing purely for the passion, and then soon realized that the skills I was learning as an adjunct were making me a better trainer in my office. In addition to analytical work, customer service and office politics, I spend a great deal of my time training. Being an adjunct has really upped my training game and now I’ll share these skills with you, so that you don’t have to help a bunch of straight-out-of-high school teenagers find the pancreas in a fetal pig.

Think of your new hires as bored teenagers.

They’re not, and I’m not being insulting, but they will be very, very bored after days or weeks of training and I find the easiest way to develop training strategies is to assume that they’re my first year undergraduate students with the attention span of a toddler and the attitude of a 17 year-old. If I can keep a group of undergraduates entertained(ish) for 3 hours, I can do it with a motivated adult who is getting paid to learn a job.

PowerPoints are boring.

Even my most motivated students’ eyes glaze over when I start talking about the Krebs Cycle via PowerPoint. While sometimes they are necessary, try to limit your use of PowerPoint and come up with more engaging training methods such as demonstrations, quizzes, and OJT (on the job training).


Even if you do use PowerPoint, engage your trainees – think of PowerPoint as (brief!) notes to guide you, as opposed to an actual lecture. When using PowerPoint or similar programs, don’t face the screen – face your trainees and talk to them directly: ask them questions, vary the tone of your voice and get them involved, only turn to your PowerPoint to keep yourself on track.

Let them get their hands dirty.

In my laboratory I don’t walk my students through an entire lab before having them get started, I give brief instructions and a briefer demonstration and set them loose, this applies to most workforce trainings too. A good rule of thumb is to spend 10 minutes showing someone something for every 30 minutes of letting them play with it. I generally spend 10 minutes getting someone acquainted with a system, and then I sit back and let them drive, answering questions and giving pointers along the way. You’ll see a lot less yawning this way.

 Ask questions.

Do less talking and more asking, then listening. Generally I will speak for 10-15 minutes and then ask a few questions to ensure that the material was understood. If it wasn’t, I realize sooner rather than later that I need to explain the concept better.

Daily de-brief.

At the beginning of every class, I ask my students open-ended questions about how they are feeling about key concepts, the material and the class in general. If I could give only one piece of advice for training, it would be to have a 5-10 minute de-brief every single day to ensure that the new hire is happy, comfortable with the material and feels that their needs are being met. Nothing is worse than finding out after 3 weeks that a new hire is miserable and confused – address any issues every day and you ensure a more successful training

Give lots of breaks.

Regardless of how brilliant and engaging you are (and I know you all are!), new hires need breaks. Lots of them. Learning new material is mentally exhausting. I give at least one 15 minute break every hour in the first few days of training. This allows new hires to answer phone calls, go for a walk, grab a snack, socialize and decompress. When they come back, there is always a marked increase in energy and engagement

When all else fails, there’s always Jeopardy!

Don’t underestimate the power of Jeopardy (or similar games) when your new hires are starting to get bored. It may seem silly, but you’d be surprised how much a quick fun (and educational) game can get both students and new hires re-engaged. I made a Jeopardy game for my office with questions relating to key concepts in the training and it always goes over well with new hires (and students!).

Samantha McCormick is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Hannah Moss

Wow – wish you had been a professor for some of my college classes! Great tips equally applicable to workplace training. Thanks for sharing!


Very cool – I’ve had friends adjunct who’ve said the same (the $ ends up being minimum wage they said if really looked at it)