External training: Buyer beware!

Choosing the right external training course can be difficult – here Louise Morris provides some pointers.

It seems as though anyone can set up a training company and deliver courses. There are a vast number of training courses on the market, with seemingly no regulation to follow. Some courses are mandated and must go through an awarding body, but many are unaccredited and do not pass through any form of quality review before being rolled out.

As the market is so competitive and accreditation can be costly per course, many training providers choose to forgo accreditation to keep training costs low for the customer, especially for short continuing professional development (CPD) courses.

There are some training providers that will have robust internal quality processes in place to ratify courses before they are delivered and will review them periodically to ensure they are up to date, however this doesn’t always happen.

There can be a misconception that courses are all much of a muchness, but in reality, the quality can vary immensely. Positive online reviews are not always a good indicator of good training, although nice to see, they do not always reflect quality.

The trainer should have real-life experience of the subject to be able to handle complex questions and contextualise what they are teaching.

Often learners will not know that what they have been taught is insufficient, incorrect or out of date. They may well have been entertained or liked the trainer, but having enjoyed training is not the outcome that you are looking for when selecting training (although that is important of course!). So how do you choose a good quality course?

As a customer, there are basics to look for, all of which should be available to you, with a little groundwork, before purchasing the course.

  1. Expertise of trainer
  2. Well written learning objectives
  3. Engaging and up-to-date resources
  4. Clear assessment methods


Expertise of the trainer

The trainer profile should be available to you. If a company is offering 200 short courses but has only six trainers, then this is could be a red flag. The trainer should have real-life experience of the subject to be able to handle complex questions and contextualise what they are teaching.

Learners want a master class, delivered by a credible subject matter expert in that field, not a ‘jack of all trades’ approach from a trainer who is just one page ahead in the text book.

Well written learning objectives

When browsing a course, the learning objectives (LOs) should be available and they should be specific and not just a list of topics to be covered. It should be very clear what is expected of learners and the depth of the knowledge that they will require, including any prior knowledge that might be needed.

From the LOs, you can also get a good idea of the level at which the course pitched. If a customer was looking for a beginners cookery course to train her team to bake a quiche,  reviewing the LOs of different courses would help her to select the most suitable.


For example,  there is a big difference between ‘Understand how to bake a quiche’ and ‘Demonstrate how to bake a quiche’ or even ‘Explain the steps required in baking a quiche’. ‘Understand how to bake a quiche’ is too vague, meeting this objective could be simply knowing that there is a pastry base and an egg mixture that goes into the oven for a while and comes out as a quiche.

‘Explain’ requires learners to be able to talk through each step in detail, while ‘demonstrate’ requires the learner to show that they understand by baking the quiche. If the LO states ‘Critically analyse the ingredients of quiche Lorraine’, the customer can see that this course is unsuitable as it doesn’t include any practical skills, is not pitched at the beginner and is too narrowly focused in one area.

Engaging and up-to-date resources

As a customer, you can ask to see the resources that will be used. Check them and consider if they are engaging and credible. A PowerPoint should have minimal, clear text and a good balance of activities, pictures and graphics so that it won’t send the learners to sleep.

References can be a quality marker; if they are few in number or even completely absent is not a good sign; while out-of-date or obscure references, perhaps relating to another country should send warning signals. Ask someone with the subject knowledge to check through the PowerPoints slides if you are concerned about the quality or lack of references, it is often obvious when things are incorrect.

Going back to the cookery course scenario, if the slides mention cooking by broiler or in Fahrenheit, it may be suspected that the slides have been taken from an American source.

Use judgement if this is identified; while it may be okay to use American sources in cooking, in other scenarios like healthcare it would not be right to solely refer to the normal range for body temperature in Fahrenheit.

Clear assessment methods

In a half-day CPD course, you would not expect a formal assessment, but good trainers should be able to evidence that learning has taken place and that the LOs have been met. It could be a competency assessment for a practical skill or it could be a quiz for assessing knowledge, but there should be something.

If it is not clear from the course materials, then ask. Many skills are taught and assessed through simulation, but may need follow-up assessments in the workplace to achieve competence.

It is a buyer’s market for training, with the customer holding the cards and if they do the groundwork, they will reap the rewards in having a well-trained, competent workforce.


About the author

Louise Morris is a  freelance clinical trainer and care industry consultant.


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