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Acronyms for Effective Training

Trainers enable people to do something — catch a football, perform heart surgery, ride a bicycle. Educators enable people to know something— the dimensions of a football field, the arterial system, the history of bicycles. All training involves some knowledge imparted before and during training. Therefore, the terms are commonly used interchangeably.

I choose to separate the terms so that we might recognize when we are training and when we are educating. When planning to do anything programmatic, such as constructing a training regimen, I fall back upon a technique learned during my career in the insurance industry. I begin with the Life Insurance Management and Research Association’s (LIMRA) acronym D O M E, or D (diagnosis); O (objectives); M (methods); E (evaluation).


Diagnosis means analyzing or investigating. To make a diagnosis we have to ask a lot of questions. Does the museum have a training program? How much of the training time is spent educating? How effective is the present training program? What should be changed? Why? What standards are used and do the docents being trained know the standards? Are docents meeting performance standards? How do you know? Do the docents know the museum’s objectives? Are the docents meeting the museum’s objectives?

How would you classify your tour visitors? Are they novice viewers, somewhat knowledgeable, or are they among the rare visitors who are very knowledgeable and familiar with the subject and the museum’s collection? Should factual information reign over appreciation for the subject (i.e. – art history versus art appreciation)? What part should the visitor’s age, experience, and personal objectives play in the construction of the docent’s tour objectives?

You can tell from these initial questions that diagnosis should take up the majority of tour planning time.


Objectives are desired outcomes, intentions, or actions expected. Only after diagnosis are we ready to consider the organization’s training objectives. I will list some generic ones here, but each institution’s diagnosis would expose needs that require specific objectives for training. At the time of completion of training, the trainees will be able to demonstrate:

Participatory teaching concepts by conducting a sample tour that, in less than 15 minutes and with at least three works of art, engenders excitement as demonstrated by visitor participation. Comprehension of academic subject matter by passing a final exam based on the study of an art history text and specified museum catalogs. (The test questions would be given to the trainees at the start of the training year.) Communication skills as expressed through verbal and body language, listening, reading, writing, speaking, questioning, and observing.


Methods are the ways, procedures, or techniques used to accomplish objectives. They answer the question, “how do I accomplish the objectives that have been established?”

Allow me to elaborate using a personal example of my own training methods. I use as much physical activity when teaching as possible, including dancing, singing, standing, writing, drawing, reading, debating, or role playing because I believe we never forget most muscular learning. I also try to provide opportunities for discussing sensory impressions: touching, smelling, seeing, hearing, and tasting. I try to use as little passive teaching, such as lecturing, as possible.


The final planning step is evaluation. Evaluation refers to an ongoing examination or appraisal. While self-evaluations are useful, it is best to enlist a neutral party to evaluate results. Evaluators should be able to read and review the entire DOME process and use that information to determine whether the desired outcomes and methods used are achieving the desired objectives.

Effective Training

All trainers, educators, and trainees should know and understand the program’s objectives from the beginning. They should be able to demonstrate knowledge by reciting the objectives and being able to articulate the meaning of these clearly.

The LIMRA Training Manual states, “People learn best when there is motivation for learning, there is knowledge of progress, there is active participation in the learning, and when things are taught in the way they are to be used.” Let’s examine the implications of each of these suggestions to training.

People learn best when there is motivation for learning. During recruitment and selection of docents, a written statement should be given to the applicants. This statement describes the job duties, training, and the physical and mental requirements. As training progresses, the trainee must believe that the training offered will enable him to be successful. If so, the trainee will be motivated to diligently apply himself to that training. Training materials, therefore, should be selected with an emphasis on need-to-know, rather than nice-to-know.

People learn best when there is Active participation in the learning. Passive training is an oxymoron. Being subjected to a lecture is the least effective teaching and is never training. Yes, lecturing is done in schools, but it is still a poor method. And, at least in schools, note taking, textbook and supplemental readings, reciting, reporting, debating, and testing augment such teaching.

Providing people with opportunities to participate makes learning more important, more engaging, and more memorable. It also allows them to further embellish and express their enthusiasms.

People learn best when things are taught the way they are to be used. Participatory training provides docents with a model for their docent work. This is not always done, however. Some trainers actually lecture trainees on how to give inquiry tours! If you would rather talk than show, rethink your program. Trainers/teachers should teach and train using the range of methods they want their trainees to employ as docents.

Remembering the Steps for Training

The first day of a training program is crucial. While we might not recall the 14th session of a program, usually we will remember the first day with great detail. Therefore, an effective trainer should set the tone for training, and convey some of the more important parts of the job, from the very first day of training.

A trainer can remember the I orderly steps involved in training by using another acronym, PESOS, or P (prepare); E (explain); S (show); O (observe); S (supervise). Let’s see how a trainers might apply this acronym on the first day of training.

Prepare. On the first day, we prepare for two events: the entire training program and its first segment. Since docents work in galleries or similar exhibition environments, that is where the training should begin. Trainees should be welcomed, put at ease, and provided with written instructions about the museum’s objectives, reading and research assignments, and a schedule for the entire training program. (Written directions are far better than a long speech.) Then, the next steps of PESOS are put into play, training the trainees to make their first “baby steps” toward becoming docents.

Explain. The trainer explains to trainees what he will be doing during the training session. For instance, he would tell trainees, “I will demonstrate a tour using questions, transitions, and a summary at the end. You should observe and then you will role play the same situation.” Also, explain to trainees who their audience is likely to be. (“Over 95% of our tour visitors are school group and novice viewers.”)

Show. The show step is the trainer’s demonstration of what the trainees will do as docents. The trainer does not tell how to do it, he shows. He does not give out information that others could find for themselves. He does not cheat others — tour visitors or trainees — out of a valuable “aha!” experience.

Observe. This is the step where the trainer becomes an observer and encourager by having the trainees begin to act as docents. It is challenging, as the trainer must resist commenting or interrupting. Observing requires the trainer’s total concentration; he should remain focused and not be thinking of what he wants to say when the trainee stops.

The trainer might have the trainees become “one-minute” docents, having the trainees rotate as timers and stopping demonstrations after exactly one minute. The first one-minute demonstrations might be as simple as asking the trainees to introduce themselves to a fifth grade audience. Observe them and encourage them. Watch the building of confidence, communication skills, and methods as the course progresses.

Supervise. Assist constructively, never destructively. To supervise means to oversee all of the trainees’ work; reading, researching, touring, and role playing. The trainer’s feedback is always non-threatening. Trainers need make few negative remarks. His most important tool is to ask the question, “If you had it to do over, what would you do differently?”

Praise in public and have conversations about possible improvements in private. The only thing better than public praise is private praise of the trainee to his spouse or friend. Also, send encouraging, motivating notes to trainee’s home. Such notes, though deserved, are rarely sent. Once received, they become keepsakes.

While I, myself, do not train docents, I have used this method to train thousands of people in business, as well as volunteers in AARP and many churches. In this article, I have applied this method, which in summary is to plan with DOME and train with PESOS, to docents — volunteers who deserve an effective training program.

Bud Johnson is a docent at the Birmingham Museum of Art, past president of the Alabama Chapter of the American Society of Training and Development, and vice-chair of the National Docent Symposium Council.

Johnson, Bud. “Acronyms for Effective Training,” The Docent Educator 11.1 (Autumn 2001): 10-11.

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