Learning and development (L&D) organizations are consistently challenged by the need to renew and invest in continual improvement efforts. Priorities such as the latest technology, learning management platforms (LMSs), physical resources and training resource development all require ongoing investment.

Within these competing priorities, the question of who is assessing and accelerating the learning and development instructors can sometimes be overlooked. The learning and development efforts of an enterprise are underpinned, in most cases, by a team of highly skilled communicators well versed in flexible adult education delivery methods.

There are multiple professional development pathways to support the skills of an enterprise’s instructors and trainers. However, if we seek to support instructors and trainers to excel within their profession, then we need to consider a professional development approach that demonstrates empathy for the individuals and values their role within the enterprise.

Independent Instructor Observations

Research indicates that traditional professional development programs to improve instruction often do not transfer into real change. So, what makes a successful professional development program?

A successful program is:

  • Underpinned by the rapid embedding of the learning into the workplace.
  • Adhesive (includes support within the enterprise to ensure the training “sticks” and is applied to the day-to-day operations).
  • Intensive (includes one-on-one support).
  • Sustained (occurs over time).
  • Focused on a specific skill set.
  • Supported with active learning.

Independent instructor observations encompass all these qualities to ensure the successful professional development of all enterprise instructors. They enable an enterprise to train and encourage instructors as they develop their training skills. The independent observer helps ensure the delivery of honest, transparent and sensitive feedback to the instructor. In this way, each instructor in a learning and development team can feel supported to continue to develop his or her adult education skills and knowledge.

Characteristics of an Independent Observer

It’s important to respect the word “independent” here. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “not influenced or controlled in any way by other people, events, or things.” The instructor observation process must be independent of daily hierarchical relationships within the enterprise to reduce the risk of a conflict of interest. If the feedback is to be received as professional development, then the individual observing the training room must also be credible.

Qualities of a credible independent observer include:

  • Integrity.
  • Advanced training and assessment skills.
  • Independence from the learning and development team.
  • Excellent communication.
  • Empathy.
  • Tenacity (i.e., The observer has faced and overcome similar challenges throughout his or her career.)
  • Consistently provides a single source of truth (one individual observer reviewing staff).

Prior to the training event, the observer and the instructor should meet briefly. During this meeting, the observer is responsible for summarizing the expected observation approach while providing a copy of the observation report template to the instructor. He or she should clarify the purpose of the observation and answer any questions the instructor has.

The observation process is a formative approach to continual improvement. The outcomes should not be directly linked to workplace promotion or similar advancement; rather, the process should focus on how the instructor develops a high-performance learning environment that produces real-world change within the enterprise. Research shows that when the observation process is clearly presented as a way to support the instructors, independent instructor observations will be welcomed as a credible pathway to continual improvement.


One of the first things the observer should look for is how the instructor greets the learners as they enter the training room. Does the instructor demonstrate a professional, empathetic relationship with the cohort? Does he or she refer to the participants by name as they enter the training room? In a similar way, the observer should take note of the participants and how they interact with each other and the instructor.

It is important to remember that an observer is not evaluating the technical skills of the instructor. The observer is evaluating the training skills on display. During the training event, the priorities of an observer include:

  • Taking notes.
  • Collating media files as evidence for change.
  • Documenting the times that specific events occurred.

With this information recorded, the observer is now prepared for coaching the instructor.


Providing feedback using coaching is a complex process. The observer must provide the feedback in a professional manner, ensuring that it is transparent, specific, targeted and sensitive. Should there be a justifiable need for change, the observer should provide supporting evidence, such as documented critical times, photos, video evidence and student responses. The use of recorded media files helps ensure the coaching is based upon factual evidence. These files should be archived for future professional reflection.

Here are some coaching considerations for the observer:

  • Coaching should occur in private, away from the training cohort.
  • All advice should be factual.
  • The observer should seek a self-assessment from the instructor by asking him or her how the session went. Often, instructors are hard on their performance, so an experienced observer should be prepared to build up the individual by raising an awareness of the strengths of the training event.
  • The observer should discuss strengths and opportunities for improvement in a balanced way.
  • Reenacting specific aspects of the training event and providing the specific time that the talking point occurred can be constructive.
  • The observer should provide media files for review and discussion.
  • The observer should answer any questions and recommend some professional development pathways.
  • The instructor should always leave the conversation feeling positive about his or her future.

Importantly, the observer and instructor must respect confidentiality. If the observer must share information with the supervisor, he or she should ensure the instructor is aware of that protocol.

Observers should always attempt to complete their written observation reports without delay to ensure that they document their observations accurately. In addition, the instructor should receive a copy of the report and an invitation to document his or her feedback within the report. The documented reports become a significant asset within a learning and development department, as they provide longitudinal evidence in relation to ongoing performance.

Assess and Accelerate

With a robust observation reporting tool the Independent Instructor Observation process can provide a learning and development department with considerable standardized data to assess the current strengths of each instructor while also highlighting opportunities for ongoing development. Importantly, over time, this data can contribute to a longitudinal study of the performance of a learning and development team.

A robust observation reporting tool benchmarks instructors’ performance against enterprise responsibilities, such as:

  • Course planning.
  • Session introduction.
  • The training session body.
  • Facilitation skills.
  • Summary techniques.
  • Recommended professional development pathways for continual improvement.
  • Recommended strategies to capitalize on current strengths.

These major headings provide an enterprise with the opportunity to benchmark the progress of its instructors. These benchmarks should be standardized transparently to ensure fair and reliable outcomes. The enterprise can also use recommended professional development pathways to support ongoing performance discussions.

When used professionally, these strategies capitalize on current strengths and can strengthen collaboration within a learning and development department. Once embedded within the enterprise, the independent instructor observation process becomes a unifying influence while, ultimately, enhancing enterprise learning and productivity outcomes.