Brief Articles

Preventation Corner

Elaine Harpine, Ph.D.
Elaine Harpine, Ph.D.

This is our third column in our series on developing training programs for prevention groups. We sought advice from two experts in the field of group prevention, Robert K. Conyne, Ph.D. and Arthur M. Horne, Ph.D. who gave us excellent suggestions on designing training programs. We were also reminded in our last column that prevention program training is needed at both the university level for professionals planning to specialize and work with prevention groups and at the community or prevention group level with volunteers, health practitioners, teachers, or others who may be leading or working with prevention groups. Effective training is essential if your prevention group is to be successful.

Training seems to be on the mind of many practitioners as evidenced by the number responses that we received to our last column. The letter chosen for today highlights another problem facing prevention groups and those training prevention group practitioners.


Dear Prevention Corner:

I’ve been following the discussion on training, and I’d like to know– which training approach works best.


Just Wondering


Dear Just Wondering,

You are not the only person seeking an answer to the question: Which training approach works best? There are basically seven different training techniques being used with prevention groups. The basic training methods are: (1) a written training manual, (2) instructor-led training or lecture, (3) interactive group sessions, (4) hands-on training through apprenticeships and internships, (5) computer-based training, (6) online or web-based training, and (7) blended training approaches (using one or more methods together). Let’s take a moment to look at each method individually.

A Written Training Manual

A written training manual is probably one of the most frequently used methods for training, but a written training manual is only as effective as the person writing the manual and the person reading and interpreting the material contained in the manual. A written training manual does not answer questions from confused readers nor does it allow for interaction between the trainer and the trainee. A written training manual does not ensure clarity, and it also does not ensure that the trainee will use the material as instructed. This is a particular problem with prevention group programs. School, community-based, and federally funded organizations are frequently mandated to buy and use evidence-based programs. This sounds good. Yet, there is no way to ensure that those who purchase such evidence-based programs and read the training manuals accompanying these programs actually follow the instructions given in the manual or use the evidence-based program as intended. In such cases, the evidence-based program and those participating in the program end up with less than a satisfactory experience. A written training manual is simply not enough.

Instructor-led Training or Lecture

Most training programs utilize some form of instructor-led training. The most common approach is lecture with or without PowerPoint. The problem with instructor-led training is that it does not include interaction. Questions and answers are not classified as being effective interaction. Anyone who has ever conducted an instructor-led lecture can also testify to the number of participants who have slept through such training sessions. With today’s handheld technology, a training lecture must also compete with easy access to Internet sites and people’s ability to occupy their mind and time with something other than listening to a training lecture. Even with a very dynamic speaker, audiences absorb approximately only one-third of what is said. Clearly, relying on instructor-led training is not adequate.

Interactive Training

Interactive training involves using some form of small group discussion, case studies, or possibly a demonstration. The idea is to get the audience involved and engaged as participants in the training process from beginning to end. Interactive training can be very effective, but it is also time consuming and may restrict its use to only small groups. If you’re facing a room full of 100 people, interactive training will be very complicated.

Hands-on Training

Hands on training may involve a class that goes out and applies and evaluates what they learn, an apprenticeship where a trainee works and learns alongside an established group worker, and an internship which may include classroom instruction as well as working alongside an established group worker. Internships and apprenticeships are sometimes paid training positions as well, which may allow for longer and more in-depth training. Each of these methods of training can be very effective, but they are time-consuming and limit the number of people who can be trained at a time.

Computer-based Training

The newest trend in training is computer-based. Such training may be text only, multimedia (including videos), or virtual reality with an interactive simulation (such as a flight simulator). The most effective computer-based training programs are interactive. Interactive computer-based programs show a greater degree of comprehension of skills by trainees. Cost may be a factor, especially if your program uses interactive simulation and requires special equipment.

Online or E-Training

Web-based training is another form of computer-based training. It may consist of web-based training modules, tele-or-video conferencing (primarily uses lectures or demonstrations), audio conferencing (sound only), web meetings or webinars where trainees dial in to receive audio and/or visual instruction, online college and university classes (distance-learning), collaborative document preparation training (trainer and trainee must be linked on the same network), and email for follow-up questions and reminders. While online training can be very convenient and serve a large population, it limits the actual contact with the trainer. It also requires skills and knowledge of computer-based systems from trainees.

A Blended Training Approach

Blended training uses more than one training method. It may combine instructor led with computer-based training or interactive with hands-on training. The idea is to blend together two training methods that best meet the needs of your group. Research has shown a blended training approach to be more effective with improved training outcomes and to be more cost-efficient financially and in terms of time commitment.

The answer to your question: Which is best? A training program that involves interaction with trainees and engages the trainees in the training process is best. The method that you choose may be influenced by financial constraints, the number of trainees being trained at one time, and the time allotted for training. There is no one simple answer. The true test of training effectiveness comes when your trainees begin to work in your group prevention program. If your training program does not actually train workers to work effectively in a prevention group, it cannot be labeled a success, especially if your purpose is to train prevention group workers. Therefore, do not hesitate to take time and put forth effort in designing your group prevention training program.

We would like to continue this discussion and invite your comments and responses. Our next column will be devoted to the responses that we receive. Let us hear from you. We welcome your participation. We invite psychologists, counselors, prevention programmers, graduate students, teachers, administrators, and other mental health practitioners working with groups to network together, share ideas, problems, and become more involved. Please send comments, questions, and group prevention concerns to Elaine Clanton Harpine at