Monday, December 3, 2012

Instructor Credibility

 Theoretical Basis:  Communications Theory

Classroom Credibility

This topic is a nice change from the previous three process type subjects (testing and test items).  It has been my experience that most instructional design models don’t address the topic.  Information on presentation techniques and an instructor’s behavior are usually found in the communications theoretical basis.   The goal for this blog is to acquaint you with the dimensions of instructor credibility and provide you with methods to enhance it.

Prior Learning

My blog on the Introduction to Communications Theory will act as a basis to build from.  To make the most of this blog you need to have a model of communication to reference and know the attributes and role of the sender and receiver.

What is credibility?

Credibility refers to the objective and subjective components of the believability of a source or message.  Instructor credibility has to do with ability to leverage personal conduct, social practices, professionalism, and contact expertise to command attention and respect from the learners.

Why Does It Matter?

Research indicates that instructor credibility is one of the most important instructor attributes affecting the instructional process (1).   Applying Cognitive Learning Theory, it has to do with our “executive control function”.  The role of the executive control system is to select incoming information, determine how to best process that information, construct meaning through organization and inferences, and subsequently transfer the processed information to long-term memory or choose to delete that information from the memory system altogether.   In short if the message is not credible, we trash it.  Therefore credibiliy directly affects students' effort and behavior; hence learning

The Dimensions of Credibility

There are four major dimensions of instructor credibility: trust, competence, dynamism and immediacy.

Trust is defined as "placing confidence in the other". Trust must be earned through the pedagogical communication process that teachers display with their students. Any violation of this trust can potentially rupture the professional relationship that teachers need to maintain if honest dialogues are to occur.

Competence involves more than simply being knowledgeable. It involves a perception that others have of people concerning their degree of knowledge on topics, abilities to command such knowledge, and abilities to communicate this knowledge clearly. Teachers constantly face being evaluated and tested by students, concerning their level of knowledge on a variety of subjects.

Dynamism basically is the degree to which the audience admires and identifies with the source's attractiveness, power or forcefulness, and energy. This dimension correlates strongly to a person's level of charisma.

Immediacy is the level of distance both physical and psychological between himself or herself and the student.

The following table is a compilation from various books and articles of examples and suggestions for increasing one’s credibility by dimension (see references below).





Adapting messages to listeners by being genuinely sincere and honest in the presentation of information

Project an image of professionalism

Carry yourself with smooth movements and exude confidence

Demonstrate openness to learners

Always follow up with learners and keep promises (real or implied)

Identifying strengths and weaknesses in information (e.g., reliability, biases) to demonstrate the speaker's honesty in presenting messages

Demonstrate a relaxed and comfortable posture (don’t slouch)

Show respect for all learners

Introducing sources (which may be trusted by students) used to develop class material

Seek feedback about yourself

Develop a powerful style of speaking that uses few verbal or vocal hesitancies

Accept differences of opinion and experiences

Explaining the soundness of the evidence that can help to reinforce trust between teacher and student

Familiarize yourself with the training material and content

Vary physical movements to complement the message

Provide all learners with equal amounts of attention and avoid favoritism

Earning trust by showing trust towards students in the educational process

Describe your professional and academic credentials (but don’t brag)

Use gestures to describe and reinforce

Avoid inappropriate humor

Admit mistakes of lack of knowledge and apologize if necessary and appropriate

Prepare, Prepare, prepare for training delivery

Use a variety of evidence, stories, visual aids, that add interest to the message

Establish eye contact with the entire class by periodically scanning the entire class

Demonstrate acceptable social practices

Answer questions accurately and thoroughly

Avoid a monotonous communication style

Smiling to disarm and relax students

Handle sensitive issues discreetly

Use appropriate terminology and avoid jargon

Speak in color, expressing life, emotion, and animation

Attempt to reduce distance when possible by moving or away from barriers (e.g., desks podiums)

Demonstrate consistency in your works and actions during training and outside of training


Have a strong ending


Dispelling a Urban Legend – Or Opportunity for improvement

As the adage goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. So don’t waste it!

In my opinion, the good practice of gaining your audiences’ attention by stating an “interesting fact or surprising statistic” gets abused by just spouting facts.  I think of our typical safety meeting that starts with some obscure statistics about how many “whatevers” happen every year.  I guess they forget about the interesting and surprising part.

I think Heath & Heath(1) suggest a better alternative “When we’re trying to build a case for something, most of us instinctively grasp for hard numbers. But in many cases this is exactly the wrong approach.” Let the learner test your ideas.  Instead ask a simple question that allows the learner to test for themselves.

Now you have it – now you don’t

I think one of the results of the information rich society is that our learners are less impressed by credentials.   Allgeier suggests, “Your position, status, or roles in life have nothing to do with your personal credibility factor. Different people play different roles in their careers, jobs, and other activities—and some are roles of very high authority—however, there’s no lasting connection between higher status/power and personal credibility (2).”    You gain or lose credibility through your behavior.  Instructor credibility must be earned in the classroom.

Make a Plan

Credibility is one of 14 competencies identified by the International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction (IBSTPI).  Ask one of your peers to review the competency dimension table above and identify an area you can improve in.  Set a SMART goal to improve that area.

Happy Holidays!



(1 )Heath, C. & Heath, D. (2007) Made to Stick; Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Random House Publishing. New York, New York.

(2) Allgeier Sandy. (2009) The Personal Credibility Factor, The How to Get It, Keep it, and Get It Back (If You’ve Lost It. Financial Times Press.  Upper Saddle River, New Jersey

King Stephen, B. King Marsha, and Rothwell William, J. (2001) The Complete Guide to Training Delivery: A Competency-Based Approach.  American Management Association. New York, New York

Haskins, W. (2000, March 3). Ethos and pedagogical communication: Suggestions for enhancing credibility in the classroom. Current Issues in Education [On-line], 3(4). Available:

Zhang, Qin (2009) Perceived teacher credibility and Student Learning: Development of a Multicultural Model. Western Journal of Communications. Vol 73, No. 3, July-September 2009, pp. 326-347