A Simple, Proven Way to Design Any Type of Training

 | December 26,2013 11:45 am IST

There are as many instructional-design models as there are package deals to Europe..

For my taste, many are too basic (e.g., the three-step models), while others are much too elaborate (e.g., the 20-step models with arrows going every which way). If you happen to agree, you may find the approach I use and recommend to be the happy medium you've been looking for.

It works for all major categories of training, including executive/ management, marketing/ sales, and technical. It's applicable to virtually all modes of delivery, including online, traditional classroom, on-the-job training, and blended learning (a combination of modes). And it can get you from point A to point B in the safest, most efficient manner I'm aware of.

Unlike most other models, which display major steps as cryptically labeled tasks, this model consists of a set of important questions. Since discussion around key questions is ultimately the way an instructional-design team explores learning needs and scopes out solutions, the rationale for a question-driven model should be apparent.

A close-up look

Each step of the recommended approach is elaborated upon below. The steps are strategically sequenced, enabling the design team to: 1) focus on one task at a time, 2) use the output of each step to facilitate the completion of the next one, and 3) apply checks and balances to safely stay on track throughout the process.

1. Is training really the answer?

The training director of a financial-services company told me about a department that had received, in one year, extensive training in team-building from two qualified consulting firms. Less than four months after the second consulting firm delivered its program, the department manager approached the training director for the name of another firm he could try.

After a brief discussion, the training director asked: "If the lives of your employees depended on it, do you think they could effectively apply what they’ve learned about team-building?" His reply, "Well, yes. They definitely know what to do and how to do it. The trouble is, they don’t do it consistently."

Performance gaps can result from any combination of factors (e.g., lack of know-how, confusion over priorities, no accountability, insufficient incentives and rewards, etc.). One quick way to determine whether training is warranted is to get an answer to the kind of question the training director asked. Only if it is decided that target audience members couldn’t perform properly "if they had to" should you proceed to step two.

2. What background information do we need to collect and from whom should we get it?

Questions must be asked to fully understand target-audience characteristics: what participants should come away with as a result of instruction; any anticipated constraints on the design, development, production, delivery, evaluation, and maintenance of the training; and a host of other matters. People in a position to answer such questions (e.g., managers of the target audience, a sampling of target audience members, subject-matter experts, etc.) should be identified and interviewed by the design team, using a comprehensive set of pertinent questions.

3. Based on the data collected, what exactly does our audience need to know, do, and feel as a result of the training?

By answering the question "Upon completing the training, what exactly do we want our audience to know, do, and feel?" a list of specific outcomes (i.e., learning objectives) results. The objectives (formally drafted by the design team) are passed to project stakeholders, who review them for clarity, accuracy, and comprehensiveness. Only after the learning objectives are approved should the design team proceed to the next step.

4. In order for our audience to come away with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes specified, what content should be addressed?

For each of the approved learning objectives, this question is asked: "In order for the audience to be able to attain this particular objective, what content must be covered?"

The output - after the question has been answered for all of the learning objectives - is a detailed list of topics, subtopics, and components of subtopics analogous to a textbook’s table of contents.

The items listed should be sequenced in accordance with how they would actually be presented in training. Finally, an "Introduction" unit (including a listing of its subtopics/components) is added to the front of the content outline and a "Conclusion" unit (including a listing of its subtopics/components) is added to the end of the content outline. The accuracy of the content outline should then be confirmed by a subject-matter expert(s).

5. What’s the best way to get each item of content noted across to our audience?

Appropriate learning activities are chosen for each item of content (i.e., topic, subtopic, or component of subtopic) based on what’s known about the mode or modes of delivery to be used, the audience’s likes and dislikes of various learning activities, and anticipated constraints (all data gleaned from step one).

For each element of content, this question is asked: "What’s the best way to put this across to our audience?" Each learning activity is noted next to each element of content (as listed in the previous step), along with the estimated time required to complete the activity. When completing this step, it’s important to be keenly aware that some learning activities that seem perfectly appropriate may in fact be perfectly unsuitable.

For example, several years ago the national director of a major accounting firm asked me to drop all references to role-playing in a design document I was preparing for his firm’s managing-partner curriculum. I was surprised by the request and asked him why. His reply: "They don’t take role-playing seriously. We’ve tried it a couple of times. It bombed each time. Now they’ll have no part of it." The lesson: Each target audience must be viewed as unique. What works beautifully with audience members in one firm may fail miserably with their counterparts in another.

6. Looking at our "snapshot" of what is to be covered and how it is to be covered, how can we encourage the transfer of learning from the place of study to the place of work?