Cut through the noise
Which learning strategies provide the greatest return with limited training time? Which engage learners, but also enable personal reflection? Cause learners to work hard, but also play with purpose? Allow learners to fail in a safe setting, but also set learners up for success? These are not conflicting opposites. They are the mix of learning strategies that provide the greatest return in a limited amount of time—and, frankly, in any amount of time. How does an instructional designer remain true to these tenets?
In Same Training, Half the Time, I outline four techniques to support you in this, offer more than 65 examples of and ideas for applying them, and provide a self-assessment to rate how well you are maximizing training time. To get you started, below are the four techniques and one example in support of each.
These four techniques apply equally to instructor-led, self-paced e-learning, online synchronous, and one-on-one training events:
Shift From Information Provider to Information Miner
Your challenge as an instructional designer is not finding the most compelling, clear, and straightforward way to explain a technique, model, action, or piece of knowledge. Instead, having found the most direct route, your challenge is devising a process that, when followed, will consistently cause learners to discover it for themselves.
Bottom line, packaging content isn’t your role…developing experiences is. For example, instead of building slides showing a process and scripting an explanation of the process, try providing small groups with slips of paper listing steps of the process. Direct groups to arrange them in what they believe to be chronological order. Observe groups’ progress and share feedback, tips, and direction as they work. Reveal the process and have them compare their work to it. Facilitate a discussion around their questions on steps they misplaced. (In e-learning this can be a drag-and-drop exercise.) Then provide a case study or scenario in which learners apply the process.
Be a Curator
The word curator comes from the Latin curare, meaning "to take care." As an instructional designer, your role is to take care of the learners—providing what they require to succeed and insulating and protecting them from, well, everything else.
So, put up a fence. Limit admission. And curate an exceptional experience. Here is a strategy to try: create multiple versions of courses targeted to specific population subsets. In this approach, you design the “base course” and tailor content based on the participants. For example, your global call center academy can be customized for teams working in the United States, Canada, Asia, and the European Union. Differing regulations, cultural norms, customer expectations, and product features are a few of the variables that may influence what is vital and what is nonessential in the multiple versions.
Integrate Six Essential Components to Maximize Learning
When you are building your design—the process the training will follow—integrate and defend the inclusion of these six components:
While these read like common sense, common sense isn’t all that common, as my grandmother used to say! I’ll expand here on self-reflection. Each time I lead a learning event for instructional designers or trainers to hone their craft, when we pause the instruction to allow time for self-reflection, I consistently ask the learners if those 5 to 7 minutes were useful to them. Did taking that time increase their likelihood of using the content covered so far in the practice of their work? Universally, the answer is “yes.” Next, I point out that I asked these questions to help them see how critical it is to provide learners with this time—even when, as designers or trainers, we are feeling the pressure of squeezing in one more content piece. Resist cutting training time that is dedicated to reflection.
Leverage the Trainer’s Function
Would anyone dispute that the trainer is a critical component of any learning experience? I am willing to bet it is a rare person that would. So, what is an instructional designer to do – build a course and hope for the best? No. In addition to designing and developing engaging learning based on a sound analysis, there are ways instructional designers can support trainers to achieve success. One of them is to build the trainers’ tools first.
Reality check: Is a facilitator guide the last item you develop for a course—if you create one at all? Often, designers place priority on building the materials learners receive. This is all wrong. Process trumps content, and process resides in facilitator guides. Besides, you can give a learner a blank piece of paper (some argue you should, in fact), but you can’t give a trainer a blank book and expect them to recognize, understand, or adhere to your design.
As you integrate these four techniques, recognize that they complement one another and, when combined, become exponentially more valuable at increasing retention and performance. Resist the urge to think of these strategies as standalone. Instead, look for ways to leverage all four into your final solutions—regardless of delivery format.
This excerpt is from Same Training, Half the Time. You can also find Kimberly's design work in two titles from the best-selling ATD Workshop Series: Customer Service Training and Facilitation Skills Training, as well as in EdTrek courses.
©2018 Kimberly Devlin, All rights reserved