Tips for New Designers

We have all been subjected to poorly designed training.  We certainly know it when we are subjected to it.  Poorly designed courses are usually designed with only the instructor in mind.  New or inexperienced designers usually think in terms of what the instructor should do next.  This is why you get training where the adult learners are disinterested because of a lack of involvement.  As designers we should be considering what the learners should be doing next more than what the instructor does. 

The percentage of instruction should be roughly 1/3rd, while practice and evaluation should account for the remaining 2/3rds.  For example if I am conducting a training session that lasts 6 hours, The instructor should only be presenting to the class for a total of two of those hours.  The remaining time would be for the learners to practise what they have learned and for the instructor to offer feedback in one form or another. 

Be sure to break down your instruction into small manageable chunks of information.  You would not want an instructor to present for 2 hours and then expect the learners to practice everything they have learned for those remaining 4 hours.  Structure your course into step-by-step instructions placed in the order they would be performed back on the job.  For example if you were teaching how to change a tire, you may want one lesson just on using a jack.  You might spend 10 minutes demonstrating the skill and instructing the learners and then give them 20 minutes to practice what they have learned.  During this time you would wander through the classroom environment offering feedback and encouragement.

When I find a topic interesting, I sometimes make the mistake of providing too much information during training.  I love learning the history and the answers to all the "why" questions, but not everyone is like me.  Be sure to eliminate or reduce the nice-to-know information.  Again if you were instructing people on how to change a tire, you may want to provide the advantages of knowing this skill.  This is often referred to as the "What's in it for me" element, which certainly speaks to the principles of adult learning.  In this case I would not want the history of the tire and how it was developed and perhaps a review of all the possible road hazards that could cause the need to use your spare.  While some learners may be interested in the nice-to-know information, it is not crucial to performing the job task, and will be perceived by most learners as a waste of time. 

Consider the frequency and importance to which the skills are being performed.  If the learners are conducting this new job task on a daily basis and/or it is critical to the organization then spend more time on this training.  If on the other hand the job task is used only once in while and/or has only a small impact on the organization, spend less time training.  Even better would be to develop job aids that break down the infrequent job tasks into to easy to follow step-by-step instructions.  These job aids could eliminate the need for your learners to memorize steps that they will not be using on a daily basis.

Much can be learned by conducting a pilot. Whenever time permits, pilot your course.  Build the additional days needed into your development plan, and schedule participants in advance so that you can be sure their schedule will permit them the time to review your training.  By the time you have a final draft of the course, you will have been exposed to the content for a great deal of time.  You will no longer be objective as to determining if the learning objectives can be effectively met by simply reviewing your own work.  The fresh eyes, ears and mouths of others can tell you if they are able be engaged, and retain the new knowledge and skills.