Training Design: The Essence Of Creating A Learning Experience

Training Design: The Essence Of Creating A Learning Experience
Summary: For all industries, in order to create an “experience” for the consumer (of all products and services), organizations are moving towards having the design team be involved right from the conception of the thought around the product/service to the very end. This is also true for training design in the training industry.

Creating Effective Training Design 

A huge percentage of training still happens through an instructor-led (and centered) session, using a few hundred slides that participants have to sit through and be bored to death by the end of it. Talk about experience! Let’s consider the question: How many training managers, trainers, and Subject Matter Experts think of training design when considering conducting a workshop, program, or even a session for a group of people? When the content is the shark, it eats up your program! Since the focus is on covering a topic and the associated content and not on the “learning experience” for the participants, the content is put onto slides and the participants are made to labor through the same. Gone is the experience, and let’s not even talk about the learning that had to happen.

The Problem And Its Solution

What is appalling is this: Not just the structure of training, but also the foundational aspects of training design (analysis and objectives) are completely missing. The program or the session is so focused around the content, that the expected outcomes and takeaways have also been removed from the picture.

Internal training managers, trainers, and Instructional Designers must take the responsibility of consulting with the Subject Matter Experts on putting together a design-based structure for their sessions and programs. A little extra effort not only will make the entire experience worthwhile for the participants, but also will boost achievement. Furthermore, over a period of time, the Subject Matter Experts will too build skills for basic design and they will be grateful for the enhanced effectiveness of their sessions. The training team must look at this as an opportunity to help their learners build confidence; a great training experience cultivates a rewarding participatory culture.

Why An Analysis Is Important

In the training field it is presumed that most people have heard of the ADDIE model and the variants or newer approaches in the market today (such as SAM). Whichever approach one may adopt, first and foremost they must be clear about the requirements. The root cause analysis must bring up what is happening (or not), why it is happening, and what is its impact on business outcomes. It must also present data of facts and figures that support the aforementioned. Finally, it must present the perspectives of people who are key stakeholders around the issue: Primarily the business head, the manager of the team that runs a process, the team members, internal/external customers, and the HR spoc who partners with the business team. Once the skills and/or knowledge gap is identified, it is important to look at the components of the competency/ies that need to be addressed, as well as the associated tasks that people must perform using these competencies. The other part would be an understanding of the audience demographics, the environment they operate in, any external limitations/conditions that affect their performance, past training on the selected competencies, and their motivation for participating in a skill-building initiative. This makes the analysis comprehensive.

A clear and thorough analysis should help put in place the objectives for the intervention (even if it is a single session), and avoid confusion on the expected outcomes. The objectives set the foundation for everything else that is to come; be it content, instructional methodologies, level and methods for evaluation. Many a times they could even be informing non-obvious aspects, such as the choice of venue and the training environment (depending on whether the context is highly formal or casual, or if simulation- and action- oriented aspects need to be built in)!

Other Key Requirements

We have now set the base for the design. One cannot imagine a proper training design unless the specifications are duly mentioned/charted. It would only be guess work and end up as a spray and pray exercise. Further, the components of design now require considering how to club objectives into certain sessions, and also the instructional strategies (classroom, digital, blended, how exactly in digital) that will come together to create a design for the overall program/session. In order to ensure that there is sincere participation, the preamble has to be set. This means that the importance and benefits of the program need to be well established with the key stakeholders. Respective roles of the business head, managers, participants, and the HR spoc must be clearly communicated. The manager’s involvement is key: It is they who are in the best position to set expectations, provide support, review progress, coach where required, and also arrange for on-the-job practice of concepts and skills.

Given that an overall workshop design has been created with several sessions put together, and that it addresses all the objectives identified earlier, training design now requires that each session also be detailed out in terms of the flow, of the content in conjunction with the instructional strategy, and the key messages that must be delivered through it. While various models have been created and are also followed across the Instructional Design world, two popular ones happen to be Helen Keller’s ARCS, and Donna E Walker’s session Wheel, also known as the Walker’s Cycle. This write up is not meant to go deep into Instructional Design; hence a detailed explanation of these models is not being presented here. Suffice to say that both these models combine very beautifully the different learning preferences of participants, while presenting the concepts and their practice in a synergistic manner. E.g., the Walker’s Cycle brings together storytelling, videos, group exercises/team-based processing, and case studies, or role play-based application of the concepts. This not enables coverage of concepts and their application, but also engages participants with a preference for observational, thinking, or kinesthetic styles of learning.

All this is encapsulated into a reinforcement-based approach for recalling or evaluating what people have assimilated from the program or session through the use of interactive quizzes, sharing of best moments, or creating a plan for applying classroom practice in real life.

Such a structured approach to learning assures a higher rate of work efficiency. If the goal is learning to ultimately lead to a performance change, it is prudent that an adequate investment of time and effort is made in training design of the experience for the participants.