Designing training backwards

Most training design starts from something described as training objectives.

The instructional designer starts with trying to understand what the line management proposing the training expects as outcomes.

Instructional designers will have been taught to use verbs to describe the training objectives. They will use appropriate taxonomy to make sure that the words used are clear in their distinction between knowing, comprehending, evaluating and synthesising knowledge about a particular subject.

Instructional designers will try to understand what participants’ learning styles are to better design learning activities and increase retention of knowledge.

The method of design can be simply shown as:

article - designing training backwards - training design

However, what is needed before training designers begin to worry about taxonomy, learning styles, thinking styles and learning activities is to know what business result is required.

If we can’t work that out, why bother with the training?

Disciplining ourselves to achieve a measurable business outcome will make it more difficult for us in moments of weakness to accede to the type of CV builder training prevalent in some organisations.

From the business outcome we can then think about what desired behaviours will drive the desired business result.

From the desired behaviour we can then, through a gap analysis, start to not only design the learning objectives but the appropriate nature and timing of reinforcing techniques to improve knowledge retention and build skills.

The method can be simply shown as follows:

article - designing training backwards - optimal training design

By taking our time and thinking through what we want training to achieve allows us to also have a better chance of determining methods to evaluate the impact of training using an evaluation methodology such as Kirkpatrick’s four levels of evaluation:

  • Level 1: Reaction
  • Level 2: Learning
  • Level 3: Behaviour
  • Level 4: Results

It is then that we should design the intervention that may combine classroom training computer based training, coaching, projects structured on the job training, revision and refreshers.

Retaining knowledge and building skills

If we are convinced that there is a need for training to improve our business result, and to do so we must change current behaviour, and as a part of that we must impart knowledge to our employees, why do we rarely do anything about making sure that the people who attend training sessions actually retain the imparted knowledge?

Experiential training is the best method of ensuring knowledge is imparted. That is, on-the job follow up training. Sometimes that is not possible, so what can be done? Plenty, is the answer.

For example, quizzes during and after a training course are a fun way to build teamwork, test knowledge and reinforce concepts.

Building a quiz where teams vie to answer questions of different difficulties, “winning” by answering questions correctly and related to the business objective of the training reinforces not only the knowledge they require, but also the context of the concept.

Skilful utilisation of taxonomy can ensure that questions testing knowledge from simple understanding through comprehension to ability to evaluate or synthesise information can be developed to truly test participants and the training itself.

Further still, revising and testing participants’ knowledge within six weeks of learning is known to have a beneficial impact on knowledge retention (from typical values of 12% to 80% within seven weeks of training).

Another approach for complex concepts such as learning a methodology as applied to the real world or a strategy implementation is to build and use board games.

Board games allow organisations to design what “winning” means, to introduce the element of risk and the need to make decisions making as real to life as possible without leaving the classroom.

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