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ATD Blog

How to Structure a Course


Wed Oct 29 2014

How to Structure a Course
  • You’ve gathered all the relevant content necessary to write a training course. You are sitting in front of your computer screen ready to knock out the slides.  But you are stuck.

    What is the best way to structure the content? Where do you begin?

    When instructional designers get stuck, they naturally fall back on what they know: the model for teaching they saw year after year in school. So, they group related chunks of content together to form topics. Then they string these topics together in an order that seems to make logical sense.

    For example, here is the original structure of a product knowledge course for a sales team that I ended up re-designing: 

  • Introduction & Objectives

  • Background on the New Product

  • New Product Features & Benefits

  • Comparison of the New Product to Competitive Offerings. 

  • Looks pretty good, right? But there is a hidden issue with this approach that makes it less effective than it could be.

    Think about it. Basically, one of the most important aspects of the sales job is to answer questions from prospective customers. Answering questions could take the form of making sure that answers to top-of-mind questions are embedded into the sales presentation. Or, it could mean being prepared with a ready answer during meetings, phone calls, and email exchanges.

    The above approach to the training structure assumes that learners will translate what they learn into answers to these questions. It is an extra step that top performers will take. But what about the rest of the sales team?

    Plus there is the added risk that by not directly answering the most likely questions the sales team will have to field about the new product, critical information may be missing from the training.

    To address these problems, I re-designed the training to mirror the job as closely as I could.

    My new design looked something like this:

  • Introduction & Objectives

  • Answers to Questions About the New Product

  • Answers to Questions About How the New Product Compares to the Old Product

  • Answers to Questions About How the New Product Compares to Competitor 1’s Product

  • Answers to Questions About How the New Product Compares to Competitor 2’s Product

  • Answers to Questions About How the New Product Compares to Competitor 3’s Product.

  • This structure eliminated that extra translating step to make it easy for learners to apply what they learned in training to their real life work.

    Other ideas for how you can structure a course to mirror a job include organizing the content around:

  • series of tasks

  • series of steps

  • series of tasks

  • questions to answer

  • problems to solve.

Whichever structure you choose, the only rule is to make sure that it mirrors the job as closely as possible.

Editor’s note: This article is cross-posted from Diane Valenti's blog Learning at Work.


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