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Make the Most of Limited Training Time

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

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. But how does an instructional designer remain true to these tenets?

To get you started, here are four techniques and an example in support of each:

Shift From Information Provider to Information Miner

Your challenge as an instructional designer is not to find 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 to devise a process that, when followed, will consistently cause learners to discover it for themselves.

Bottom line: your role isn’t to package content, it’s to develop experiences. For example, rather than building slides that show 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 the 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 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. With this approach, you design a 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 some of the variables that may influence what is vital and what is nonessential in the different 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 six key components:

  1. Context
  2. introductions with intent
  3. goal setting
  4. application
  5. self-reflection
  6. call to action.

While these read like common sense, common sense isn’t all that common, as my grandmother used to say.

Consider self-reflection. When I lead a learning event for instructional designers or trainers to hone their craft, when we pause to allow time for self-reflection, I always ask the learners if those five to seven minutes were useful. Did taking the time for self-reflection 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 ask these questions to help them see how critical it is to provide learners with time for self-reflection—even when, as designers or trainers, we feel pressure to squeeze in one more content piece. Resist the impulse to cut 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 the wrong approach. 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.

Get Started

As you integrate these four techniques, recognize that they complement one another and, when combined, become exponentially more valuable at increasing retention and performance. Don’t think of these strategies as standalone options. Instead, look for ways to leverage all four into your final solutions—regardless of delivery format.

To make your training great, consider attending one of ATD's certificate programs:

Editor’s note: This is a modified excerpt from Same Training, Half the Time, available on Amazon.

About the Author

With her combined passions for effective communication and relevant workplace learning, Kimberly's focus is always on providing direct, complete, and compelling deliverables.  In the training room, her focus is on supporting each learner in meeting their specific learning goals. She achieves this, in part, through engaging and interactive learning that is purpose-driven, enjoyable, and immediately applicable as well as sharing real-world examples and stories. As a seasoned employee and organizational development professional with a Masters Degree from the University of Miami, she was among the first in the industry to attain ATD’s CPTD, formerly CPLP, certification and has authored Same Training - Half the Time, and two titles in ATD's best-selling Trainers Workshop series: Customer Service Training and Facilitation Skills Training. Kimberly’s experience extends to city, county, and state government agencies as well as Fortune 500 firms in the US, South America, and Asia.  She has been a contributor to the ATD community both locally and nationally for many years, serving on boards, presenting conference sessions at ICE and ALC, and also volunteering time for ATD initiatives. You may have seen her in T&D -- now, come learn with her! Kimberly facilitates ATD's Instructional Design Certificate, Training Certificate, Essentials of Staying Centered Through Conflict, Fundamentals of Training Design, Training Certificate Plus, Introduction to Training, and Master Instructional Designer Program.

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Great article Kimberly, and I couldn't agree more that a shift towards curation and "information mining" are critical skills to get the most out of any session. I tell participants that if I'm the only one sharing , they are only getting 1/16 (or 20th or whatever # of students) of the potential. Mining and curating that collaborative dynamic content turns it to gold. When I find myself nodding as I read I know I've hit great content, and I'll be looking up more.
Just don't blame me when you visit your chiropractor! Truly though, thank you for reading the content, finding value in it, AND taking the time to leave your note. There are a few additional book excerpts on and others on my blog as well.
As for me, I nodded along to your comment on 1/16, 1/20 etc!
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Hi Kimberly! Great article! I took your class on Instructional Design in 2017 and I use the information from the class on all of the training programs I create for my company. I look forward to taking another course from ATD in the near future.
Hi Ann -- I remember! Thanks for the note and appreciation for my article. I am heading to DC for ICE right now...perhaps we can meet up there if you are attending.
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Hello again - so nice to see your name and bring our program back to mind! I am pleased you are applying the learning and valued this article, excerpted from my third book: Same Training, Half the Time.
I will be leading the Master ID program pre-conference in DC in May (if you are considering it!), as well as delivering conference sessions Mon and Tues, and signing books on Tues at 4:00, I'd also love to hear your thoughts on my book.
Looking forward to our paths crossing again - soon!
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I enjoyed "your role isn’t to package content, it’s to develop experiences." It's about crafting the learning experiences, and also the entire "care" journey, which is where the magic happens...or it doesn't.
Russell -
So true...that sometimes "it doesn't" And, such a shame when that is the case...
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