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 MinerYour 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 CuratorThe 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 LearningWhen you are building your design—the process the training will follow—integrate and defend the inclusion of six key components:
- introductions with intent
- goal setting
- 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 FunctionWould 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 StartedAs 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.
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Editor’s note: This is a modified excerpt from Same Training, Half the Time, available on Amazon.