7 Questions for Effective Training Programs

Training is often seen as the solution to the problem. But its success usually depends upon which problem needs to be solved. Sometimes training can provide exactly what is needed for your workforce. But sometimes it can’t. Asking - and answering - these questions will help to focus your efforts and ultimately implement the right solution for your organization.

1. What problem needs to be solved?

Before building a training program, take a logical approach and start with a careful analysis of the reasons why the training needs to be built. First identifying the desired drivers and outcomes will help to focus the end goal. This may even include how the return on investment can be measured, or at least evaluated. Define and list which areas of the organization need to receive the benefits resulting from the training and identify the desired outcomes. Are you trying to change behavior? Is the goal to drive business impact? Is there a portion of the organization that needs new skills? Is the objective to impact the culture of the organization? Drive more sales? Improve customer relations? Being able to describe clearly and succinctly the objectives to be accomplished is a critical first step in designing any training program.

2. Who are the recipients of the training?

There is an old cliché that says the best speakers know their audience. It’s the same with developing effective training programs. Implementing a "basics" course for seasoned employees is only going to drive poor course ratings and grumblings among learners. The nature of the audience must be evaluated and defined in advance. Have they already had the basics? Are there more or less employees to be trained on this topic now than there were six months ago? How much tenure does this group have within the organization? Are they dispersed or centralized? It is crucial to research and understand the personal characteristics and demographics of the target audience.

3. What is the "look and feel" of the training?

While incorporating the organization’s logo and brand into training content is nice, creating consistent formatting and layouts across multiple training courses helps to convey the culture to learners. Like an architect who ensures a building’s blueprints are precise before breaking ground, each course’s "blueprint" must be in place before implementation, and then that information transfer must occur in a consistent way from course to course, from learner to learner – regardless of the mode by which it is delivered. Learners should not have to "relearn" how to take a course each time a learning opportunity arises.

4. What are the standards and best practices for learning within the organization?

Like defining the "blueprint" for the transfer of information, the training program’s standards and best practices should be documented for the organization. This helps to create a cohesive training program and provides course authors with a "playbook" when they are creating training material. It also saves time if numerous authors are utilized, reducing the effort involved to reformat and edit materials developed by different people. These guidelines quickly become the go-to resource whenever new courses are added or existing courses are updated.

5. What is the organization’s standard and repeatable approach?

Along with creating the playbook, develop a repeatable approach that can be put into practice for each new training initiative. Ensuring that learners are instructed in the same manner will also help with measuring and documenting the training results. Removing variables such as language barriers or content structure can do wonders toward helping learners retain information. It can also reduce, in part, the need for additional instructional sessions to reinforce that learning.

6. What impact can be built into the training program?

To say that training is difficult to measure is an understatement. It can be downright impossible! Particularly if the training focuses on soft skills, managerial skills, or some compliance requirements (such as sexual harassment prevention), identifying and creating metrics around a training program’s outcomes is challenging. However, it’s not likely that senior management will stop asking for metrics anytime soon. So designing the measurable results from the beginning will help to prevent panic down the road. Create course evaluations that provide the organization with real insight into the learners’ impressions. Was the course engaging? Did the content have enough depth? How much of the content was already known by the learners before the course began? Don’t be afraid to ask in-depth questions!

7. Who can help?

ADEPTCentral can help. Our goal is to assist individuals and organizations as they take the important, yet necessary, steps to successfully plan, develop and implement training initiatives. We are the leader in e-learning strategic services. Our goal is to help improve your organization and help your training program achieve its goals. With experience across a variety of industries, our team is among the most knowledgeable and has proven expertise in creating learning strategies. ADEPTCentral’s services are founded in the solid theories of organizational design, instructional design and behavior. We are passionate about what we do and are focused on one thing: giving our clients all the knowledge and insight they need to design and implement smarter learning solutions. We can help you make a difference in your organization.

A Secret Cure to Brain Freeze

I once had a content developer share a problem he was having. He said he received an email from one of the business managers in his company and it simply said: “We need product training on our new software upgrades. The entire sales team and their managers need to be trained on the new features. Let me know the schedule.”   With a shake of his head he said: “How do I respond to that? The new product launch is in six weeks.”

As simple as it may seem, my answer is always the same.  “What is the business need and what does the sales team need to know once they have taken the training?” I generally get the quick answers: “They need to know the new features.” OK, good start but...we need to work on that answer. That quick answer generally opens the door to the next questions: “What methods do you have to deliver this amount of training in such a short period of time and who will help you design and develop this training?” Ahhh,  silence. Brain Freeze! If you can’t explain how you will get from point A to point B when developing training in your organization, then chances are you have no real training development model.

A training development model will provide you and your training team with a step-by-step process that will help you design training quickly. It has a defined starting and ending, point giving you clear direction so you can avoid brain freeze.  If you don’t have a good design and development process in place, chances are you will struggle with all of your training development projects.

One approach to defining your training strategy is to adopt the ADDIE model. The flowchart below represents a complete ADDIE cycle.

brainfreeze1

ADDIE is an established and accepted training development model used by many instructional designers. However, it’s time consuming and the thought of applying this model every time you want to develop training will surely give you brain freeze!

In order to survive the training crunch you need to develop a model that can be shared within your organization and most importantly, is easily repeatable. Let’s take a look at the same ADDIE model as a shared workflow.

The revised training development model below represents a shared model that allows you to utilize the skills and knowledge from others within your organization. HR for example may have job descriptions identified for key job roles. The SME may leverage these job descriptions to quickly identify specific tasks and objectives for the training. Rather than trying to write the objectives on your own, leverage the resources and knowledge you have in your organization. This can be as simple as routing a training requirements document that offers them the opportunity to give you this critical information.  This requirements document can be used again for other training initiatives making your Analysis phase quicker and easily repeatable.

 

brainfreeze2 While this workflow shows that you should strategically incorporate others within your workflow to speed up the design and development process, an alternative shows the work occurring in a less linear fashion as seen in the following workflow.

brainfreeze3

 


This training development workflow not only incorporates the most strategic people in your organization for developing training initiatives, it also allows the “people tasks” to happen in tandem.  Since individuals can work in tandem, the process moves much more efficiently. This will give you a sound development process (ADDIE), but also creates a workflow that is rapid and repeatable.  This is one of many possible workflows. The key is designing one that is customized for your needs.  For example, in the case of a college or university, the faculty becomes the SME and may hold the task of storyboarding and building the training.

As for my friend who has to develop the delta training for a new software release, I would highly recommend an approach that is less linear to develop a model that can provide him with the resources he needs to help get the job done faster; a model that ensures the training will remain educationally sound and meet the company’s business goals, such as the third example.  In addition, I would encourage him to negotiate with his internal clients to gain a seat at the table during the planning phase of future upgrades in order to ensure training is included in the overall project planning process.

Hopefully these process model examples have helped to warm up your frozen brain. In the meantime, look for my next blog titled “Who’s on First?” that will explain in more detail why the requirements document holds the key to the success of your training initiative or feel free to contact me so we can assess together your needs for a training workflow overhaul that would benefit your entire organization.

 

e-Learning Part 2: Getting on the Right Track with Upfront Needs Analysis

In my last post, I discussed the steps an organization should take to begin identifying the type of e-Learning program they need. Once you have determined the type of training that is right for your organization, you can begin to analyze your content further to understand the level of re-purposing necessary for an effective e-Learning initiative. This analysis is conducted to determine compatibility of existing content and legacy course ware with e-Learning delivery methods (not all content lends itself well to e-Learning delivery!) In this step of your path to e-Learning, an instructional designer analyzes the organization’s course content to determine the appropriate delivery methods to:
  • Optimize learning transfer and retention
  • Reduce training costs
  • Expand learner population through increased accessibility, and
  • Create on-demand training programs.
Why all the analysis? Although many organizations cite an interest in offering e-Learning and believe it can add value to their overall training strategy, many fail in the execution stages due to inadequate front-end analysis. Optimal e-Learning design takes the following inputs into consideration:
  • Gaps between current training and performance requirements
  • Level of learning desired to ensure learner retention
  • Best delivery types for each course
  • Costs related to design, development, and deployment
  • Time-to-market requirement
  • Technological capabilities and resources available to support the delivery

An organization that fully understands each of these inputs as it pertains to their particular needs can more accurately identify their e-Learning environment and resource needs and thus establish a path to develop an e-Learning program that provides a substantial return on investment. Once this analysis is completed, the organization is prepared for the subsequent development phases.

What is learner retention about and how does it impact delivery decisions? Understanding the importance of learner retention is a critical consideration in designing effective e-Learning. Learner retention is the extent to which learners remember what they have learned and can transfer those skills to their work or life. The design of e-Learning is driven by the learning or performance objectives. Utilizing Bloom’s taxonomy, if the learner is required to perform higher levels of cognition such as application, analysis, synthesis, or evaluation then the instructional content should require the learner to perform these tasks within the content. The following table demonstrates the relationship between cognition levels and delivery types:

 

Level of Cognition Description Delivery Types Examples
Knowledge Observation and recall of information Instructor-Led LectureInstructor AssistComputer Text/GraphicsJob Aids/Training GuidesDiscussion Boards Recordings Online Discussion Groups e-Book Broadcast
Comprehension Interpret facts, compare, contrast, grasp meaning Lecture/WBT content followed by instructor/ learner DiscussionOnline discussion board postingsCase study"Drag and drop" exercisesEssay questions Online discussion groups
Application Use methods, concepts, theories in new situations; solve problems using required skills or knowledge Case StudiesLab exercisesSimulationOn-the-job observationVideo observation in which correct application must be identified Essay questions
Analysis Recognize patterns; Identify components Lab exercisesSimulationEssay questionsCase Studies
Synthesis Use old ideas and create new ones; Generalize from given facts; Predict, draw conclusions Essay QuestionsResearch Problem/ReportSimulationE-Class projects
Evaluation Debate a concept; Judge and/or predict a problem Essay QuestionsResearch Problem/ReportE-Class projectsDebates through discussion boards

 

Mapping delivery methods to learning retention given the realities of your organization When transitioning content, I always recommend that you find an experienced instructional designer to analyze legacy content prior to transitioning it to e-Learning. An instructional designer will conduct a high-level analysis of the organization’s legacy learning objectives (for each course) and supporting materials. They will then determine which courses lend themselves to an e-Learning environment. Once this is determined, the instructional designer will analyze the courses identified for e-Learning at a higher level of granularity, assessing each learning objective to determine the appropriate delivery method to maximize learner retention. The cost of development for each delivery method varies greatly due to the amount of time and expertise it takes to develop.High e-Learning development costs are associated with flash video and simulations to enable learners to use higher cognitive levels including application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.If these types of delivery methods/costs are outside the institution’s business model, then there are delivery methods that can be utilized to encourage higher levels of cognition, but keep development costs down. It should be noted that although initial costs are high, the costs of delivering self-paced training over an extended period of time are low by only requiring the organization to revise the training modules when necessary. Once the organization has identified which courses can be transitioned to e-Learning and what delivery types to use to maximize learner retention, the organization can begin conducting due-diligence on learning platforms to deliver content.

e-Learning Part 1: I’m going ‘All Aboard’ the Online Training train! But where is the train going and how do I find the station?

There’s no training like e-Learning, there’s no training like e-Learning, there’s no training like e-Learning. Can I get there by clicking my heels 3 times? If only it was as easy as Dorothy made it look to bring it all home! But the reality is that most organizations are struggling with the process of transitioning to this promising training format; the movement towards e-Learning is a tricky one if not carefully planned and executed. Generally, organizations do understand the basic benefits of transitioning legacy content into educationally sound online material – such benefits as reduced travel, less burden on instructors, elimination of facilities costs, and greater outreach. But the questions that keep e-Learning initiatives from getting off the ground are: Where do I even begin? Where do I find the budget to develop online training? How do I ensure that my training is educationally-sound and appropriate for my adult learner population? Do I want the Local Train or the Bullet Train? As is the case with any other discipline, there is a growing contingent of “experts” in the marketplace offering promises to solve all learning problems. However, before an expert can help you solve your problems, you need to understand what it means to solve your problem. You need to decide whether you simply need to get the train running to maintain status-quo (the Local Train) or develop a dependable service that not only brings the train into the station every time but does so at a much faster pace (the Bullet Train). The most important part about learning is simple: Have learners retained the knowledge they’ve acquired? Research indicates that higher retention occurs when content appeals to various learning styles. Therefore, ensuring a positive answer to the retention question can be challenging. Where e-Learning is concerned, it’s more difficult for the learner to simply raise their hand and say, “I don’t understand.” Therefore, it’s critical that your e-Learning program provides this support to learners. So, how do you determine whether you need the local rail or the bullet train? This question can only be answered by answering a few others first:
  • What are the goals of the organization?
  • How crucial is this training to the organization’s ability to meet such goals?
  • Are the training objectives and business objectives properly aligned?
  • What kind of standard do we want to set?
Once you answer these questions, you can begin to zero in on the investments necessary to ensure not just a successful e-Learning initiative but the right e-Learning initiative. Has the train been properly inspected before it leaves the station? A common error made by organizations as they begin their transition to e-Learning is to assume they can take their existing legacy material and convert it directly into online material. This is a sure-fire way for learners and stakeholders (“passengers”) to get stuck on the tracks, frustrated in the money and/or time they just invested on that ticket to nowhere. Because an instructor (conductor) is present, Instructor-led materials are developed with a very different objective than online training. Online training is like an automated train, in that all of the materials to run the train are self-contained – no conductor required. In learning, we call this a “Learner-Centric Environment,” all of the tools and resources that the learner needs to succeed are built in the content. The first step in building learner-centric materials is analyzing existing legacy materials to determine the following:
  • Is the current training broken and therefore worth the investment in repurposing to e-Learning format?
  • Is the material up-to-date and does it reflect the current needs of the learner?
  • Are the objectives written at a level of cognition that is sufficient for e-Learning (Bloom’s Taxonomy) to ensure learning transfer?
  • What level of repurposing is required to transition into e-Learning?
If your train needs a tune-up to run properly, you need the right amount of investment to make that happen. Do you only have budget available for a quick-fix that will, at best, usually get the train to the station or have you received organizational support to buy a new engine that guarantees consistent on-time arrival? The answer to this question is important when developing your e-Learning budget. Obtaining stakeholder sign-off remains one of the more significant challenges for our clients who are developing internal training for their employees. The vast majority of organizations perceive training as a cost, rather than an investment. However, according to Josh Bersin (2006), if your training is well-aligned to organizational goals, you will rarely be asked to rationalize expenditures: For example, you want to improve sales of a particular type of cell phone. You conduct research that finds that your sales force lacks updated sales skills. You decide to develop a course that will equip your employees with more innovative sales skills - many of them have not taken a sales course in several years. You measure the effectiveness of the new training once it has been implemented. If you consistently develop effective training that improves employee performance, you show your stakeholders the added value of training to the organization’s bottom-line. It is also important to always invest in high-impact training – training that is going to provide the organization with the greatest tangible and intangible results. Indirect benefits of investing in education include evidence that employees generally stay with companies that are willing to invest in their employees’ future success. Consider the following research, “Training makes individuals feel more confident which, in turn, increases their engagement and commitment to the company which, in turn increases their loyalty and productivity.” (Bersin, 2006). Employee turnover is very costly to an organization - you should be doing everything you can to avoid it! What next? You’ve determined what kind of training your organization needs. You’ve determined if your training needs to be repaired. You’ve determined the budget required to make the necessary repairs. You’ve even gotten your stakeholders excited enough to fund your budget. Now what? Your next step is identifying what delivery methods you will need to effectively deliver the material. We will discuss this in Part 2: I’m going ‘All Aboard’ the Online Training train! But where is the train going and how do I find the station?