Research shows training is most effective when it is tailored to the learner, providing only the relevant information in a familiar context that fits the learner’s prior experience. Government regulations related to employee training, however, are broad. They leave out context and industry-specific detail, and employers often must interpret which training requirements apply to their employees. Trainers and instructional designers are challenged with bridging this divide, creating effective training that fulfills legal training requirements, while still being perceived as relevant by learners.
The natural tendency is to create one-size-fits-all training that covers all bases. If everybody learns everything, then you met the requirements, right? But this approach wastes a lot of time and money providing training that your employees don’t really need. It also makes the training less effective.
Research into how adults learn and the impact of perception on training efficacy has shown that adult learners must feel training is relevant and useful, or they aren’t motivated. Research also shows that adults rely on their knowledge and experience to assess the relevance of learning content. If the content doesn’t match their expectations and experiences, adult learners are quick to discount its value and stop trying to understand.
Training that contains extraneous information causes adult learners to lose interest and focus. Such information can include duties the learner doesn’t have, images and descriptions of equipment the learner’s job doesn’t require, or personal protective equipment the learner doesn’t use. Training that appears to be made for a different industry or work environment leads adult learners to question its relevance to them and their job. An office worker watching a safety course that shows a construction environment or discusses industrial processes is likely to assume that the course’s learning objectives do not apply to them. Even if some information in the course does apply to the office worker’s environment, equipment or work practices, the course itself will appear irrelevant, and the adult learner will not fully absorb the training or, worse, ignore it completely.
In a perfect world, instructional designers would be able to create training for each individual worker, including specific work tasks, environments, equipment, and the worker’s experience and education. However, doing so is not feasible for most instructional designers. As a result, creating training that meets broad regulatory requirements while remaining specific enough for learners to feel engaged remains an ongoing challenge. This is especially true for instructional designers who produce training for a large employee base, potentially addressing a wide range of operations that span many environments and job descriptions. With so many audiences to consider, how can an instructional designer create training tailored to each one, while keeping costs and development times reasonable? Luckily, there are several techniques you can employ.
Break learning content into small, discrete modules or chunks of information. This technique is proven to assist adult learners in absorbing and retaining information. It also allows the instructional designer to create building blocks of learning content. A trainer can then pick and choose from these blocks to build a training plan that, while not tailored to each learner specifically, may be tailored to a learning group based on job duties, common workplace hazards or work locations.
Often the facts, rules or procedures conveyed in training content will apply to multiple roles and environments equally. However, even if the foundation of the content is the same, simply changing up animations and illustrations can make standard content feel targeted. Replacing images in a computer-based course or slide deck with ones that depict settings, equipment and characters familiar to workers is a low-effort, low-cost way to cater the same content to multiple audiences.
Learner engagement and information retention are improved when learners feel empowered to access content the way they prefer to learn. Some learners may prefer animations and diagrams, while others may prefer to listen to narration. Provide and reinforce the same information through audio, visual and textual information. This approach empowers all learners to consume the information in the ways that they like best.
Novice learners may need time to process and review new information, while experienced learners may need a faster pace to stay engaged. Allow learners to go at their own pace and stop or return to review information as needed. This approach ensures that no learner becomes frustrated or is left behind.
The best way to verify that your learners are engaged is to check in with them. Make sure to invite learner input and feedback about the training content, and then give that feedback real consideration. Even seemingly minor complaints can have a significant impact on learner buy-in and long-term retention of important training objectives.
Language and Accessibility
Last, but not least, don’t overlook the obvious: Training is always most effective when learners can access and understand the content. Make sure you are creating content with accessibility options for learners with disabilities. When appropriate, have your content translated so that learners can experience training in their preferred language.