Imagine a typical course on a technical topic: Learners enter the room; sit for hours passively listening to an instructor slog through a slide-heavy, text-heavy, lecture-based course; then walk out with their heads spinning.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The next time you are tasked with developing technical training, you can create an engaging, effective experience that yields results and leaves the learner wanting more. You don’t need to be fluent in instructional design jargon, but you may want to follow a few practical steps.
Step 1: Define learning objectives.
More and more, organizations look to learning and development for solutions to business problems. When charged with creating a course to solve a business problem or close a skill gap, first make sure you are asking the right questions. Often, the root of the issue is not as simple as it may seem.
Once you have a better sense of the problem at hand and the organization’s goals, you can define what you expect your learners to know, or be able to do, when they leave your training: your learning objectives. Be sure to write objectives that are specific and aimed at the level of learning expected. Ask yourself:
- What problem or issue do you want to solve?
- Is the problem caused or exacerbated by a lack of knowledge or skills?
- What has led to this problem or need?
- What are the biggest obstacles to solving this problem?
- Is training a solution?
- What does the learner need to know or be able to do differently after the course?
Step 2: Determine the nature of the content for each learning objective.
Once the learning objectives are clearly defined, the key to turning highly technical content into engaging training is to break it down and determine the nature of the content: What do you really need to teach, and what type of content is it?
For example, consider this learning objective: Perform steps in a process. The nature of this objective is to perform tasks in a specific sequence. Think about the specific steps for the particular process that learners need to acquire and the knowledge and skills required to perform those steps. Ask yourself some probing questions until you understand what you really need to cover for learners to meet that objective.
Step 3: Identify effective methods of delivering each objective.
Once you understand the nature of each learning objective, choose the most effective method for each objective based on the nature of the content.
- To teach a new procedure, your delivery method could be an on-demand video demonstrating the procedure.
- For a complex topic that requires critical thinking skills, your delivery method could be an in-class case study with guided facilitation and monitoring by instructors.
- To reinforce old information and provide new information, you could include a flip-chart activity in which learners rotate around the room, document all they know about each area and then debrief as a group.
Step 4: Decide what learners should do before, during and after training.
You’re almost there! You know your objectives, the nature of your content and your delivery method. Now, it’s time to determine the right timeframe to deliver it to the learners.
Learning happens beyond the classroom (live or virtual). It happens throughout the year as new challenges arise and obstacles are overcome. As a designer, you can develop training that will be impactful and effective at all stages of the learning continuum. As you develop your content, think about what learners should learn before, during and after the main training event.
What content can employees learn on their own before they attend the training?
Content that requires reading or time to digest (e.g., a new technical topic) is ideal for participants to learn before they attend training. Exposure to this content prior to training allows for in-class activities that provide learners with opportunities to apply their knowledge, discuss it and assess their understanding.
Use before-training activities to begin setting expectations. Adult learners do not just want to learn content; they want to know why they are learning it. So communicate how this content will be applied in the classroom and, more importantly, why it will help them on the job.
Use this time to “level-set” the audience. Learners come with varying levels of knowledge and skills, and providing content prior to a training can help get everyone on the same page, regardless of prior experience.
What content is ideal for learners during training?
Any content that goes beyond basic knowledge attainment and requires application on the job is ripe for this environment. Since adults best learn by doing, in-class activities that are interactive and collaborative will maximize their learning.
For content that requires instructor expertise to provide a high level of depth, delivering it during training provides learners the opportunity to ask challenging questions and obtain complex knowledge and skills.
Objectives that require learner interaction are also ideal for the classroom, where learners can practice their new skills with others.
What content can be delivered after training?
Reinforcing highly technical material is a critical step in the learning process, but it is often forgotten, especially if a learner does not have the immediate opportunity to apply it back on the job. Create engaging, relevant, on-the-go training that learners can access anytime and anywhere from their mobile devices to remind them of key principles they can use when they need them.
Create content that takes learning to the next level, so learners who have to go to the next step have the opportunity to learn it prior to their next training.
PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
Consider this example.
Step 1: Define the learning objective.
- Identify and correct errors.
Step 2: Determine the nature of the content.
- What do learners need to know to be able to identify errors?
- How should learners determine how to correct errors? Is there a specific process learners should follow?
- Are learners looking for errors that can be identified by a break in a pattern, numbers that do not balance, missing information, etc.?
Step 3: Identify effective delivery methods.
- Learners identify errors after the instructor demonstrates how to do so.
- The group discusses whether an error exists and how it could be corrected.
- Learners identify errors after seeing a video, reading about breaks in patterns or noticing missing information.
- Learners identify and correct errors individually or working in small groups. Then, they debrief as a group to determine gaps, areas they missed, etc.
Step 4: Decide what learners should do before, during and/or after training.
- Use social media platforms to pose questions so learners will begin thinking about the topic before coming to class.
- Require a reading that provides background information on types of errors.
- Provide virtual technology demos covering basic information on how to identify errors.
- Use videos to make complex technical areas easy and enjoyable to understand. Don’t depend on the videos to teach the topic, but use them to help learners understand the concept, and then discuss it.
- Use iPads or tablets to engage learners. Use applications such as Doceri, an interactive whiteboard, for complex errors and calculations. Learners can facilitate discussion using the tablet, leaving facilitators free to move about the classroom.
- Use games as energizers and ice breakers to break up and reinforce highly technical content.
- Use social networks to support the continuous learning process and share learner experiences and knowledge.
- Provide content after training in a number of formats, such as readings, videos or games.
- Use just-in-time communications to highlight certain tools or resources to support professionals in performing tasks. Provide them as close to the point of need as possible.
- Use mentors and coaches to provide tips and ideas on developing the specific skills.
Designing training for highly technical content, or any content for that matter, does not have to be complicated. If you follow a few simple steps, you can engage and challenge learners and yield business results.