What’s Your Training Effectiveness Strategy? It needs to be more than a survey or knowledge checks

When every training event is delivered using the same method, it’s easy to standardize the evaluation approach and the tool. Just answer these three questions:

  • What did they learn?
  • Did it transfer back to job?
  • Was the training effective?

In this day and age of personalized learning and engaging experiences, one-size training for all may be efficient for an organizational roll out but not the most effective for organizational impact or even change in behavior. The standard knowledge check can indicate how much they remembered. It might be able to predict what will be used back on the job. But be able to evaluate how effective the training was? That’s asking a lot from a 10 question multiple choice/ true false “quiz”. Given the level of complexity of the task or the significance of improvement for the organization such as addressing a consent decree or closing a warning letter, it would seem that allocating budget for proper training evaluation techniques would not be challenged.

Do you have a procedure for that?

Perhaps the sticking point is explaining to regulators how decisions are made using what criteria. Naturally documentation is expected and this also requires defining the process in a written procedure. It can be done. It means being in tune with training curricula, awareness of the types of training content being delivered and recognizing the implication of the evaluation results. And of course, following the execution plan as described in the SOP.   Three central components frame a Training Effectiveness Strategy: Focus, Timing and Tools.

TRAINING EFFECTIVENESS STRATEGY: Focus on Purpose

Our tendency is to look at the scope (the what) first. I ask that you pause long enough to consider your audience, identify your stakeholders; determine who wants to know what. This analysis shapes the span and level of your evaluation policy. For example, C-Suite stakeholders ask very different questions about training effectiveness than participants.

The all purpose standard evaluation tool weakens the results and disappoints most stakeholders. While it can provide interesting statistics, the real question is what will “they” do with the results? What are stakeholders prepared to do except cut training budget or stop sending employees to training? Identify what will be useful to whom by creating a stakeholder matrix.

Will your scope also include the training program (aka Training Quality System) especially if it is not included in the Internal Audit Quality System? Is the quality system designed efficiently to process feedback and make the necessary changes that result from the evaluation results? Assessing how efficiently the function performs is another opportunity to improve the workflow by reducing redundancies thus increasing form completion speed and humanizing the overall user experience. What is not in scope? Is it clearly articulated?

TRAINING EFFECTIVENESS STRATEGY: Timing is of course, everything

Your strategy needs to include when to administer your evaluation studies. With course feedback surveys, we are used to immediately after otherwise, the return rate drops significantly. For knowledge checks we also “test” at the end of the session. Logistically it’s easier to administer because participants are still in the event and we also increase the likelihood of higher “retention” scores.

But when does it make more sense to conduct the evaluation? Again, it depends on what the purpose is.

  • Will you be comparing before and after results? Then baseline data needs to be collected before the event begins. I.e. current set of Key Performing Indicators, Performance Metrics
  • How much time do the learners need to become proficient enough so that the evaluation is accurate? I.e. immediately after, 3 months or realistically 6 months after?
  • When are metrics calculated and reported? Quarterly?
  • When will they be expected to perform back on the job?

Measuring Training Transfer: 3, 6 and maybe 9 months later

We can observe whether a behavior occurs and record the number of people who are demonstrating the new set of expected behaviors on the job. We can evaluate the quality of a work product (such as a completed form or executed batch record) by recording the number of people whose work product satisfies the appropriate standard or target criteria. We can record the frequency with which target audience promotes the preferred behaviors in dialogue with peers and supervisors and in their observed actions.

It is possible to do this; however, the time, people and budget to design the tools and capture the incidents are at the core of management support for a more vigorous training effectiveness strategy. How important is it to the organization to determine if your training efforts are effectively transferring back to the job? How critical is it to mitigate the barriers that get in the way when the evaluation results show that performance improved only marginally? It is cheaper to criticize the training event(s) rather than address the real root cause(s). See Training Does Not Stand Alone (Transfer Failure Section).

TRAINING EFFECTIVENESS STRATEGY: Right tool for the right evaluation type

How will success be defined for each “training” event or category of training content? Are you using tools/techniques that meet your stakeholders’ expectations for training effectiveness? If performance improvement is the business goal, how are you going to measure it? What are the performance goals that “training” is supposed to support? Seek confirmation on what will be accepted as proof of learning, evidence of transfer to the workplace, and identification of leading indicators of organizational improvement. These become the criteria by which the evaluation has value for your stakeholders. Ideally, the choice of tool should be decided after the performance analysis is discussed and before content development begins.

Performance Analysis first; then possibly a training needs analysis

Starting with a performance analysis recognizes that performance occurs within organizational systems. The analysis provides a 3-tiered picture of what’s encouraging/blocking performance for the worker, work tasks, and/or the workplace and what must be in place for these same three levels in order to achieve sustained improvement. The “solutions” are tailored to the situation based on the collected data and not on an assumption that training is needed. Otherwise, you have a fragment of the solution with high expectations for solving “the problem” and relying on the evaluation tool to provide effective “training” results. Only when the cause analysis reveals a true lack of knowledge, will training be effective.

Why aren’t more Performance Analyses being conducted?
For starters, most managers want the quick fix of training because it’s a highly visible activity that everyone is familiar and comfortable with. The second possibility lies in the inherent nature of performance improvement work. Very often the recommended solution resides outside of the initiating department and requires the cooperation of others.   Would a request to fix someone else’s system go over well where you work? A third and most probable reason is that it takes time, resources, and a performance consulting skill set to identify the behaviors, decisions and “outputs” that are expected as a result of the solution. How important will it be for you to determine training effectiveness for strategic corrective actions?

You need an execution plan

Given the variety of training events and level of strategic importance occurring within your organization, one standard evaluation tool may no longer be suitable. Does every training event need to be evaluated at the same level of rigor? Generally speaking, the more strategic the focus is, the more tedious and timely the data collection will be. Again, review your purpose and scope for the evaluation. Refer to your stakeholder matrix and determine what evaluation tool(s) is better suited to meet their expectations.

For example, completing an after-training survey for every event is laudable; however, executive leadership values this data the least. According to Jack and Patricia Phillips (2010), they want to see business impact the most. Tools like balanced scorecards can be customized to capture and report on key performing indicators and meaningful metrics. Develop your plan wisely, generate a representative sample size initially and seek stakeholder agreement to conduct the evaluation study.

Life after the evaluation: What are you doing with the data collected?

Did performance improve? How will the evaluation results change future behavior and/or influence design decisions? Or perhaps the results will be used for budget justification, support for additional programs or even a corporate case study? Evaluation comes at the end but in reality, it is continuous throughout. Training effectiveness means evaluating the effectiveness of your training: your process, your content and your training quality system. It’s a continuous and cyclical process that doesn’t end when the training is over. – VB

 

Jack J. Phillips and Patricia P. Phillips, “How Executives View Learning Metrics”, CLO, December 2010.

Recommend Reading:

Jean-Simon Leclerc and Odette Mercier, “How to Make Training Evaluation a Useful Tool for Improving L &D”, Training Industry Quarterly, May-June, 2017.

 

Did we succeed as intended? Was the training effective?

When you think about evaluating training, what comes to mind? It’s usually a “smile sheet”/ feedback survey about the course, the instructor and what you found useful. As a presenter/instructor, I find the results from these surveys very helpful, so thank you for completing them. I can make changes to the course objectives, modify content or tweak activities based on the comments. I can even pay attention to my platform skills where noted. But does this information help us evaluate if the course was successful?

Formative vs. Summative Distinction

Formative assessments provide data about the course design. Think form-ative; form-at of the course. The big question to address is whether the course as designed met the objectives. For example, the type of feedback I receive from surveys gives me comments and suggestions about the course.

Summative assessments are less about the course design and more about the results and impact. Think summative; think summary. It’s more focused on the learner; not the instructional design. But when the performance expectations are not met or the “test” scores are marginal, then the focus shifts back to the course, instructor/trainer and instructional designer with the intent to find out what happened? What went wrong? When root cause analysis fails to find the cause, it’s time to look a little deeper at the objectives.

Objectives drive the design and the assessment

Instructional Design 101 begins with well-developed objective statements for the course, event, or program. These statements aka objectives determine the content and they also drive the assessment. For example, a written test or knowledge check is typically used for classroom sessions that ask questions about the content. In order for learners to be successful, the course must include the content whether delivered in class or as pre-work. But what are the assessments really measuring? How much of the content they remember and maybe how much of the content they can apply when they return to work?

Training effectiveness on the other hand is really an evaluation of whether we achieved the desired outcome. So I ask you, what is the desired outcome for your training: to gain knowledge (new content) or to use the content correctly back in the workplace? The objectives need to reflect the desired outcome in order to determine the effectiveness of training.

What is your desired outcome from training?

Levels of objectives, who knew?

Many training professionals have become familiar with Kirkpatrick’s 4 Levels of Evaluation over the course of their careers, but less are acquainted with Bloom’s Taxonomy of Objectives. Yes, objectives have levels of increasing complexity resulting in higher levels of performance. Revised in 2001, the levels were renamed for better description of what’s required of the learner to be successful in meeting the objective. Take note, remembering and understanding are the lowest levels of cognitive load while applying and analyzing are mid range. Evaluating and creating are at the highest levels.

If your end in mind is knowledge gained ONLY, continue to use the lower level objectives. If however, your desired outcome is to improve performance or apply a compliant workaround in the heat of a GMP moment, your objectives need to shift to a higher level of reasoning in order to be effective with the training design and meet performance expectations. They need to become more performance based. Fortunately, much has been written about writing effective objective statements and resources are available to help today’s trainers.

Accuracy of the assessment tools

The tools associated with the 4 levels of evaluation can be effective when used for the right type of assessment. For example, Level 1 (Reaction) surveys are very helpful for Formative Assessments. Level 2 (Learning) are effective in measuring retention and minimum comprehension and go hand in hand with learning based objectives. But when the desired outcomes are actually performance based, Level 2 knowledge checks need to shift up to become more application oriented such as “what if situations” and scenarios requiring analysis, evaluating, and even problem solving. Or shift altogether to Level 3 (Behavior) and develop a new level of assessments such as demonstrations and samples of finished work products.

Trainers are left out of the loop

But, today’s trainers don’t always have the instructional design skill set developed. They do the best they can with the resources given including reading books and scouring the Internet. For the most part, their training courses are decent and the assessments reflect passing scores. But when it comes to Level 4 (Results) impact questions from leadership, it becomes evident that trainers are left out of the business analysis loop and therefore are missing the performance expectations. This is where the gap exists. Trainers build courses based on knowledge / content instead and develop learning objectives that determine what learners should learn. They create assessments to determine whether attendees have learned the content; but this does not automatically confirm learners can apply the content back on the job in various situations under authentic conditions.

Performance objectives drive a higher level of course design

When you begin with the end in mind namely, the desired performance outcomes, the objective statements truly describe what the learners are expected to accomplish. While the content may be the same or very similar, how we determine whether employees are able to execute post training requires more thought about the accuracy of the assessment. It must be developed from the performance objectives in order for it to be a valid “instrument”. The learner must perform (do something observable) so that it is evident s/he can carry out the task according to the real work place conditions.

To ensure learner success with the assessment, the training activities must also be aligned with the level of the objectives. This requires the design of the training event to shift from passive lecture to active engagement intended to prepare learners to transfer back in their workspace what they experienced in the event.   This includes making mistakes and how to recognize a deviation is occurring. Michael Allen refers to this as “building an authentic performance environment”. Thus, trainers and subject matter experts will need to upgrade their instructional design skills if you really want to succeed with training as intended. Are you willing to step up and do what it takes to ensure training is truly effective? – VB

 

Allen,M. Design Better Design Backward, Training Industry Quarterly, Content Development, Special Issue, 2017, p.17.

Why Knowledge Checks are Measuring the Wrong Thing

When I taught middle school math, tests were used to assess knowledge comprehension and some application with word problems and a few complex questions requiring logic proofs. Results were captured via a score; a metric if you will as to how well you answered the questions and very appropriate in academia.

In our quest for training evaluation metrics, we have borrowed the idea of testing someone’s knowledge as a measure of effectiveness. This implies that a corporate classroom mirrors an educational classroom and testing means the same thing – a measure of knowledge comprehension. However, professors, colleges, universities and academic institutions are not held to the same results oriented standard. In the business world, results need to be performance oriented, not knowledge gained.

So why are we still using tests?

Call it a quiz, a knowledge check or any other name it is still assessing some form of knowledge comprehension. In training effectiveness parlance, it is also known as a level 2 evaluation. Having the knowledge is no guarantee that it will be used correctly back on the job. Two very common situations occur in the life science arena where “the quiz” and knowledge checks are heavily used: Annual GMP Refresher and Read & Understand Approach for SOPs.

Life sciences companies are required by law to conduct annual regulations training (GMP Refreshers) so as to remain current. To address the training effectiveness challenge, a quiz / questionnaire / knowledge assessment (KA) is added to the event. But what is the KA measuring? Is it mapped to the course /session objectives or are the questions so general that they can be answered correctly without having to attend the sessions? Or worse yet, are the questions being recycled from year to year / event-to-event? What does it mean for the employee to pass the knowledge check or receive 80% or better? When does s/he learn of the results? In most sessions, there is no more time left to debrief the answers. This is a lost opportunity to leverage feedback into a learning activity. How do employees know if they are leaving the session with the “correct information”?

The other common practice is to include a 5 multiple choice as a knowledge check for Read & Understood (R & U) SOPs especially for revisions. What does it mean if employees get all 5 questions right? That they will not make a mistake? That the R & U method of SOP training is effective? The search function in most e-doc systems is really good at finding the answers. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they read the entire procedure and retained the information correctly. What does it mean for the organization if human errors and deviations from procedures are still occurring? Does it really mean the training is ineffective?

What should we be measuring?

The conditions under which employees are expected to perform need to be the same conditions under which we “test” them. So it makes sense to train ‘em under those same conditions as well. What do you want/need your employees (learners) to do after the instruction is finished? What do you want them to remember and use from the instruction in the heat of their work moments? Both the design and assessment need to mirror these expectations. And that means developing objectives that guide the instruction and form the basis of the assessment. (See Performance Objectives are not the same as Learning Objectives.)

So ask yourself, when in their day to day activities will employees need to use this GMP concept? Or, where in the employees’ workflow will this procedure change need to be applied? Isn’t this what we are training them for? Your knowledge checks need to ensure that employees have the knowledge, confidence and capability to perform as trained. It’s time to re-think what knowledge checks are supposed to do for you. – VB

Need to write better Knowledge Check questions?  Need to advise peers and colleagues on the Do’s and Don’ts for writing test questions?

Instructional Design: Not Just for Full Time Trainers Anymore

When I left the manufacturing shop floor and moved into training, full time trainers presented in the classroom using a host of techniques, tools, and relied on their platform skills to present content. Subject matter experts (or the most senior person) conducted technical training on the shop floor in front of a piece of equipment, at a laboratory station or a work bench.

For years, this distinction was clearly practiced where I worked. Trainers were in the classroom and SMEs delivered OJT. Occasionally a “full time” trainer would consult with a SME on content or request his/her presence in the room during delivery as a back-up or for the Q & A portion of a “presentation”. It seemed that the boundaries at the time, were so well understood, that one could determine the type of training simply by where it was delivered.

Training boundaries are limitless today

Today, that’s all changed. No longer confined to location or delivery methods, full time trainers can be found on the shop floor fully gowned delivering GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) content for example. And SMEs are now in the classroom more each day with some of the very tools used by full time trainers! What defines a full time trainer from a SME is less important, what is imperative however is what defines effective instruction.

Instructional Design is a recognized profession

What goes into good instructional design?

Believe it or not, instruction design (ID) / instructional technology is a degreed program offered at numerous colleges and universities. Underlying the design, is a methodology for “good” course design and really good instructional designers will confess that there is a bit of an art form to it as well. Unfortunately, with shrinking budgets and downsized L&D staffs, there are less resources available to develop training materials. Not to mention, shrinking time lines for the deliverables. So it makes sense to tap SMEs for more training opportunities since many are already involved in training at their site. But, pasting their expert content into a power point slide deck is not instructional design. Nor is asking a SME to “deliver training” using a previously created power point presentation effective delivery.

What is effective design?

To me, effective design is when learners not only meet the learning objectives during training but also transfer that learning experience back on the job and achieve performance objectives / outcomes. That’s a tall order for a SME, even for full time trainers who have not had course design training. The methodology a course designer follows be that ADDIE, Agile, SAM (Successive Approximation Model), Gagne’s 9 Principles, etc., provides a process with steps to facilitate the design rationale and then development of content including implementation and evaluation of effectiveness. It ensures that key elements are not unintentionally left out or forgotten about until after the fact like evaluation/ effectiveness or needs assessment. In an attempt to expedite training, these methodology driven elements are easily skipped without fully understanding the impact the consequences can have on overall training effectiveness. There is a science to instructional design.

The “art form” occurs when a designer creates visually appealing slides and eLearning scenes as well as aligned activities and engaging exercises designed to provide exploration, practice and proficiency for the performance task back on the job. The course materials “package” is complete when a leader’s guide is also created that spells out the design rationale and vision for delivery, especially when someone else will be delivering the course such as SMEs as Classroom Facilitators.

The Leaders Guide

Speaker notes embedded at the bottom of the notes pages within power point slides is not a leader’s guide. While handy for scripting what to say for the above slide, it does not provide ample space for facilitating other aspects of the course such as visual cues, tips for “trainer only” and managing handouts, etc. A well-designed leader’s guide has the key objectives identified and the essential learning points to cover. These learning points are appropriately sequenced with developed discussion questions to be used with activities; thus removing the need for the facilitator to think on demand while facilitating the activity. This also reduces the temptation to skip over the exercise/activity if s/he is nervous or not confident with interactive activities.

A really good guide will also include how to segue to the next slide and manage seamless transitions to next topic sections. Most helpful, are additional notes about what content MUST be covered, tips about expected responses for activities and clock time duration comments for keeping to the classroom schedule. Given all the time and effort to produce the leaders guide, it is wasted if the course designer and SME as Facilitator do not have a knowledge transfer session. Emailing the guide or downloading it from a share point site will not help the SME in following the guide during delivery unless an exchange occurs in which SMEs can begin to mark up his/her copy.

Using previously developed materials

I am not criticizing previous course materials if they were effective. But replacing clip art with new images and updating the slide deck to incorporate the new company background is not going to change the effectiveness of the course unless content was revised and activities were improved. For many SMEs, having a previous slide deck is both a gift and a curse.

While they are not starting with a blank storyboard, there is a tendency to use as-is and try to embellish it with speaker notes because the original producer of the power point slide did not include them or worse, provided no leader’s guide. The SME has the burden to make content decisions such as what content is critical; what content can be cut if no time. Perhaps even more crucial is how to adapt content and activities to different learner groups or off-shift needs. SMEs who attend a HPISC. ID basics course learn how to use design checklists for previously developed materials.   These checklists allow them to confidently assess the quality of the materials and justify what needs to be removed, revised or added; thus truly upgrading previously developed materials.

What’s so special about SMEs as Course Designers?

They have expertise and experience and are expected to share it via training their peers. But now the venue is the classroom as well. It’s training on course design methodology that is needed. SMEs and most trainers do not automatically have this knowledge. Some develop it by reading A LOT, attending well-designed courses, and over time with trial and error and painful feedback. The faster way is to provide funds to get SMEs as Course Designers at least exposed to how to effectively design for learning experiences so that they can influence the outcome of the objectives. This is management support for SMEs as Trainers. -VB

Facilitating the Shift from Passive Listening to Active Learning

On the one end of “The Learner Participation Continuum” is lecture which is a one way communication and requires very little participation.  At the other end, we have experiential learning and now immersive learning environments with the introduction of 3D graphics, virtual simulations and augmented reality.

In the middle of the range are effective “lectures” and alternate methods such as:

  • Demonstrations
  • Case Study
  • Guided Teaching
  • Group Inquiry
  • Read and Discuss
  • Information Search.

Shift one step to right to begin the move to active learningNow before you insist that the SME as Facilitator move to the far right and conduct only immersive sessions, a word of caution is in order. It’s really about starting with the learners’ expectations and the current organizational culture and then moving one step to the right. If they are used to lectures from SMEs, then work on delivering effective lectures before experimenting with alternate training methods. The overnight shift may be too big of a change for the attendees to adjust to despite their desire for no more boring lectures. Small incremental steps is the key.

How is this done? Upfront in the design of the course materials. The course designers have spent time and budget to prepare a leaders guide that captures their vision for delivering the course.  SMEs as Facilitators (Classroom SMEs) need to study the leader’s guide and pay attention to the icons and notes provided there. These cues indicate the differentiation from lecture, to an activity whether that be self, small group, or large group. While it may be tempting to skip exercises to make up for lost time, it is better for learner participation to skip lecture and modify an activity if possible.

During the knowledge transfer session/ discussion with the course designer and/or instructor, Classroom SMEs make notes of how the instructor transitions from one slide to the next and how s/he provided instruction for the activity. This is a good time for Classroom SMEs to ask how to modify content or an activity if certain conditions should occur. Especially important for SMEs to ask is what content is critical and what content can be skipped if time runs short. It is always a good idea for the Classroom SME to mark-up his/her copy of the materials. And then again after the first delivery to really make it their own leader’s guide. -VB

Speaking of personalizing their leaders’ guide, SMEs may want to experiment with different ways to “open a session” to get experience with a variety of techniques and observe which ones yield better results.

Moving from Lecture to Delivering an EFFECTIVE Lecture

While lecture has its merits, today’s learners want engaging content that is timely, relevant and meaningful. Yet, most SMEs tend to suffer from the “curse of too much knowledge” and find it difficult to separate the need-to- know from the nice-to-know content.

Presenting for them takes on a lecture style format. The thought of facilitating an activity gives most SME a case of jitters and anxiety.  So, in the “SME as Facilitator” workshop, attendees are encouraged to step away from the podium and use their eyes, hands and voice to engage with their audience. Easier said than done, yes. That’s why the course is designed to allow them to take small steps within the safety of a workshop environment.

But rather than trying to pull off a fully immersive session, SMEs as Facilitators are introduced to techniques that “liven up” the lecture. They are shown how to move back and forth from passive (sit, hear, see) to active involvement (write, construct, discuss, move, speak). This requires the ability to:

  • follow a well organized design plan
  • capture and hold attention of learners
  • use relevant examples and deviations if possible
  • show authentic enthusiasm
  • involve audience both directly and indirectly
  • respond to questions with patience and respect.

Great presentations are like great movies. They open with an attention-seeking scene, have drama and conflict in the middle so you stick around long enough to see the hero survive and they close on a memorable note. Using the movie analogy, a SME as Facilitator can open the session with something more than his/her bio. They can pick a notable career achievement that most folks aren’t aware of.  Keeping the interest alive, the SME can then draw the connection of content to the audience and address the WIIFM question on everyone’s mind. (WIIFM = What’s in it for me?)

While we don’t need to add to anyone’s stress load, overcoming conflict makes for great story telling. Case studies, major CAPAs, deviations and audit observations make it real life. Use of visuals especially diagrams is visually appealing to learners and keeps them engaged. (CAPA= Corrective Actions Preventive Action Investigations)

Thoroughness in the preparation reflects care and thoughtfulness. Learners appreciate the personal desire to deliver a more lively lecture. Therefore, I like to use the concept of a lecturette; 10 minute blocks of time to chunk up complex topics. Interspersing a 10—15 minute lecture segment with an activity whether self, small group or stand up at the flipchart, gives learners the opportunity to engage with new and/or more complex content in smaller doses.

Stepping away from the podium forces the SME to take action and allow the learners to “get up close” with the SME as Facilitator. This in turn is reflected in the learners desire to respond to questions and dialogue during a facilitated discussion. The rule of thumb for lecturing is approximately 20 minutes max. But with today’s technology buzzing away at your fingertips or on the tabletop, I’d say more like 10 or 15 minutes max if you are an engaging facilitator.

difference between a novice and wise teacher

Remember, the goal of a session is to maximize retention of the audience, not just tell them the content. Attendees learn more if the SME as Facilitator can focus their attention on the topic and deliver content that is relevant to their work situation. Involving the learners in a variety of ways is the key to effective lectures and great presentations. – VB

You might also want to get up to speed with current trend for SMEs – check out the blog post – Are your SMEs becoming duo purposed? Comments welcomed.

Moving from Presenter Controlled Training to Learner Focused Facilitation

The more trainer/instructor driven the course is, the less participation is required from the learner. For example, the instructor makes all the decisions about the course objectives and content, develops the course, delivers the course and conducts the assessment.

As you move along the Learner Participation Continuum, the
learner is required to participate more and the trainer does less “talking”. The learner acquires knowledge and skills through activities that s/he experiences with the assistance of a “facilitator”.  The facilitator is focused on helping the learners meet their needs and interests. It is through these first hand experiences and facilitated dialogue with other learners that thoughtful analysis and interpretation can become the focus of the instruction. The end result is that learners take full responsibility for decisions, actions and consequences.

Moving to a more Learner Controlled approach shifts the focus of the design from “deliver this content” to facilitate learning transfer for performance back on the job; which is after all the end goal for a training event. The new program includes opportunities for group participation, utilization of participants’ expertise and real life problem solving.

Learners are prompted to openly discuss issues and problems within the “learning lab”. Trainers become empathetic listeners as they create a climate of trust and safety. They become a Facilitator.

Of course, this shift also requires that site leadership and local management not only support the facilitated learning lab concept, but follow through on issues and concerns that surface. Failure to do so undermines not only the facilitator’s credibility but the entire training program. Wow, won’t this take longer to design, you ask?  Yes, in the sense that the design is now from the learner’s point of view. This means that the designer will need to research examples, collect data, and develop a story from an incident, a deviation or significant CAPA, etc.

The reward is that the Classroom SME stops talking and gives employees more engaging learning sessions. So learners become more accountable for participating and guess what – the SME’s session is no longer a boring podium speech. — VB

Silberman, M. (1990). Active Training: A Handbook of Techniques, Designs, Case Examples, and Tips.  Lexington Books, New York.

Are all your SMEs Qualified Trainers?

I got a phone call from my Lead SME’s boss one morning. “How many more sessions do you need”, I asked him. I had already delivered 4 back-to-back workshops with class sizes of 25-30 SMEs; which was beyond optimal. So I asked him why. I needed to find out what was driving the surge in identified Qualified Trainers (QTs). I learned that a retrospective qualification needed to take place in order to close out an inspection observation. The total number of SMEs needing “proper paperwork” was well over 700. Since the redesigned training system was now in effect, these undocumented SMEs as Trainers would have to follow the new procedure. Or would they? Our discussion shifted to what type of training these SMEs will be delivering.

I then shared a related story with him. Several years prior, I got entangled with a “CAPA crisis” that involved QTs. No sooner did we launched the QT program and put the new procedure into effect, the CAPA quality system temporarily shut down shipping over a weekend. Upon return to the site, I was summoned to an emergency meeting from the security gate. Amazingly, a new practice/rule that only a Qualified Trainer can conduct training evolved from “only OJT QT’s can deliver OJT and perform Qualification Events” as per the SOP! This was clearly a case of misunderstood scope.

Does every SME need to be qualified as a Trainer?

In the Life Sciences arena, there are 5 recurring situations that require training: Self, Corrective Actions, Classroom (ILT), Structured OJT, and Qualification Events (Performance Demos).

Self can be achieved by the individual reading the procedure and the signing the training record. This is also known as Read & Understand (R & U) for SOPs.

Deviations/ Corrective Actions stemming from a Corrective Action Preventive Action incident. Minimally a SME or the SOP Author is needed to ensure credibility of the content.

Classroom (Instructor Led Training) is preferred for knowledge-based content affecting a wide range of employees. The skill set needed is facilitation / managing the classroom and delivering content as designed by the instructor. A new trend is emerging for SMEs to deliver this training. And, they need to be qualified to deliver classroom sessions especially if the event is related to a significant CAPA or regulatory inspection observation. This is NOT the same course as the OJT-QT Workshop.

Structured OJT is On the Job Training delivered by a Qualified OJT SME using the approved OJT Methodology. OJT QT’s attend the Qualified Trainers Workshop.

Qualification Events (Performance Demonstrations) are formally documented observations of learners performing the procedure/task at hand in front of a Qualified OJT SME.

Can having too many QTs be a problem?

It can be when there is no one else to train; to deliver OJT steps. While many of you may be wishing for this situation, it can eventually happen if staffing levels are adequate, shifts are normalized and SOPs revisions are managed via R & U only with the LMS.   How do you keep your QTs engaged and fresh if there are no opportunities for OJT sessions? I have some ideas for you to explore.

When this situation occurs, it’s an appropriate time to administer the Trainer Mojo Assessment. Based on the QTs scores, it might be time to say thank you for a job well done for the low scoring QTs. You may be pleasantly surprised by who is ready to walk away from the training role? Or you may have a cadre of QTs who legitimately need more training and hence, the need for some new modules is now justified.

Another activity to pursue is re-examining the practice of online R & U only for SOP revisions. I bet some of those revisions were worthy of a face to face discussion and there is probably at least one in the past year that required a demonstration of task for optimum transfer of learning back on the job. *Just because all employees are now qualified, doesn’t mean the program sits in hiatus waiting for new hires to join the company.

What else can you offer bored and under utilized QTs? What about a 30 minute refresher series or developmental assignments that expand their subject matter expertise or advances their training repertoire into a classroom facilitators? Just an idea or is it a viable solution? – VB

When SMEs have too much “secret sauce”

Many QA/ L&D Training Managers are tasked with improving their training system and focus their efforts on the process, procedures and executable forms. An integral component of a robust quality training system is the Qualified Trainers (QT). Having a cadre of existing department Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) as Trainers can be very helpful when implementing the roll out of the new design to meet regulatory commitments and expected timelines. But, sometimes it can also lead to sustainability issues after the launch is over and the next big project becomes the new site priority.

During my on-site response to an urgent performance problem, the Head of Operations expressed deep concerns about inconsistent OJT being delivered by his trainers. A series of significant non-conformances occurred in his area. As part of the CAPA (Corrective Action Preventive Action) investigation, trainers were interviewed to uncover how they trained the identified employee(s) and what was said specifically for each step of the procedure. Their responses revealed a lack of consistent process and the use of varied content; despite having an OJT checklist, the procedure, and approved training SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures).

Once a Trainer; forever a Trainer

I was then invited into a conversation with the Training Operations Manager (My Performer), regarding her desire to upgrade the existing department SMEs as Trainers. Responsible for the effectiveness check of the CAPA corrective action and the overall quality of Operations OJT sessions, she complained that many of the trainers should no longer be considered Dept. Trainers. While she had position title influence, she was frustrated by the lack of support for her “improvement suggestion”. I became her catalyst to help her push through the fixed barrier regarding SMEs.

The site followed a cultural assumption regarding department SMEs: once a trainer; always a Trainer; regardless of feedback and informal impressions of their ability. Without any tangible criteria and lack of assessment tools, my Performer had no authority to remove under performing Dept. Trainers. Granted these SMEs were long ago chosen when the widely accepted practice of being proficient as a technician after a year earned them the designation of subject matter expert and automatically, a Dept. Trainer. Today, the Life Sciences Industry, with FDA investigators observations, has evolved their understanding to endure that it takes more than seniority and SOP training to become an OJT QT. Unfortunately, the environment where my Performer worked, the mindset about acquired expertise still held.

Significant CAPAs can be drivers for change

Undaunted, my Performer seized the CAPA as an opportunity for change. Leveraging suggested criteria and the use a form to document justification for each Dept. Trainer, she now had a process (SOP with form) that she could “educate” her colleagues on what it takes to become a Qualified Trainer. The focus of her message dramatically changed. She became strategic in her communications, using the effectiveness check portion of the CAPA as her “Why / WIIFM for Operations Managers”. In order to close out the CAPA, Managers had to complete their portion of the form.

The long-term success of my Performer depended on her owning her solution. She never lost of her original desire; she was patient and waited for her colleagues to accept today’s best practices for OJT QTs.   In the meantime, we brainstormed on a variety of feedback options that could be used to evaluate the current status of each SME at the same time the Managers completed the new form. My Performer chose a rating system and arranged for a 1-1 sessions with Operations Managers to discuss what rating they would use for each criteria if they got challenged during a CAPA investigation or a regulatory inspection.

While the results were not formally documented, my Performer was effective with the assessment rating exercise.   The Managers reconsidered who they wanted to nominate based on the new formal criteria and the informal ratings discussions. They did not automatically submit the form for all existing Dept. Trainers. A constructive dialogue then ensued regarding skills remediation support for those SMEs deemed as potentials. At last, my Performer achieved her desired outcome. “As catalysts, we build a bridge, light the path, and give [ ] our hand to help [ ] demolish or jump over obstacles”, (Haneberg, 2010, p.96). I was privileged to be part of a dramatic shift in their training culture.

An alternate alignment exercise

For many, adding ratings suggests a formal performance assessment and this can raise HR issues if not fully supported by the organization. In addition, many Operations Managers do not have the luxury of “weeding out undesirables”. They simply do not have enough SMEs to complete the training curricula generated requirements. Yet, there needs to be mutual consent between manager and identified SME in order to effectively deliver the OJT Methodology and to ensure a successful learner experience.

For those situations where automatically re-nominating existing SMEs is raising a red flag, I created the Trainer Mojo Assessment.  Nominated SMEs and existing SMEs as Trainers rate themselves on 10 attributes that align with the characteristics of an effective OJT Trainer.   Low scoring SMEs/QTs are encouraged to have a discussion with their management regarding continuation in the program and possible action steps. For SMEs/QT’s that score in the On-Target range, this is both validation of the nomination and confirmation that manager and QT are in sync. For high scoring QTs, this is also confirmation and an early indicator for potential QT Rock Stars!

Haneberg, L. Coaching up and down the generations. Alexandria, Virgina:ASTD, 2010.

You might be interested in the Impact Story – From Dept. SME to QT.

From Dept. SME to QT