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

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