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.

“Learning on the fly” or is this what they meant by the Agile Learning Model?

When Rapid Design for E Learning found its way into my vocabulary, I loved it and all the derivatives like rapid prototyping.  And soon, I starting seeing Agile this and Agile that.  It seemed that Agile was everywhere I looked.  When Michael Allen published his book, LEAVING ADDIE for SAM, I was intrigued and participated in an ATD (formerly known as ASTD) sponsored webinar.  It made a lot of sense to me and “I bought into the concept”.  Or so I thought …

 

A few weeks back, I joined a project that was already in-progress and had to “hit the ground running to get caught up to speed”.  The element of urgency was the anticipation of a post FDA visit following a consent decree.   If you’ve experienced this “scene” before, you can relate to the notion of expedited time.   As part of remediation efforts, training events needed to be conducted.  I learned during a meeting sometime my first week, I was to be the trainer.  Okay, given my background and experience, that made sense.  Sure, in a few weeks when we have the new procedure in place, I’d be happy to put the training materials together, is what I was thinking.  Wait – in two weeks?  Are you kidding me?  I’m not the SME and I don’t even have the software loaded on my laptop yet.  Well, some cleaned up version of those words was my response.

 

But what about all that buzz for rapid design and prototyping I’ve been reading about?  In theory, I totally bought it.  But, this is different I argued with myself.  This is compliance with a quality system for a company who is undergoing transformative change as a result of a consent decree!  I teach GMP Basics and conduct Annual GMP Refreshers several times a year and preach to audiences that you must follow the procedure otherwise it’s a deviation.  And in less than two weeks, I am expected to teach a process that is changing daily!   Yet on the other hand, how could I teach a work instruction that is known to be broken; is being re-designed and not yet finalized?  Stay tuned for a future blog about how I overcame this dilemma.

 

My bigger issue was to get out of my own design way.  I’m classically schooled in *ADDIE and with 25+ years as an instructional designer, very comfortable with how to design, develop and deliver training.  All I needed was more time and it hit me!  I was so focused on what I needed, that I was missing the urgency of the learners’ needs.  It was time to put theory into practice and take the agile plunge into the domain of the unknown.

 

By shifting the prioritization away from perfectly designed classes with pristine training materials, I was able to diagnose that the need was to get the learners into a live classroom.   They needed to see the database software in action and “play in the sandbox”; the training materials could follow afterwards.  I shifted my role to facilitator and found the true SMEs to navigate the software screens and explain how to complete field transactions.  To my surprise and delight, trainer-wannabes volunteered to paste screen shots into participant worksheets so they could take notes.  I became a scribe and worked on sequencing these pages for the next round of attendees.  Together, we all collaborated to meet the urgent need of the learners.   And we documented it!  Once they had the tour and sand-box time, the learners were paired up with a buddy for guided instruction of real entry into the live system.  The following week, the department was able to go live with a project plan that focused on a series of interim roles, changed roles and transitioning responsibilities within established roles.  The project launched on time to meet commitments promised to the agency.

 

It was energizing and empowering for the learners. A truly collaborative experience for the SMEs and the biggest surprise of all was that they thanked me.  Me?  I did not deliver the training; I was not the SME nor did I provide perfect training materials.   If I had pursued my classically trained ADDIE technique, we’d still be waiting to deliver those sessions.  However, I’m not ready to throw ADDIE over board yet.  She has served me well and continues to be an appropriate technique in most of my training needed situations.

 

My lesson learned was this: when the need is for speed and the design is not the key focus, I need to give up control to the SMEs and Learners and focus on facilitating the best learning experience given the daily change challenges and system constraints.   Is this “learning on the fly” or agile learning in practice?  You decide.

 

*NOTE: ADDIE = Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Deliver – classic phases of Instructional Systems Design (ISD) Technique.