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

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.

The Silver Bullet for Performance Problems Doesn’t Exist

Oh but if it did, life for a supervisor would be easier, right? Let’s face it, “people” problems are a big deal for management. Working with humans does present its challenges, such as miscommunications between staff, data entry errors, or rushing verification checks. Sometimes, the task at hand is so repetitive that the result is assumed to be okay and gets “a pass”.  Add constant interruptions to the list and it becomes even harder not to get distracted and lose focus or attention to the detail.

Actual behavior vs. performing as expected

In their book, Performance Consulting: Moving Beyond Training, Dana Gaines Robinson and James C. Robinson describe performance as what the performer should be able to do. A performance problem occurs when the actual behavior does not meet expectation (as in should have been able to do).   Why don’t employees perform as expected? Root cause analysis helps problem solvers and investigators uncover a myriad of possible reasons.   For Life Sciences companies, correcting mistakes and preventing them from occurring again is at the heart of CAPA systems (Corrective Actions Preventive Actions).

A closer look at performance gaps

Dana and James Robinson conducted research regarding performer actions and sorted their results into three categories of obstacles:

  • Conditions of performers
  • Conditions of the immediate managers
  • Conditions of the organization

A checklist for common Performance Causes  – scroll down for the Tool.

But, weren’t they trained and qualified?

Hopefully, employees are trained using an approved OJT (On the Job Training) Methodology in which they are shown how to execute the task and then given opportunities to practice multiple times to become proficient. During these sessions, they are coached by Qualified Trainers and given feedback on what’s right (as expected) and given specific instructions to correct what’s not right with suggestions for tweaking their performance so that their final performance demonstration is on par with their peer group. At the conclusion of the qualification event, employees must accept that they now own their deviations (mistakes) from this point forward. So what gets in the way of performing “as they should” or in compliance speak – according to the procedure?

Is it a lack of knowledge, skill or is it something else?

The Robinson’s explain that performance is more than the training event. It’s combination of the overall learning experience and the workplace environment that yields performance results. Breaking that down into a formula per se, they suggest the following: learning experience x workplace environment = performance results.

The root cause investigation will include a review of training and the qualification event as well as a discussion with the performer.

  • Is it a lack of frequency; not a task often performed?
  • Is it a lack of feedback or delayed feedback in which the deviation occurred without their awareness?
  • Is it task interference?

The work environment includes organizational systems and business unit processes that together enable the performer to produce the outcomes as “expected”.   These workplace factors don’t always work in perfect harmony resulting in obstacles that get in the way of “expected” performance:

  • Lack of authority – unclear roles, confusing responsibilities?
  • Lack of time – schedule conflicts; multi-tasking faux pas?
  • Lack of tools – reduced budgets?
  • Lack of poorly stored equipment/tools – lost time searching?

Isn’t it just human nature?

Once the root cause investigation takes on a human element attention, it’s easy to focus on the performer and stop there.   If it’s the first time for the performer or first instance related to the task, it’s tempting to label the event as an isolated incident. But when it comes back around again, it becomes apparent there was a “failure to conduct an in-depth investigation” to correct and prevent. Not surprisingly, a push back of “Operator Error as Root Cause” has forced organizations to look deeper into the root causes involving Humans.

Who’s human nature?

Recall that one of the categories of the researched obstacles was “conditions of the immediate managers”. This makes managers uncomfortable. With so much on their plates, managing a people performance problem is not what they want to see. A silver bullet like a re-training event is a nice activity that gets a big red check mark on their to-do list. However, Robert Mager and Peter Pipe, in their book, Analyzing Performance Problems, provide insights to managing direct reports that may lead to unintended consequences. A brief list can be found here – scroll to Tool: Performance Causes.  (It’s not always the performer’s fault.)

It takes all three to correct a performance problem

soln-people-performance-problemThe third category of researched obstacles clustered around “conditions of the organization”.  I’ve already discussed task interference above. To suggest that organizations are setting up their employees to fail is pushing it just a bit too far.   So I won’t go there, but it is painful for some leaders to come to terms with the implication. In order to prevent issues from reoccurring, an examination of the incidents and quite possibly a restructuring of systems have to occur, because automatic re-training is not the only solution to a “people performance problem”. –VB

Robinson DG, Robinson JC. Performance Consulting: Moving beyond training. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler; 1995.

Mager R, Pipe P. Analyzing performance problems. Belmont: Lake Publishing; 1984.

Using Neuroscience to Maximize Learning: Why we should start paying attention to the Research

In October 2015, I had the privilege to have a discussion with Anne-Maree Hawkesworth, Technical Training Manager of AstraZeneca, Australia before the 2015 GMPTEA Biennial Conference kicked off. Anne-Maree was in Orlando, Florida to present her concurrent session entitled Insights from ‘Inside Out’ – Employing lessons in neuroscience to facilitate successful learning” during the conference. As an avid fan and follower of the neuroscience literature being published, I was hungry to learn more and she generously gave up a few hours of her time to meet me with over a latte and a nibble of delicious chocolate from Australia.   What follows is a snippet of the exchanged dialogue.

Q: Why has neuroscience become so popular all of a sudden?

Actually it’s been around for a while. It’s not new, even though it sometimes seems that way. For example, look at Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve that is so frequently referenced. It was first introduced 1885. And there are other classic research studies available if you conduct a good search.

Q: Why do trainers need to pay attention to neuroscience and the recent literature?

Quite frankly, they need to start learning how to design their training using these principles. They have to stop lecturing from the slides and speaker notes.

Q: Okay, then what do they need to know?

Concepts like chunking, memory techniques, and the effects of multitasking. Multitasking is very bad for learning. You end up learning nothing. It becomes a waste and yet we are multi tasking now more than ever. For example, management is expecting us to do more. For example, take an e learning course and answer their emails while taking the course!

V- this means the design has to change.  AMH- exactly!

Q: We need help. What should trainers tell Management about neuroscience?

That less is actually more. Stop requiring us to dump more content in slides. We end up remembering less. If you won’t believe us, there’s scientific evidence to back up what we are saying! And don’t dictate how we use the classroom. For example, I have my learners standing for most of the sessions involving activities that I facilitate. In one of my sessions, I had removed the chairs from the room and used ZERO slides.   Imagine that! Oh and I love flip charts!

Bonus Tip: AMH shared a little secret with me. She revealed that Production folks like to do flip chart work. They just don’t want to be the spokesperson. So if you can get them past that, they’ll love being busy writing on the chart.

Q: I noticed that you didn’t include motivation in your slide deck. Was that intentional? How are they related?

I only had 60 minutes, but yes motivation is so very important. We have to keep them motivated to learn. We have to continually grab their attention.   It should be one of the 12 principles.

Q: Earlier you mentioned Chunking. What trends are you seeing in micro learning? Are you implementing any of it?

I am looking at small chunks of learning at the time you require the learning as opposed to “Just in Case” learning that tends to occur months in advance.  Micro-learning is great for follow-up to formal class room or eLearning to boost memory. I like micro-learning in the form of case studies and in particular branching scenarios. Cathy Moore has some great material on her blog and webinars on branching scenarios.

I also like to chunk information within my training and use lots of white space to help separate pieces of information, this helps in facilitating learning.

Q: I work with a lot of Qualified SME Trainers from Production.   How do you get past the brain lingo when you explain neuroscience?

You explain that there are parts of the brain that do different things at different times. There is no need to turn the session into brain science 101. I show them a slide or two and them move on.

Q: Earlier you mentioned “principles”. Can you elaborate on that?

I’d love to but we are near the end of our time together. I can recommend trainers look up John Medina’s 12 Brain Rules.  Briefly they are,

  1. Survival
  2. Stress
  3. Attention
  4. Sensory Integration
  5. Vision
  6. Exploration
  7. Exercise
  8. Sleep
  9. Wiring
  10. Memory
  11. Music
  12. Gender

Alas, I could have dialogued with her for the entire conference albeit, she was jet jagged and the latte was wearing off.   Thank you Anne-Maree for sharing your thoughts and effective classroom delivery techniques with us.   Together, we will shift the classroom design mindset.   -VB