When Your GXP Learning Provider Becomes Your Strategic Partner

“So, they want me to ask if you would do the GMP refresher for us.”

“No.  I did the GMP Basics last year.  It’s only been 4 months and I am not going to repeat the content or water it down or “just tell them the GMPs”. 

“Well, I can’t do it by myself, not after you’ve introduced us to activities.  I don’t know how to create meaningful exercises.”

“Let me think about this some more.  What’s currently happening on site, other than last year’s 483? Do you have any updates we can use?”

“Oh, there was an audit done and you know they found stuff.  Folks are kind of hot about it, actually.”

“Okay, now we have something to work with.  I’ll do it on two conditions.  1.) That we use the audit observations and 2.) I need 90 minutes.”

“Nope, not going to happen.  No way for the 90 minutes. Oh, and they want to keep the audit observations ‘confidential’.  We’re not allowed to use them.”

“Then you’ll have to find another consultant to do it. After the training we did last year, I cannot go back to lecture only.  I built trust with your employees.  And you and I learned that we need to add time so that they can complete the quiz at the end and not feel rushed”. 

“I really want you to do it.  I will go back to the management team and tell them you said yes. But I need a proposal justifying the 90 minutes and describing what you will do with audit observations.”

The Quality of Previous Learning Provider Engagements

This organization is a leading manufacturer and distributor of regulated products.  They received Form FD-483 observations the year before.  Among the remedial actions, was a “Back to GMP Basics” training program for the entire site including indirect support and non-GMP staff.   

Not only were sessions content tailored for varying roles, but employees were also introduced to interactive exercises and collaborative activities that encouraged them to share responses with their seatmates.  For many of them, this was a totally different GMP learning experience.  Employees were no longer grumbling about the training and management was able to produce the required paperwork to the agency. 

As part of the remediation plan, the client also pledged to increase the frequency of GMP refreshers to twice a year.  Given the favorable outcome from the previous GMP Training program, it was suitable that the management team extended an offer to conduct a refresher.  What was a surprise, however, was that the management team wanted their old – “gloom and doom, thou shall follow these regulations” style of telling them the GMPs from the podium.  Why? Was this a form of punishment?  It sure felt like it.

Management Team Knew Their Priority

At the time of the above request, 4 months of the year had already transpired.  During which, a follow-up audit of their GMP systems was conducted by a separate consulting group.  The audit found numerous examples of recent noncompliance.  The site leadership team was also reminded that the 1st GMP refresher was coming due.  The head of Quality made the decision to use the GMP refresher as a corrective action for the audit.

Kudos to the Head of Quality for doing three things.  First, he recognized that the c in CGMPs was the audit findings and resulting noncompliance examples.  Two, he leveraged the resource of QA Training and demonstrated just how strategic the role should be to the organization by elevating the importance of this refresher.  He used a systems approach when he tagged the delivery of this refresher to the corrective actions for the independent audit.  This was quite novel at the time.  And third, he approved the request to provide his Training Manager some help. He connected all the dots between the independent solos!

Their Decision to Outsource

Their “GMP Trainer” was also the manager of the company-wide training database.  He was a department of one whose primary duty was data entry into a complicated and non-user-friendly training database.  Time to develop and deliver the GMP refresher was something this manager did not have.  The sooner it could be delivered, the sooner the training manager could get back to the mounting stacks of attendance records awaiting data entry.

 “Just tell them the GMPs” one more time is what the management team was originally asking for.  The learners were expected to sit and listen.  After all, they used to be scolded for poor compliance results. One employee referred to it as “shame and blame” sessions with their heads down to avoid eye contact with the presenter; especially if it was a leader from Quality Operations.

The management team wanted to bring back their learning provider and they wanted to dictate how the refresher would be conducted.  To revert to lectures only would break the trust the learners had built with the GMP Learning Provider and jeopardize any successful transfer of behavior change to the workplace.

Corrective Actions are supposed to remediate, right?

The independent audit revealed several examples of non-compliant actions taken.  When categorized, these actions clustered around three main areas.  If the “corrective actions training” aka the GMP refresher was going to remediate these findings, just telling them what the regs say without any discussion or collaborative processing of what these examples were showing, would have no effect on eliminating or reducing further GMP “mistakes”.  What did the management team expect to happen because of the training?  I imagine no more examples of GMP violations?  

Aligning Business Needs with Quality Objectives Yield a Strategic Focus

Shifting the behavior towards appropriate compliance begins with shifting mindsets around compliance.  Working with the three categorized areas, the management team agreed to the following three business outcomes:

  1. Continued commitment to comply with our GMP Work Habits
  2. Follow Good Documentation Practices for our controlled documents
  3. Perform our responsibilities for operating equipment in our work areas

While these outcomes were great goals, they were also very broad and hard for learners to put into daily practice; let alone change their behavior.  Effectiveness checks for training was another commitment to the agency as part of the GMP Training program improvements.

Furthermore, measuring the effectiveness of the GMP refresher training would require more than a knowledge check if behavior change back at the workplace was their end game.  What would the CAPA effectiveness checks look like for this corrective action as well? Recall, the two quality system activities were now interlinked.

In further discussions with the Head of Quality, the business outcomes were transcribed into quality themes and key messages.  These then drove the decisions for specific content pieces and activities that targeted what compliant behavior should look like regarding the 3 quality themes. 

To further quell any negative ramifications using audit findings, the chosen examples were approved by the Head of Quality and a courtesy copy of the refresher materials was provided to the management team in advance. 

Designing, developing, and delivering the refresher course topics with even more interactive opportunities all the while ensuring that the previous GMP Basics content was refreshed, not just repeated, became the basis for the activities.  It was analogous to “a Part 2” in which employees were allowed to “interact” with both the regulations and real-time scenarios (selective audit observations). 

When a Learning Partnership Works

One of the advantages of working with a previous learning provider is the ability to create an ongoing learning path built upon previously delivered content; not just provide a “canned” presentation on the requested topic.  There is a willingness to work with internal resources and integrate existing artifacts such as audit findings into the course design so that the organization achieves its business outcomes beyond just closing the CAPAs and getting a checkmark for delivering the first of two promised refreshers. 

Value and Impact: Training Effectiveness Results

  • Assembling into pairs and groups was achieved in less time than when first introduced in the GMP Basics series.  The Learning Provider now had credibility and the employee’s earned trust. The relevance of the audit finding examples kept employees engaged with many of them asking private questions at the end of the sessions.  This was unheard of previously, thus initiating the “transfer back to my job”.  They were thinking about how these examples and the GMP content applied to them.
  • A 5-question quiz was administered as part of their effectiveness training check.  This is the classic tool for knowledge comprehension and their newly revised SOP now included Knowledge Checks (KCs) for GMP Training.  400+ employees completed the quiz.  The mean score was 91% with several achieving 100% and a few failing scores.

Why Knowledge Checks Don’t Tell the Whole Story …

Using an item analysis can reveal a lot of information about the construction of the GMP KC questions.

As always, it is possible that some memorization and sharing the correct lettered responses happen despite that there were three versions of the KC.  It is also possible that some folks do not take the time to read questions thoroughly.  And some folks don’t recognize when “all of the above” choice applies.  They are in a rush to exit the class. 

Pay attention to incorrect responses that are clearly wrong as in they don’t make sense.  It may indicate a “cheating trend” if only one version of a quiz is provided.  In this case, three versions of the quiz were used.

When responses are troubling; a follow-up discussion with an SME or a “legacy” employee is needed to determine if an old, outdated, and non-GMP practice was acceptable at one time.  Knowing this gives some insight into why it was chosen but disheartening that the behavior is still prevalent.  If the behavior is still happening, it warrants further discussions with site leadership and the Head of Quality.  It may be isolated to a few individuals and can be managed via the HR performance management system.

Sometimes verbal responses to a question in class, don’t match the chosen response in the quiz.  The quiz results could be a matter of confusion with the wording of the question especially for Assessment A in which the question had a NOT worded in it, rendering the answer to be False.  It’s akin to a double negative and it trips up a lot of people who are not test-savvy.  So be careful with questions that can be confusing or tricky.  For this client, it was worded to capture a real scenario that happens in the industry. 

This client was urged to address failing scores; results below 80%.  Their Training SOP had recently been revised to include formal assessments for GMP Training and Critical Task SOPs as part of their effectiveness checks for training.

  • The priority for the refresher was agreed to by the site management team and communicated to everyone during the sessions.  The FDA remediation plan was still a focused site objective, and this refresher was part of those activities; not something in addition to like an after-thought or add-on.
    • Three outcomes were identified as the business needs and became the driver behind content and decisions for activities. The “Big Why” for this refresher was clear and compelling.  Tangible work-behaviors were user-generated for peers to model as examples of complying with the GMP Work Habits.
    • There was continuity with previous GMP content.  The existing GMP Learning Provider connected the dots with prior content and reinforced the relevancy and importance of the GMP Work Habits.  Rapport was re-established and on-going trust for an engaging and interactive session of 90 minutes was achieved.  Minimal repeat of previous content; refresh enough to complete an activity.
  • Learning Provider negotiated with Site Management Team on behalf of the Learners Needs: to include real workplace audit observations and an additional 30 minutes of classroom time that included the GMP quiz and debrief of the correct answers. Employees left each session with the correct responses to 5 questions; their final take away from the sessions.
  • The design followed a 3-step learning model: Learn, Experience, Apply. 
    • Learn: Short lectures or vignettes was used to learn/refresh on content. 
    • Experience: Variety of ways in which the Learners engaged with the audit observations; not just a slide for each observation but small group discussion and tangible activity to complete and report back on.
    • Apply: peer feedback, debriefing.

Are you thinking about outsourcing your next compliance?  Why not form a training partnership with an industry GXP Learning Provider?  -VB

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When to Outsource Your GMP Refresher

Tips for Writing KCs

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About Vivian Bringslimark, President of HPIS Consulting, Inc.

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Reframing a Training Request

When you hear we need a training course on … pay attention!  It is by far the most opportune time a Performance Consultant (PC) has to get an HPI (Human Performance Improvement) project going.  But a word of caution is in order.  Please don’t launch into a 15-minute dissertation on the HPI methodology if all they want is a training fix. 

A Typical Training Request

Begins with an assumption that a lack of knowledge is somehow missing, and that “training” is the right solution.  Next, the requestor launches into a list of “required content” and without taking a breath, asks when can you complete the classroom training. Rather than attempting to explain when training is the right answer, stay calm and in your best professional tone use the following phrases:

  • Okay, have they been trained before?
  • What was that like?
  • I see.  So more of the “same” training will change the results? In what way?

If they continue to insist, then use my favorite one: Okay, but what will they be doing differently as a result of this training session? 

Say Yes and …

Never say no to a training request until you know more.  The key is to get more time without actually saying you need more time!  You do this by conducting a performance cause analysis to determine the nature of the discrepancy.  Evidence can be collected from document review examples, deviations, audit observations, and follow-up “interviews”.   Even if a solution begins to form in your mind, stay on the HPI methodology path and let the data show you the proper answer.  It’s this data that grants a PC a little bit more time.

Analyses Du Jour: Isn’t It Really All The Same Things?

There’s root cause analysis and gap analysis and now performance cause analysis? 

Is there a difference?

Do they use different tools? 

It can be overwhelming to decipher through the jargon, no doubt.  I think it depends on which industry you come from and whether your focus is a regulatory/quality system point of view or performance consulting perspective.  To me, it doesn’t change the outcome.  I still want to know why the deviation occurred, how the mistake was made, and /or what allowed the discrepancy to happen.  Mix and matching the tools allows me to leverage the best techniques from all.

Why We Love Root Cause Analysis

For starters, it’s FDA friendly and we get to document our compliance with CAPA requirements.  It allows us to use tools and feel confident that our “data doesn’t lie”.  This bodes well for our credibility with management.  And it provides the strategic connection between our solution (as a corrective action) and site quality initiatives thus elevating the importance and quite possibly the priority for completing the corrective action on time.

But You Have To Ask The Right Questions

The consequence?  Jumping to the wrong conclusion that automatic re-training or refresher training is the needed solution.  Done, checkmark.  On to the next problem that needs a root cause analysis. But when the problem repeats or returns with a more serious consequence, management questions why the training did not transfer, or we wonder what’s wrong with the employee – why is s/he not getting this yet?

Given the constant pressure to shrink budgets and improve the bottom line, managers don’t usually allow themselves the luxury of being proactive especially when it comes to knowledge transfer and performance gaps. 

So, they tend to fall back on quick-fix solutions that give them a checkmark and “clear their desk” momentarily.  For the few times this strategy works, there are twice as many times when those fixes backfire and the unintended consequences are worse. 

No Time To Do It Right, But Time To Do It Twice!

Solving the problem quickly and rapidly closing the CAPA allows us to get back to our other pressing tasks.  Unfortunately, “band-aids” fall off.  The symptom was only “covered up and temporarily put out of sight”, but the original problem wasn’t solved.  So now, we must investigate again (spend more time) and dig a little deeper.  We have no time to do it right but, we find the time to do it twice.  Madness!

Tired Of Repeat Errors – Ask A Performance Consultant To Help You Design A Better Corrective Action

In the article, “Why the Band-Aids Keep Falling Off”, I provide an alternate strategy that emphasizes moving away from events-only focus to exploring the three levels of interaction that influence performance: individual performer, task/process, organizational quality systems.  These same three levels are where performance consultants can carry out their best work when supported by their internal customers.  The good news is that the first step is the same; it begins with a cause analysis. 

The difference is that the corrective action is not a reactive quick fix but a systems approach to correcting the issue and preventing it from showing up again.  System-based solutions are the foundation of many HPI/HPT projects that require cross-functional support and collaborative participation across the site/organization.  And this is where a PC needs support from senior leaders and/or a sponsor.

I Need Training for 800 Employees ASAP

A corporate auditor discovered a lack of training records for newly developed Job Aids during a Mock Inspection.  So, the easy fix would be to re-train everyone and then produce the records, right? Notice, however, that the solution is biased towards retraining without discovering why the training was missed in the first place.  Reframing the request allowed the Performance Consultant to not only find the root cause but to provide both immediate resolution and long-term prevention.  The PC never said no to the training request, only that they “wanted to provide the most effective training possible”.   The PC’s part was to expedite a Cause Analysis and solution recommendations as quickly as possible. 

Short Term Value vs. Bottom Line Impact

This situation presented a very real dilemma for the PC.  Provide short term value for the VP of Quality (Requestor) and satisfy the goal to close out the audit observation or find the real root cause to determine what the appropriate solution SHOULD be. In theory, there is no dilemma. The choice is obvious. But in practice, for organizations under intense pressure to take immediate action, short term value can be quite attractive.

This is exactly where performance analysis provides a balanced approach.  If the PC proceeded as requested (directed), the training for 800 employees would not have prevented the deviation from occurring again, leaving the possibility of an FDA investigator discovering the same discrepancy! In the end, the HPI approach delivered the solution far quicker than the traditional training approach was originally planned for and the audit observation was closed before the due date.

Isn’t this what HPI is all about – impacting the bottom line? – VB

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READ: “Just Get the Audit Observation Closed Already, Will You?” to learn what the PC discovered, how she was able to calculate the wasted cost of continuing with the request for training, and what steps were recommended to prevent a recurrence. 

Performance Analysis: the lean approach to solving performance problems

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(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

What’s the difference between Trainers and Performance Consultants?

Aren’t they one and the same?

 Since the original release of this blog in 2014, it continues to be the # 1 blog viewed on the Theory vs. Practice blog spot.  Thank you to all the viewers and future viewers.  This tells me that the question is still relevant today in 2021. 

Just another fancy title?

Some leaders think there is no difference; that we’ve just added one more title into the crowded lexicon of L&D jargon.  And others believe that performance consultants (PCs) want to expand their scope, budget and timelines.  And some simply hear excuses about why the requested training “course” is not immediately being embraced. 

Dana Gaines Robinson in her seminal book, Performance Consulting, provides 6 items to use when comparing a Trainer/Training event and a PC/performance-based solution.  Allow me to expand upon the 6 elements to illustrate the difference between the two and the depth of impact one has over the other.  

FOCUS

Training addresses the learning needs of employees.  Various definitions include closing the knowledge and skill gap of what they know now and what they know afterward.  It’s built on the assumption that the cause of the gap is a lack of knowledge and skill.  Performance Consulting addresses the business goals and performance needs of the affected employees.  Instructor-led training is just one of the possible solutions that can be used; not the only one. See HPI 6 “boxes” of performance solutions. 

OUTPUTS

A training solution delivers a structured learning event.  Whether it is a classroom or virtual or self-led, the event itself is the end goal. The assumption is that learning occurred and knowledge gained so, therefore, a change in behavior or in the learners’ performance should occur as well.  

Performance Consulting or Human Performance Improvement (HPI) projects are implemented to improve performance.  The end goal is not about the solution such as the specific HPI Project, but rather a positive change in performance that leads to the achievement of the business goal.  The endpoint is “further down the road”.  So it takes longer to produce the results. This frustrates site leadership.  They would rather check off the box that a learning event was delivered because it’s more tangible and occurs faster than quarterly metrics. 

ACCOUNTABILITY

With training, the Trainer is held accountable for the event.  In a lot of organizations, there is an implied but not spoken accountability for the results back on the job despite that Trainers lack the authority to direct their learners’ actions back in the workspace.  Without the proper systems and support mechanisms in place, many Trainers get “blamed” for training transfer failure.  Here’s the big difference for me. 

Performance Consultants (PCs) partner with their internal customers, system owners, and business leaders in support of the business goals.  The accountability for improved performance becomes shared across the relationships.

Differences between Training and Performance Consultants
ASSESSMENTS

Trainers typically conduct a needs analysis to design the best learning “program” or course possible.  Again, the assumption is that a learning course will close the training gap. When the directive comes from a senior leader in the organization, it is hard to initiate a dialogue about human performance improvement.  That is probably the least successful time to educate the leader.

PCs conduct performance gaps to assess causes that can go beyond knowledge and skills.  It’s called a performance cause analysis and often reveals other contributing factors that a training course cannot and will not fix. To a compliance trainer or quality systems professional, this sounds a lot like root cause analysis. 

Why we love root cause analysis

We get to document our compliance with CAPA requirements.  It allows us to use tools and feel confident that our “data doesn’t lie”.  This bodes well for our credibility with management.  And it provides the strategic connection between our HPI solution (as a corrective action) and the business goal.  This collected data can become the baseline for measuring the effectiveness of the chosen solution later on.   CAPA= Corrective Actions Preventive Actions.

The outcome of a performance analysis produces a 3 tiered picture of what’s encouraging or blocking performance for the worker, work tasks, and/or the workplace. And what must be done about it at these same three levels.  The solutions then become tailored to the situation, coordinated across the organization, and executed consistently over time.

MEASURES

Trainers very often use course evaluation sheets as a form of measurement.  In the Compliance Training arena, knowledge checks and quizzes have also become the norm.  Caution.  A learner can achieve 100% of the learning objectives and still fail to perform the skills necessary to achieve the business outcomes.  This is also known as a failure to transfer training or the learning objectives. PCs measure the effect on performance improvement and achievement of business objectives.

ORGANIZATIONAL GOALS

This is another key differentiator.  Training is viewed as a cost typically.  Compliance Trainers are all too familiar with the phrase, “GMP Training is a necessary evil”.  And more recently, compliance training has become synonymous with check the box training and “just get ‘er done”. PCs become business partners in solving performance gaps and accomplishing organizational goals.

But isn’t this still training?

Managers and leaders really all the benefits that come from performance consulting, but they don’t have the patience for it especially when many of the solutions end up looking like a “training event”.

If it looks like, smells like, and tastes like training …

Then it must be training, right? Not exactly. But nod your head anyway; at least they are still engaged with you!  If your client/sponsor/requestor is more comfortable with calling it training, let them do so.  Don’t push the HPI label at this point.  First, work on raising their awareness with your early projects and successes.  From your success, you can bridge to an explanation about HPI and gain more support for HPI projects. 

What’s your company’s definition of training, anyway?

Most folks will envision instructor-led classrooms, virtual instructor-led, and formal eLearning courses. Their frame of reference is the gap must be a lack of knowledge and training is used to close that gap.  Is closing a skill-based gap also considered training?  Most companies would define that as OJT.  What about “awareness training” and communication “training” sessions; are these considered training?  It is a form of closing a knowledge gap, the depth of the gap and the degree of required proficiency is the differentiator.  Again, what’s your company’s definition of training?  You may have several examples of differentiating levels of depth.

What’s your organization’s definition of training?

Closing Performance Gaps with the Right Solutions

The essence of HPI methodology is all about the right solution based on the data (evidence) and making a worthy impact on the bottom line when the performance gap closes.  Is this training, you tell me?

 I believe that this is what training is supposed to provide when you perform the proper cause analysis and identify what the business wants to achieve by resolving the performance gap. How would you explain it to your requestor?

Wait a minute. What is worthy performance?

Thomas Gilbert described it as engineering worthy performance in his groundbreaking book, Human Competence: Engineering worthy performance.   It’s when the cost of doing the task is less than the value of the results generated.  When they are the same or greater, we have a performance gap.  The eBook, “Triggering the Shift to Performance Improvement” is a short primer that explains human performance to management.

After the business analysis is conducted, the performance analysis (PA) follows next.  PA recognizes that performance occurs within organizational systems.  It is not a training needs analysis.  The emphasis during a PA is on first recognizing the drivers and barriers that get in the way of worthy performance.  The method gathers multiple perspectives on the problem, not just content for a training course. 

Human Performance Improvement Solutions is like opening up Pandora’s Box

Very often the recommended HPI solution(s) involves integration of linkages outside of the initiating department but within those same “organizational and quality systems” in order to ensure sustainable performance improvement. Otherwise, you have a fragment of the solution with high expectations for solving “the problem” which often falls short of performance improvement.

This requires cooperation of others

How solid are these relationships?  Would a request to fix someone else’s system go over well?   Or would you be reproached of starting a turf battle?  HPI projects have the potential of opening up unsettling issues similar to Pandora’s Box.  Image, perception, pending promotions, can all be impacted by what the Performance Analysis reveals, including the fear of losing one’s job.  And yet, this very opportunity to engineer worthy performance is what makes these projects so valuable for impactful results. 

HPI Project vs. a Training Event

Conclusion

A training solution closes a knowledge and skill gap, wonderful.  Rarely is lack of knowledge the only factor contributing to poor performance.  A performance solution may include a training piece, but it also closes a gap in Job Performance which in turn can close a gap in a Process Performance and resolve a gap in Business Results. That’s what an HPI project/solution does differently than a training solution. Being able to show this kind of impact on the business as a result of the work a Performance Consultant does go a long way to earning business leaders’ trust.  –VB

References:

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

Gilbert T Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance. San Francisco: ISPI, Pfeiffer; Tribute Edition, 2007.

HPISC Library has articles, impact stories, and white papers.

Performance Analysis: the lean approach to solving performance problems

HPISC eBooklet: Trigger the Shift in Performance Improvement

So your retraining corrective action didn’t produce the results you wanted. And now it’s really becoming an urgent issue. I can help with your “Urgent Request”.

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(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

Batteries Not Included: Not All Trainers are Instructional Designers or Classroom Facilitators

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 workbench. 

For years, this distinction was clearly practiced where I worked.  Trainers were in the classroom and SMEs delivered OJT.  Occasionally a “fulltime” trainer would consult with an 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 an SME is less important, what is necessary however is what defines effective instruction.

Your title might have the word trainer in it.  One of your responsibilities might be a qualified trainer. And you know how to use PowerPoint (PPT). Does this make you an Instructional Designer as well?  Some say yes and others cry foul as they cling to their certificates and advanced degrees. So, forgive me when I say, not every Trainer or Training Manager has the skill set or ID competency embedded in his/her toolbox.   It’s analogous to the toy box on the shelf at Toys R Us – “NOTE: Batteries Not Included”.  Except in our case, the note may be missing from the resume, but definitely embedded into the job description if you are QA L&D or HR Training and Development.

Instructional Design is a recognized profession 

Instructional Design (ID) as a field of study has been offered by many prominent universities for quite some time and is now more known as Instructional Technology.  Underlying the design of a course or a learning event, is a methodology for “good” instructional 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 staff, there are less resources available to develop traditional course materials of the past.  Not to mention, shrinking timelines 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 PPT slide deck is not instructional design. 

What is effective design? 

Basic Elements of Course 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 an SME, even for fulltime 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 Conditions of Learning, etc., provides a process with steps for 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 of leaving them out can have on the overall training effectiveness.  There is a science to instructional design. 

PowerPoint Slides are only a visual tool

Using PowerPoint slides by themselves does not make the training successful.  It’s one of the main tools a trainer uses to meet the objectives of the learning event, albeit the main one. The “art form” occurs when a designer creates visually appealing slides / 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.  But there is a difference between a course that is created to help the Trainer achieve his/her agenda and one that successfully engages learners to participate, learn and then transfer their insights back home to the job where changed behavior improves the department’s metrics.

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.

From passive to active to immersive

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 firsthand 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 from Presenter Controlled Training to Learner Focused Facilitation

Moving to a more Learner Focused approach shifts the effort 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 design includes opportunities for group participation, utilization of participants’ expertise, and real-life problem solving; key principles of adult learning.

On the one end of the continuum is the lecture which is 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.

Most Trainers and 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.  As a result, it shows up in the slide deck with overburdened slides filled with a lot of “stuff”.  Training 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, nominated SMEs as Facilitators 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 listening (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 the 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.

While lecture has its merits, today’s learners want engaging content; that is timely, relevant and meaningful.  And while virtual reality and simulations are engaging and very immersive, courses and learning events using these techniques rely on well-funded budgets.  Most Training Departments are not that fortunate.   In the middle of the range are “lively lectures” and alternate methods such as:

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

Take the 1st shift right.

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 are the key.

Shift to the right when ready for the upgrade

Moving from Lecture to Delivering an EFFECTIVE Lecture

Thoroughness in the preparation reflects care and thoughtfulness. Learners appreciate the personal desire to deliver a livelier lecture. Stepping away from the podium forces the Trainer/SME to take action and allow the learners to “get up close” with the SME as Facilitator. This in turn is reflected in the learner’s desire to respond to questions and dialogue during a facilitated discussion. The rule of thumb for lecturing is approximately 8-10 minutes max. For virtual sessions, the rule of thumb is approximately 5 minutes. 

Take the 2nd Shift: Cut Content to Add Interactivity

How is this done? Upfront in the design of the course materials. The course designers have spent time and budget to prepare a leader’s 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.

“STOP TALKING and get learners engaged in some form of activity, practice or reflection exercise”, Vivian Bringslimark, HPIS Consulting, Inc. 

One of the benefits of shifting to this learner focused design is the opportunity for learners to process the content, to make it meaningful for themselves and then associate memory links to it for later recall when the moment of need is upon them.  This can’t happen while the trainer is lecturing.  It happens during activities and reflection exercises designed to generate their own ideas during small group interactions and link it back to the course content/objectives.  Learners are prompted to openly discuss issues and problems within a “learning lab” style environment. 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 might have to develop a story from an incident, a deviation or significant CAPA, etc. The reward is that the Trainer/ 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

References:

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

Who is the Author, Vivian Bringslimark?

HPISC Library has articles, impact stories and white papers.

SME Impact Story: The Real Meaning of TTT

White Paper: Step Away From the Podium

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

Compliance Training: No More Passive Learning

Special Thanks to LTEN for Publishing this article!

Looking for inspiration to liven up a lecture? I have 10 ideas for you.

HPISC Library has articles, impact stories and white papers.

No More Boring GMP Lectures |Impact Story about how to introduce more interactivity into GMP Refresher sessions.

More GMP Resources Available here.

Available HPISC GMP Refresher Course | Looking for More Choices?

Who is Vivian Bringslimark?

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

If training isn’t the answer, what is the right fix?

Ideally, the right solution is one that closes the performance gap AND makes a worthy impact on business objectives.

This blog has now been merged with “The Difference Between Trainers and Performance Consultants“.

Direct link here.

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.