Great Learning Design Leads to Great Performance on the Job

Last week, I attended an intriguing conference at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania sponsored by the Instructional Technology department. Before the event, I surveyed the attendees to find out their most pressing problems in training. Vying for the top spot was that training does not result in the desired job performance. Ouch.

Programs like the one at Bloomsburg leverage the best and most recent technology to enhance training outcomes by creating engaging learner environments. The graduates of these programs are creating some of the best training in the industry for Fortune 100 companies. In places like this, all the best tech is supported by solid instructional design principles.

That’s because when a needs analysis has determined that training is indeed the answer to the performance problem, the structure, as well as the execution of the training, is critical to achieving improved performance. (Here’s a link to a great overview of how to conduct a needs analysis by Ken Drummond) The pathway to effective training that gets results starts with a well-thought-out design that includes the elements necessary to lead to behavioral outcomes. And that happens before the tech sizzle is added during development.

A well-constructed learning design includes elements that:

1. Clearly define the desired behavioral outcome or performance
2. Use verbs that best describe the expected performance
3. Include information and examples that support the knowledge necessary to achieve the result
4. Provide opportunities to practice the behavior or respond appropriately to prompts
5. Include assessments to reinforce the knowledge and confirm that it is being acquired by the learner
6. Allow for graphic, video, audio and other sensory inputs to support and reinforce the information
7. Supply important supplementary material to fill in knowledge gaps of certain learners (eg. Glossaries, definitions, examples)
8. Are easy to use by the experts who must interface with the material for input, refinement, approval, revision and correction
9. Are general enough to be used as a common platform across all types of training programs
10. Contain enough opportunities to create variation among programs that it does not impede the designers’ creativity.

It’s About Job Performance

Because companies spend money on training to achieve a business objective – whether it is to comply with industry regulations, make a better widget faster, improve employee morale or keep employees safe on the job – it is imperative that instructional designers keep the goal of the training foremost in their minds as they design training solutions to business problems. A strong design template that emphasizes outcomes provides a strong foundation for designing training solutions.

Instructional designers and the training team often come from many different backgrounds. Some love the technical aspects of creating an exciting and engaging user experience, some are subject matter experts who love their area of expertise, and some are project managers focused on getting a project done within scope and within budget. With all that enthusiasm for different aspects of creating an educational experience, sometimes the basics of “why we are here” get lost in the creation of the beast.

That is why a strong and well-developed design system focused on business outcomes and performance support can be an instructional design team’s best friend.

What We Do Today

Many IDs are still creating their own designs using something as simple as a Word document. A learning design based in a word processing program or any software program designed for another purpose, such as a mind mapping program, have inherent limitations. The main limitation is simply that the tool was designed to do something other than reinforce instructional best practices.

When we use a storyboard or design document created in a program designed for another purpose, the quality of the training depends on the knowledge and skills of an individual instructional designer or, as is often the case, of someone else assigned to design training who has no background in instructional design at all. Even experienced classroom trainers with the best of intentions and great classroom skills need guidance when choosing how to design a program with the specific goal of achieving a desired business outcome.

An intentional design program offers the support of instructionally sound components, strengthens the training designer’s skillset, supports experts called on to write their own training and makes review cycles easy.

When one of the biggest problems in knowledge transfer remains the fact that training is not achieving the desired workforce performance, perhaps it signals that people assigned to design training need to go back to the drawing board, or rather the design, where the beginning starts with the end in mind.

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Great Learning Design Leads to Great Performance on the Job