Hit the Target: Craft Learning Activities that Transform Ideals into Results

Instructional Design Tips
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Hit The Target - Learning ActivitiesIt’s day one on your new learning design project, and you’re meeting with the client to discuss desired outcomes for their employee training program. You’re all ready to talk about observable, measurable behaviors and define precise learning objectives that fit neatly into a performance map. But when you ask the client to describe what success looks like, you hear something like this:

“We want our employees to feel good about working here.”

“We want to motivate our employees to be helpful.”

“We want our employees to be empowered.”

Just like that, the project gets more complicated. After all, learning design is a lot like target shooting. It’s challenging enough when your objective is concrete, like a clay pigeon or an observable, measurable behavior. It can be truly daunting when the goal is abstract, like feeling good or being motivated. I recently faced this challenge when a client requested training that made managers more appreciative of their team members.

The good news—for designers, clients, and learners—is that carefully designed learning activities can turn abstract ideals into real learning results. Here are three strategies that we often use at Allen to help our partners hit their behavioral targets:

  1. Set the stage

Abstractions, like concepts and feelings, firm up when they have a context to emerge in. In our designs, to meet this need, we often:

  • Begin the learning experience by introducing a story-based, symbolic, or metaphorical framework in which ideals like empowerment and motivation can take form. For example, in an award-winning retail management training program, we placed the user in a hypothetical store: “After two years as retail associate you have been promoted to an assistant manager. You arrive at the store for you evening shift and you see a long task list…”
  • Leverage rich media assets that portray the desired behavior outcomes through subtleties like facial expressions and body language, color choice, image composition, and agency quality branding.
  1. Make a case

With a strong context in place, we can then engage the learner in a situation or plot that brings the abstraction to life.

  • A study by Hoberman and Mailik found that simulations improve the ability to connect learning to real-world situations, so we look for ways to present a problem or plot simulation that learners must solve or navigate by applying the desired ideals.
  • We also draw learners into the story by prompting them to identify concrete instances of the desired behavior in scenarios or in their relevant personal experiences.
  1. Walk the walk

Lastly, at Allen, we realize that as designers, we play a powerful role in modeling the ideal throughout the learning experience. In short, we want to show, not tell:

  • Model the target emotion in script voice and tone. If we want employees to feel good about their job, our job is to spark positive feelings at every turn.
  • Reflect the ideal in the user experience. For example, learners who need empowering should be offered exploratory navigation and multiple learning paths.

In a recent leadership training project, these strategies yielded strong results for the client, whose learners reported positive changes in employee attitudes and perspectives. In fact, the success of capturing ideals into concrete learning results helped the course win a platinum industry award. Now, that’s hitting the target!

Join the conversation: How does your organization currently help employees create personal connections to abstract ideals? What are your challenges and successes?

We have experienced Learning Directors who are experts in how we can measurably impact these types of behaviors in your organization. Contact us for a free training consultation to assess your objectives.

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  1. Jake

    It seems like more organizations are paying close attention to company culture since it can have a big effect on the company. It’s great to see examples of learning activities that can actually improve those types of behaviors (engagement, feelings, motivation). I’m sure this type of training will become even more common as employees continue to prioritize culture in the workplace.

    • I agree, Jake. Company culture has a powerful influence on job satisfaction and performance, so it needs to be an integral part of training as well. In fact, training that overlooks cultural elements may be addressing only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to performance change. Thanks for reading and commenting!