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Training Design: Anticipate Potential Pitfalls and Landmines

Training Design - Avoid LandminesI once asked one of the surgeons in my network, as I prepared for a medical training project, what he wanted out of training. He said that when he’s learning a new surgical procedure, he wants to know where the landmines are. I’d never thought of the human body having landmines, but he’s right. There are all sorts of things that can go wrong in any surgery. And wouldn’t you want to know where those are and how to fix them—preferably before you have a patient bleeding out on the operating table?

Really, aren’t there landmines in every job, position or system? As instructors and training designers, we should be anticipating the potential pitfalls in every course or situation. We need to analyze these landmines as we compose the training design of a course or curriculum. What can we warn learners against so no one makes that mistake anymore? What does everyone typically do wrong the first time? What is a better way?

All of those questions should be among the first we ask when we create training. The answers to these questions can determine the content for follow-up training or performance-support tools. For example, depending on the types of landmines we find, our web-based reminders might include things like 5-in-5s (five key points in five minutes, through a custom-designed interface), tablet apps, action planners, process graphics, etc. In addition to reminders of the basic tenets of the training, they can serve as reminders of what not to do.

Another one of my favorite strategies is presenting learners with a scenario that has been handled badly—then having them fix it. After all, each of us thinks that way to some extent: we think back through our onboarding training and analyze how we would have restructured it, or we sit through a meeting with a client and watch a colleague fall headfirst into a sinkhole. In our brains, we inherently fix the situation and handle it differently. Again: here’s the landmine; now get away safely.

So, moving forward, consider what kind of follow-on training lends itself to your need. Is there a problem your maintenance crew has consistently? Is there a cultural shift that causes problems every time a new hire tries to adapt? Is there a consistent sales situation that challenges your retail floor managers? Is there a new product recall that has your sales reps tap-dancing on a regular basis? What follow-on or just-in-time training piece is missing that would help your learners navigate the existing pitfalls, or how can you build a bridge for your learners to dodge them altogether? By designing with these questions in mind, you will be better prepared to develop an effective solution.