As instructional designers, our central purpose is to change behavior. We all know this. And yet, it’s surprising how often this simple objective becomes blurred and we lose focus. Some become absorbed in organizing and presenting information; others are engrossed with media and technology; sometimes we have subject matter experts whose primary goal is to deliver information, with no expectation of behavior change.
Several years ago, I had a somewhat alarming conversation with an executive. He expressed that after years of investing in training, he had decided that training didn’t deliver results and wasn’t a worthwhile investment. He went on to describe how training initiatives had repeatedly failed to show measurable value and demonstrated change in his organization. He was frustrated, and it was an uncomfortable conversation trying to change his mind. It was an eye-opening experience for me, and a reminder of the need to design training that can withstand the tough scrutiny of executives like this individual.
So how do we design training that will make a lasting impact on workplace performance? Here are some suggestions:
- Set realistic expectations regarding the impact training will have on performance. As training professionals, it’s important that we educate and consult to help stakeholders understand what training can do and what it can’t do. In this economic climate, where ROI is being scrutinized more closely, we have to make sure that our training delivers the promised results.
- Encourage high-level executive commitment and involvement. When learners know that training is supported by executives and managers and that they will be held accountable for what they are taught, their level of commitment to retain and apply learning increases significantly.
- Motivate learners to make a change. Help them see the value of the training, why they need it and what will happen in the organization if it is not understood and applied. Create a sense of urgency to learn new skills and knowledge.
- Use stories to strengthen recall and retain interest. Put simply, learners have to remember what they learned in order to apply it.
- Encourage reflection. Many courses include reflection activities at the end of the course. Instead, provide reflection opportunities at multiple points throughout the course. Help learners consider how the content pertains to their work and how they will apply this learning on the job.
- Provide the right kind of practice at the right frequency. Practice activities should put learners in circumstances similar to what they will face on-the job. When determining how much practice is needed, consider how complex the learning objectives are and how fluent learners need to be in applying the content.
- Provide post-training resources and activities to support and sustain learning such as: takeaways and job aids, action planning activities, and on-the-job coaching.
- Encourage managers to follow-up with learners after the training, and ensure that they have opportunities to apply what they’ve learned. Recommend ways to recognize and reward learners for applying new skills.
With all of the competing issues we face as we design training experiences, we need to make sure that our central purpose always remains in the forefront—changing behavior. As you approach your next project, ask yourself, “If a tough executive looked at this training a year from now, how would he or she rate the success of this project in providing measurable value and producing demonstrated change?”
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