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The more content a course has, the harder it is to do everything: work with subject-matter experts (SMEs), structure activities, get approvals, proofread materials, and meet deadlines. The trick is to limit the content and prevent the extra work from the start. This is the philosophy behind lean training design—include exactly the skills or knowledge people need and nothing more. Each bit of information beyond what is needed takes away from the value of the course because it makes it more difficult for learners to find and apply just what they need.
Here are a few techniques to help you keep your training lean and focused on the need-to-know information:
Define the Scope with Your Client
People are generally good at describing their challenges, but this isn’t always the case with outlining their desired results. It pays to get your clients to outline their desired results for you. Ask them to describe expected outcomes in terms of job performance. What should people be doing better? Which parts of the job should change? Which job tasks will become the course outline?
Focus on Tasks Rather Than Topics
People aren’t paid for just knowing things. They’re expected to do something with their knowledge. Your content should focus on the tasks of their job, rather than knowledge related to their work. Each portion of your course should cover a different job task. You’ll need to create a list of job tasks. Most topics are broad, vague, and often just loosely related to the job. Avoid them when you can.
Set Parameters with Your SMEs
Subject-matter experts are very knowledgeable. But this can work against them. It’s not the role of training to teach everything SMEs know. Our mandate is to get everyone performing work as well as the top performers. Show your SMEs the list of job tasks you created and ask them what the best practices are for each of those tasks. Focus on “how-to” instructions and avoid knowledge-related narrative.
Prevent Unwanted Material from Contributors
The worst thing a trainer can hear is, “While we have them in training, can we also cover…?” Scope creep is the bane of lean training. When stakeholders want to add content later in the design process, refer them to the original task list. Ask which task it fits into. If it doesn’t fit a specific task, you can either add a new task or avoid that content altogether. Either way, you’ve avoided more “nice-to-know” information.
Manage the Impact of Less Useful Content
If, despite these techniques, you still have “nice-to-know” information in your course, include it in the appendix of the course manual where it won’t get in the way of the critical course content. Alternatively, position these less useful topics as “Further Reading” learners can do as a post-course activity. As a last resort, cover them quickly with active methods like Search-n-Learn.
Training is hard enough to design without tons of low-quality content added to every part of the process. Keeping your training lean will not only make it easier on you but will also make the course more relevant and enjoyable for learners. In addition, your clients will see more improvement in employee performance and better returns on their training dollars. That’s a win-win-win that makes lean training worth pursuing.
For a step-by-step instructional design process and time-saving shortcuts that produce better courses faster, check out the Instructional Design for New Designers workshop.