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Let’s face it: developing an effective and enjoyable training course is harder than it looks. That’s why expert instructional designers all have something in common. They use a repeatable process that produces top-quality results while avoiding common problems and pitfalls.
You can do the same thing. By following these best practices, you can develop exceptional training courses that deliver measurable results. The best part? These practices can be learned and repeated.
As the world’s largest train-the-trainer company, Langevin has helped thousands of trainers succeed. We’ve created a streamlined instructional design method that combines the most effective strategies into one step-by-step process. This guide will walk you through every step.
Don’t know where to start? Our instructional design workshop for new designers is perfect for you.
The fastest and most efficient way to design a training course is to follow our 10-step process. Once you learn it, you can use the same process to develop virtual classroom courses or traditional instructor-led courses.
You can even use it to design something as simple as a job aid or as complex as an e-learning module. In fact, this same process can be applied to designing any sort of instruction.
It’s important to follow these steps in order because each one builds on the last. If you do them out of sequence, you risk not having the right information at the right time. Or you might accidentally make assumptions that lead to unnecessary work.
Your first job as an instructional designer is to gather as much information as possible. You need to find out the logistics, the target audience, what tasks need to be improved, and so on. The best way to get the information you need is to ask questions.
Exactly what knowledge or skills need to be learned in the course?
Hopefully, the organization has completed some kind of training needs analysis. If so, they should come to you with a specific list of requests. This makes your job much easier.
Sometimes, the objectives aren’t clearly defined. In this case, you’ll need to communicate with stakeholders. Find out what their expectations are. Ask them about the gap, and exactly what problem they are trying to solve.
Once you’re on the same page, you can create the course objectives. It’s a good idea to run these objectives past the stakeholders. Make sure they agree before you move on to the next step.
How you design the course is going to be very different depending on how it will be delivered.
A face-to-face or traditional instructor-led course could be several eight-hour, day-long sessions.
But in a virtual classroom, you’ll be working with smaller chunks of time. Training might be spread out over several days. There are also important considerations surrounding the software platform you’ll be using.
Ask as many questions as you can about the specific needs for the course. The more information you have at the beginning of this process, the easier your job will be.
For example, let’s say you’re designing a training program for a call center. You might find out that only certain people can be off the phones for training at any given time. That’s important information to have as it affects who will be able to take the course.
Find out as much as you can about the target audience as well as their work environment.
For example, a course for learners who work with heavy equipment would require different solutions than training staff on new software or communication skills.
The nature of the content itself will have a big impact on the decisions you make in the design process.
If there are any other constraints you need to be aware of, it’s best to know up front. The more information you have, the better you can design a course to meet the organization’s specific needs.
To develop the content, you’ll need to interview at least one SME (subject-matter expert). This is a crucial part of the process, even if you already have experience in the subject.
When you ask the stakeholders to connect you with a SME, they may send you to the first person they have available. But that person may not be the best choice.
Remember the content you develop will set the standard for the organization. Everyone will be trained on it. This means your source needs to be as good as possible.
Your SME can’t be just anybody because you will be relying on their expertise. You need someone who is well-versed in the task. With that in mind, find out who the top performer is, and see if you can arrange to have them as your SME.
When you first meet with your subject-matter expert, help them understand what you need. Show them some sample training materials that are similar to what you will design.
This gives them an idea of what the end product will look like. It helps them understand the level of detail you need. It also communicates what sorts of things they should be telling you.
It’s best to design training programs to reach learners at the lowest 25% level of experience. This way, the training will be accessible to all learners. You’ll avoid the problem of having novices feel overwhelmed and check out.
This is an important point to keep in mind when you talk to a SME. By definition, subject-matter experts have a wealth of knowledge. They may feel what they’re showing you is easy because they do it every day. So, they may skip over the little details.
But learners don’t have that same basis of knowledge. This content will be new to them. They will need to learn all those details and intricacies.
Make a point to go slowly with your SME and really talk through all the finer points. Ask them to describe the step-by-step procedure. What tasks would a novice need to follow to do the job?
Ask the SME to explain the underlying principles. When learners know the reasons they do things one way and not another, it helps them understand.
Ideally, you want to talk to somebody who can break down complex concepts into step-by-step procedures, while avoiding jargon.
One potential pitfall to watch out for is a SME who tries to tell you how to actually do the training. It’s best if they can focus on telling you the content. Then you can figure out the best way to present it to the learners.
Sometimes, it’s helpful to work with several SMEs. This gives you the benefit of having more than one professional opinion to draw on. Especially if there’s any disagreement about the standards or best practices.
In a training program, the objectives are going to be different than they would be in an educational setting.
Typically, educational programs revolve around teaching a particular subject. A training program, on the other hand, is focused on teaching people how to improve their job performance.
That’s an important distinction to keep in mind as you design the objectives for your program. The objectives need to mirror what the learners will do better once they’re back on the job.
Hopefully, the stakeholders have already conducted a needs analysis. If that’s the case, they can provide you with a list of objectives for the training program.
Often, they may come to you with only a topic or problem to be solved, but no specific objectives. In this situation, you’ll need to go through the process of coming up with the exact content.
Either way, it’s important to have stakeholders sign off on the objectives because they will define the training course.
When you’re designing your objectives, keep in mind your ultimate goal is to help learners succeed on the job.
For this reason, objectives need to be performance-based. The best way to communicate this is to pair an action verb with a noun. For example:
Each of these objectives is a verb (change, plant, paint) connected to a noun (tire, lawn, fence).
Another easy way to think about it is to start with the words “How to…” and then finish that phrase.
Repeat this process for each task and you will have a complete list of objectives for the training course.
Now it’s time to figure out the best way to have your learners practice their new skills. Often, the right method will depend on the type of content in your training course.
If you are teaching a technical task, it may be best to have your learners do a practice exercise or some sort of simulation.
If you are teaching interpersonal content, you might have your learners participate in a role-playing exercise.
If you are teaching conceptual content, the practice might involve case studies or alternate scenarios.
One common mistake designers often make is to use knowledge checks to test learners. This might take the form of a multiple-choice test or asking learners to put steps in sequential order.
These types of non-performance tests may show learners comprehend the subject-matter. But they don’t demonstrate learners have the skills and knowledge they need to actually perform the tasks.
No matter what methods of practice you use, make them as performance-based as possible. Learners need to focus on practicing the actual skills, rather than book knowledge.
As an instructional designer, you want learners to succeed. During their practice, they may make errors. They need a chance to learn from these mistakes and an opportunity to fix them. Feedback helps learners improve their performance and master new skills before going back to work.
There are three different ways learners can get the feedback they need. Depending on the content of the course, you may want to use a combination of methods.
Instructor feedback is the most common way to give guidance to learners. This might be the only option if safety is involved. In some situations, only a certified instructor or subject-matter expert is qualified to provide feedback.
In some cases, the other learners in the course may be able to provide useful feedback.
For example, if you’re teaching communication or interpersonal skills, then other learners in the training program could give feedback.
When peers are providing feedback, it’s helpful to hand out a performance checklist. This could be a list of tasks or course content. It should guide learners through the steps and give them a place to jot down notes. This way they can share comments on a learner’s performance or tell them what they may need to improve.
Helping train each other also gives the learners an extra opportunity to reinforce the skills they’re learning.
When self-feedback is an option, it can be very quick and useful. One example would be having learners take a self-assessment quiz and then check their responses against an answer key.
For feedback to be truly useful, learners need to hear it at the right time.
The best time to give feedback is while the learners are practicing. This helps them course-correct right away. They can avoid picking up bad habits and focus on improving their performance.
This is different from an educational setting, where some students might get a B or C grade. In a training program, the goal is for everyone to perform to standard. This way, they can go back to work equipped with new skills they’ve learned properly.
Any trainer can step up to the front of the room or login to a virtual classroom and start lecturing. But that may not be the best way to deliver the material. Depending on what kind of content you are training, there are other methods that can be more effective.
If you’re teaching a technical skill, one option would be to demonstrate it. When learners can see what they need to do, step by step, they can use that as a model to learn the skill faster.
If you’re teaching interpersonal content, one way to deliver it would be through behavior modeling. This is a demonstration that also includes an analysis of the steps. It helps the learner understand the reasons they’re doing what they’re doing, and why they’re saying what they’re saying.
If you’re teaching a conceptual skill, you might use a lecturette. This is a short, scaled-down presentation that’s more interactive. It includes segments of discussion and answering questions. This back-and-forth interaction helps get the learners more involved. It puts the focus on helping them understand.
A well-structured training program should flow naturally from one subject to the next. It’s like reading a good book. It shouldn’t feel segmented or disjointed. Also, keeping the adult learning principles in mind as you structure your courses will help ensure learner engagement and success as they transfer their new skills back to work. As you create the manuals, lesson plans, visual aids, and other materials participants will see and use, keep these guiding principles in mind:
To get buy-in from adult learners, it’s helpful to explain why this particular course is important to them. Address the “What’s In It For Me?” factor.
One of the best ways to do that is to talk about the benefits. How will this course make the learners better at their job? What will they be able to do now that they couldn’t do before?
Communicating the benefits right from the beginning helps learners find their relevance. This provides an incentive to give the training course their full attention.
Adult learners bring a certain amount of previous experience to the course. Even if you’re going to share something entirely new with them, it’s important to acknowledge the experience they already have.
If someone comes to your course already possessing a certain level of skill, it’s good to validate that. The instructor can even tap into that knowledge and use it as part of the course. In this case, the learner’s experience can help teach the material.
For example, you could include a discussion about a topic with those who have more experience. Ask them to lend what they know to the people who might be new to the organization or process.
When learners are just being talked at, they don’t learn as efficiently. Two-way communication is a much stronger approach. It allows learners to actively participate in the program.
For example, it can be helpful to put an idea out there and ask people what they think about it. This gives the trainer the opportunity to validate the things that are correct, and then add to their knowledge.
Experienced learners may naturally offer up what they know to complement the material.
Giving learners the opportunity to participate in a discussion lets them come to their own conclusions. This is a much stronger approach than just telling them what their key takeaways should be.
You’ve probably been in this situation before:
You sit through an hour-long lecture and leave thinking you know how to do something. But once you get back to your computer, you realize you’re not sure how to take the first step. That’s because you never had a chance to practice it.
To avoid this problem, it’s a good idea to use the 1/3 to 2/3 model when you design a training course.
Only one-third of the time should be spent on the presentation. The other two-thirds of the time should consist of practice and feedback.
Let’s say you’re designing an online class. You might spend the first 10 minutes doing a presentation to explain a key concept. That would be followed by 20 minutes of practicing and providing feedback. Then you would have another 10-minute presentation, and another 20 minutes of practice and feedback. And so on.
Remember: one-third presentation and two-thirds practice and feedback.
At this stage, you can also start creating the visual aids. They should match the content and help communicate the objectives simply and clearly.
Many trainers default to using a PowerPoint presentation. PowerPoint can be a great visual aid, but it should only support the training. It shouldn’t contain every single word of the material.
When you use a visual aid like PowerPoint, use as few words as possible on each slide. Don’t try to put your entire program on there. Only use it to communicate the key words and phrases that will start the conversation.
If you’re part of a team, or working in a large organization, there are benefits to using a consistent structure. It becomes much easier to delegate work.
A consistent structure allows you to distribute the work across the team and have everyone work toward the same end goal. This allows everyone to work separately, yet still pull all the pieces together into one finished project.
This is doubly helpful if your organization designs training courses on a regular basis. Using a consistent structure makes the material more accessible to learners and helps them learn more efficiently.
By this point, you’ve finished developing your content. You’re almost ready to roll out the course. But there’s another important step: validating the materials and training process.
Think of this step as a trial run or a prototype. It’s an opportunity to try out the class and see if you need to make any last-minute changes or adjustments. It gives you a chance to polish the course, so it gives learners the best experience possible.
If your organization has the time and budget to set up a pilot class, do it. Ideally, the learners in this class would be a small group of people who would benefit from learning this material.
Essentially, the idea is to have a trainer present the material while the designer sits in the back of the room and takes notes.
During the training session, watch the learners to see how they receive the material. Look for signals that the material might not be making sense to them. See which training methods work best, and which ones don’t seem to work as well.
Timing is always difficult to get just right. Designers often struggle to figure out how long it might take for practice and feedback. Pay special attention to anything that seems to take too long, or anything that’s not long enough.
Also, watch to see how the trainer handles the material. You want the instructions for the activities to be clear. You want to make sure that the trainer isn’t struggling at any point.
Are there times when the learners or the trainer don’t understand what to do, or don’t have the resources they need? These are signs that there’s an issue in the course you need to address.
It’s never a bad idea to have subject-matter experts go over your content before the class. It’s best to separate out the content, send it to them, and ask them to double-check it to make sure everything is right.
But you don’t necessarily want those experts physically present in the pilot class. They may feel the material is too easy or too basic because their level of expertise is so much higher.
Instead, test the training with people in the target audience.
Invite the trainers and the learners to be forthcoming about their experience. Ask them to provide critical feedback you can use to improve the course.
As gratifying as it is to hear the course was great and everyone loved it, it’s not very helpful. What you really need is information that helps you make the course better.
By this point in the process, you’ve been living and breathing the course. It can become personal. That’s why it’s so important to separate yourself from the course. During the feedback process, you must set your ego aside and look at the course objectively. If you hear something was boring or confusing, that’s a sign there’s a problem.
Remember, though, any problem with the course can be fixed.
No course, no matter how well designed, comes out perfect in the first draft. There’s always a need for some fine-tuning and revision.
The validation process gives you a chance to adjust the training before it’s rolled out to a larger audience. Take advantage of this opportunity to adjust your course as needed.
When deadlines are looming and time is running out, it may be tempting to skip the validation process entirely. Sometimes, an organization may not have the money or resources for a full validation.
This part of the process is crucial to designing an effective training program. If you’re unable to do a pilot course, there are alternatives.
One option is to sit down with another designer and go through everything together. This can give you a fresh perspective on the material.
Another option is to go over the material with someone in the target audience, or a small group. Again, these should be people who don’t know the content and could benefit from learning it.
In a perfect world, every designer would get as much time as needed to finish and revise the material. But, in reality, that’s not always the case. As a result, implementation can often feel rushed.
The good news is that Langevin provides plenty of shortcuts and workarounds to help in these situations. These tools can help you launch a course more quickly and efficiently every time.
As you use these tools, you’ll grow more proficient in the best practices, and the entire process will go more smoothly. You should find each step becoming easier as you gain experience.
Unfortunately, there are some aspects of implementation the designer can’t control. Many of the logistics are simply out of your hands.
That’s why it’s best to work closely with HR and any other parts of the training department involved in enrolling learners. Enlist their help in getting all the pieces set up.
Anyone who will be involved in the process of getting learners into these classes should be kept in the loop. Reach out to the stakeholders in your organization.
Get them involved in working out every aspect of the implementation process. That way, if any part of it runs into a snag, the problem can be resolved quickly, and it won’t reflect poorly on the course itself.
Even after the course has been implemented, your work isn’t quite done. The final step in the design process is to find out how well the course actually trains the learners. Evaluations measure the effectiveness of the course and prove it’s a good return on investment for your organization.
The first level is evaluation from the learners themselves. A learner survey can be very useful here. It tells you whether participants enjoyed the course and how competent they feel after taking it.
The second level is learning. It’s important to find out whether the people in the class actually learned something, and how well they learned it. You can measure this using the data from the practices and tests administered during the course.
The third level is performance. It’s a good idea to check back with the learners after a certain amount of time, often 30 days. Ask about how they are applying what they learned. Are they using these new skills back on the job? Is their job performance improving? Do they have any lingering questions or confusion?
The fourth and final level is a measurement of the return on investment. Has this training closed the gap and achieved the objectives? Does the improvement outweigh the cost of the training? Overall, does the training provide a positive return on investment for your organization?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you can draw conclusions about the course’s effectiveness. Even better, you have the data to back up those conclusions. This empowers you to make a strong case for the value of the course you designed. It may help you gain even more support for the training courses you design in the future.
If you’re interested in learning more, there are hundreds of books, articles, and classes available about instructional design. The problem is some are more helpful than others, and it would take years to sort through them all. That’s why Langevin has done all the work for you.
As the world’s largest train-the-trainer company, Langevin provides trainers with the skills, knowledge, and materials to succeed. We’ve taken all the most critical practices you need to know about instructional design and developed them into a streamlined, effective process.
Our powerful set of techniques helps designers learn all the best practices in the most efficient way possible. We provide you with expert instruction, the opportunity to practice these techniques, and templates you can follow to help you design impactful training programs every time.
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