4 Designing Training
Designing a training course requires the mixing of a large number of ingredients. We need to think about what inputs will bridge the performance gap; we need to find trainers who are both knowledgeable and able to deliver their knowledge well; we need to know what will interest the trainees; we need to know what results the organisation is looking for. And when we’ve designed our programme, we need to be ready to jettison it entirely if it is clear that we need to do something entirely different instead.
There can never be absolute certainty that the training needs you identify in a person or group will definitely be solved by the choice of training. Even if you could design a perfect match between needs and solutions a person may still be unwilling to learn, in which case the match would fail.
if a person need leadership skills, is it better to send her on an outward-bound course to climb mountains or have a series of chats with the Managing Director?
if a person needs confidence-building, is it better to send him on an Assertiveness course or coach him after each key encounter?
if a person needs business skills, is it better to send her on a 3-week Management Development course or arrange for a secondment at one of the smaller units?
4.2 Training Objectives
There is a difference between the direction of a course and targets. Direction is the way in which we want learning to go; eg “the aim of the course is to achieve a better understanding of the new telephone system.” Targets are the positive, specific, measurable outcomes which we would expect a person to achieve in a given time, say, at the end of the training; eg “at the end of the training, trainees will be able to use the three main recall functions of the telephone system.”
4.3 Planning a Course
When designing a training session, it is helpful to think of the different needs that trainees will have. These can be described according to the hierarchy of needs of psychologist Abraham Maslow’s model. They are:
basic needs: rooms, toilets, breaks, snacks, meals, expenses, pay, rewards, pens and paper
security needs: relaxed; open; confidential; low stress; healthy; safe; no surprises, no threats
social needs: the mix of people in the group; how well people are likely to get on; informal relationships; the relationship with the trainer
recognition needs: the opportunities for the group and individuals to do good work and be praised
actualisation needs: the deeper meaning the event has for the individual and his or her development.
4.4 Thinking about Trainees
The trainees on a course are your raw material as well as your customers. You need to get to know them well. Some of the things you need to think about are the size of the group, their background, experience, level of intelligence and current jobs; any differences in status, gender, and age; the reasons trainees believe they are present: to learn or to be punished or as a reward?; their motivation and level of anxiety; what they expect to get out of the course.
4.5 Planning the Content
Every person who gets involved in planning training knows that no matter how well a course is prepared, it rarely goes exactly to plan. A course should have its own momentum developing in response to the needs of trainees.
This is how to keep a plan alive:
break the job down into manageable training chunks
sequence them in the most logical order
prioritise the content into what is essential, desirable and nice to learn; concentrate on what is essential
constantly ask yourself how the content and what you are doing helps to achieve the objective
leave room for intuition, improvisation, experimentation and spontaneous fun.
4.5.1 Breaking the Job Down
A job or skill can be broken down into the following component parts:
steps in a sequence
facts, information, procedures
helpful knacks and shortcuts
tips and tricks which others have found useful
key points to look out for.
Knacks and tips are good ways to remember important information. When novice parachute jumpers take their first practice jumps, they are told to keep their knees together when they land. One way to ensure they do is to imagine a £1 coin wedged between their buttocks.
4.5.2 Knacks and Tips
The following example of how to answer a written customer complaint shows the value of knacks and tips:
Read the letter
Knack: avoid a defensive reaction.
Identify the issues
Tip: take written notes.
Pinpoint the problem
Trick: sift out the problem from the moans.
Check your procedures
Tip: check with someone who knows.
Decide on your reply
Knack: see it from their point of view.
Draft the reply
Tip: use a tone of courtesy.
Proof-read the letter before sending it
Tip: Be prompt.
The order in which the material in a training course is presented depends on the choices you make about the following options:
concept or experience? Some trainers prefer to outline theory first and then practise it; others prefer practise first and then theory.
familiar or unfamiliar? A course can move from known to unknown territory or start with unknown material and seek connections.
easy or difficult? A course can progress from what is easy to what is difficult, or throw trainees in at the deep end first.
big picture or steps? A course can tantalisingly build up like a jigsaw puzzle bit by bit; or it can show the big picture first and then break it down.
4.6 A Good Exercise
There are many criteria for designing a good training exercise. First of all, it should have a learning objective that relates to the material given and can be transferred back to the job, for example a role play for a skill. Secondly, there should be one overt outcome that trainees recognise and one covert outcome that they are not aware of but which helps them learn. Thirdly, the exercise should stretch the trainees just beyond where they are now so that it provides the motivation to succeed.
4.7 The Best Environment
The right kind of environment for an effective training session is one which is open, relaxed and friendly. One way to do this when trainees first arrive in the training room is to play soft background music and place colourful wall posters, perhaps with energising quotes, in appropriate places around the room. Fresh-cut flowers can also be used.
Sometimes, there is little choice over your training venue. In this case, it is the arrangement of seating that creates the feel you want. In small groups of up to 12, horse-shoe shaped seating circles create more openness and interaction than desk seating. It also allows the trainer to sit with the group rather than apart from them.
4.8 Management Support
The support of management in running training sessions can be a valuable bonus or a serious constraint depending on which of the five levels you get:
Bless this course. The manager allows the course to go ahead but doesn’t attend, (“No need to. I know all that stuff.”)
Ceremonial kick-off. The manager is there at the start but then goes away.
Encouragement from a distance. The manager gives apparent support to the course but keeps well away, perhaps citing pressure of work.
Welcome back. The manager recognises the changes in staff when they return, coaches them personally and reinforces the learning points from the course.
Lead by example. The manager attends the course, delivers some of the programmes and is available throughout the course for advice and support.
Running a training event smoothly includes planning the out-of-course administrative work. This covers three areas:
Contact: Contact with trainees before a course can involve nomination and billing; sending out joining arrangements; and notifying trainees of pre-course work.
Materials: Materials for a course might run to: handouts; overheads; photocopies for each trainee; equipment; stationery.
Course administration: Course administration means checking on arrivals, late attenders, absentees; meal and refreshment arrangements; record of attendance or performance; and sending out certificates at the end.
All of the work you do on designing a training course is based on your assessment that the material, the exercises, and the group interactions will help bridge the gap between current and desired performance. But you can never be sure it will. That’s why you should be ready to re-design what you do if a better approach arises as you go.