Why do you offer training? Why do you teach? If you’re involved in the design, promotion, delivery, facilitation (insert all popular buzzwords here) of training, the answer to the question should be both simple and resounding: to provide someone with knowledge, skills or abilities he or she didn’t have when stepping into the learning environment. Especially in the work environment, you have an obligation to carry it a step farther. The information has to of use to the individuals. You can quantify and apply metrics to training value in hundreds of ways.
So why do we continue to screw it up?
Let’s be clear. You cannot cover 180 PowerPoint slides in a 210 minute class. So put yourself in the student’s place. When you hand out the 60 page handout of 3-up slides, can you hear the audible groans from the class? Let’s be honest – if you’re even attempting to pull that off, you’re kidding yourself. An instructor recently argued when challenged over this exact situation, pointing out “but 15 of them are review questions!”
The problem isn’t PowerPoint – it’s the underlying instructional design. Keep the amount of information appropriate for the audience and time period allotted. If 180 slides are really necessary, that’s perfectly OK. Break it into two or three sessions. On the other hand, if the information will fit on 60 really good slides – get rid of the less valuable 120!
Cramming can result from three common conditions.
The Instructor is the Designer
In project management this would fall under “scope creep”. An instructor develops instructional materials, often good ones, but continues to add photos, videos, or concepts beyond the initial idea or concept. Because the designer and presenter are the same, there is no check or balance. This is easily resolved. If you’re developing your own materials, put together an advisory or peer review group of people that will be honest in their assessment of the materials. Accept their constructive criticism and feedback.
Training to a Regulation or Standard
Developing and delivering compliance training can be a real challenge. The more specific and detailed the guideline or standard, the less flexibility an instructional designer has. Because the regulatory agency has mandated a training minimum instructors feel compelled to cover only that content, and cover it in a single session. To get out of the trap, training centers may want to consider breaking a topic into multiple sessions and actually expanding upon the core material. Add interesting information, including graphics and video. The extra time can also be used for hands-on exercises that you otherwise wouldn’t have time for.
PowerPoint becomes the Presenter
If slide notes and presented slide share more than a heading, this condition may be a contributing factor. Visuals must be visually appealing, professional appearing, and supporting of the instructor. Take a step back and really look at the visual. Do you find it interesting? The PowerPoint itself is not the presentation; first and foremost, the slides are tools. The presentation is what the instructor has to say – not what is projected on the screen. Presentation slides were called visual aids in the past – the displayed information is there to reinforce and strengthen the message, not replace it. Minimize the amount of text displayed; use relevant images or brief video clips that show the desired behavior(s); and create graphics that are supportive of your key points.
When a student leaves a training session, three things should be absolutely clear:
- Why they were there,
- What knowledge, skills, or abilities were learned, and
- How the knowledge, skills or abilities can be applied.
Too often, students leave a training program with more questions than answers. Training programs must have clearly defined outcomes. They should be communicated at the beginning of the program, reinforced during the program, and evaluated at the end of the program.
Outcomes are a throwback. They focus on a simple concept – how the student behaves after the training program. For example, a classical objective might be written as: “Upon completion of this class, the student will be able to identify the emergency stop button.” It’s specific, measurable, and attainable. Every training professional remembers those basic rules of objective writing. Does the company or instructor really want the student to simply identify the switch?
What the instructor wants is for the student to understand why the switch is there, be able to locate and press the button, and make correct situational decisions about when the button should be used. A student learning outcome for this situation would be “Uses the emergency stop switch appropriately.”
Although student learning outcomes have been a staple of the academic world for the past few years, corporate instructional design has been a bit slower to adopt the idea. No matter how you choose to describe them, a student has to know the answer to the three basic questions outlined above.
Training professionals learn to adapt to a variety of conditions. LCD projectors, computers, USB drives, network connections – they all fail from time to time. You arrive to a classroom only to find they are repaving the parking lot just outside. Students are smart. If the conditions are too cold, too hot, too noisy – they will be miserable. One class, conducted outdoors, was poorly rated because students had to walk nearly a half-mile to usable restrooms.
It’s pretty simple: a student can’t learn if they are too tired, cold, hot, or hungry.
Part of being a good instructor is setting the right environment for the student. The environment not only includes the physical classroom, but setting the proper tone and atmosphere for the class as well.
The reality is that some audiences enter training with a very negative attitude. Use changes in the environment to counter anticipated negativity. If past classes have been taught in a company break room, consider moving the class to the board room or off-site. Provide food and beverage. Coffee and doughnuts before an early morning session can help create a more positive situation for the instructor. If the material has been taught by the same instructor for several years, consider using a different trainer or encourage a different instructional method.
Two proven ways to improve the morale and attitude of a class are to offer food and freebies.
Always look to improve the status of the program in the student’s eyes. Telling students that a program is important generally has little impact. Having the president of the company or a relevant outside speaker introduce the training session not only improves credibility, but carries the unspoken message that training is important.
Manage the C’s and Improve Training
Managing training so that the right amount of information is clearly presented to students under favorable conditions is the core mission of an instructor. Just like you tell your students – remember the basics.