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Do You Want More Effective Training?

Do you need to create effective training for your customers, employees, others?

Have you found that students, after attending training, still struggle to perform?

If so, we have a solution for making your training more effective. Read On!

Many entities create very useful, and even cool products, focused on solving problems for their customers. Then they create training all about the product features, not about how to solve problems with their products. They create courses that iterate over their products features and how to use them, but never why to use them. Students walk away overwhelmed with a set of facts, but no context for when or why.

Excellent courses, like excellent products, focus on how to solve customers’ problems using one or more products / features. That is, the courses, in the famous words of Simon Sinek, start with a why.  If you want to make effective training, help customer, employees, others really learn well, start with a why, a motivation, what’s in it for them

Starting with a why in courses means starting with a why in instructional design:

  1. Start designing your courses with a list of skills students must master to perform in their jobs, to make their jobs / lives easier.
  2. Start content with questions asking if they have the problem that mastering the skill solves, for example:

Do you need to learn to program a lathe to get a better-paying job?

Do you need to create more interactive training to increase the effectiveness of your company’s training, making you more valuable to the team?

  • For each topic, list what students must already know in order to learn the skill(s) covered by topic. This list is your course’s prerequisites.
  • Focus your courses to  only cover the gap between the prerequisites and what they need to master (what you are attempting to teach them).

Frame every topic as something the learner must be able to do, for example:

  • Perform a procedure in order and correctly, for example creating a “hello world” program or a spreadsheet that sums numbers.
  • Recite facts, for example that an IPV4 address has 4 octets in the range of 0-255.
  • Identify correct and wrong instances of concepts, for example, identifying that 1.2.3.4 is a valid IPV4 address and 300.0.0.0 is an invalid IPV4 address

For each topic, create tests that will identify whether the student has mastered the skill. From the above examples:

  • Test whether the student can perform the steps in the procedure in the right order and successfully.
  • Test whether a student can recite the properties of an IPV4 address, can recognize a valid and invalid IPV4 address

Write the tests before you write the content!  In software development this is known as Test-Driven Development (TDD). This approach is not new. For example NASA wrote the specifications for spacecraft components, and developed tests to evaluate compliance with the specifications, long before they received those components from their contractors.  It works as well for courses (also known as courseware) as it does for software and spacecraft parts.

Only after doing the above design, with need-to-master topics, are you ready to start developing content. Write the content to the test, filling the gap between prerequisites and the skill to be mastered.

Finally, test your course:

  1. Identify students that meet the prerequisite, but do not have the desired skills, and that you deem capable of mastering the skills (some people just can’t master certain skills no matter how good the training)
  2. Measure their mastery of the skills BEFORE they take the class so you have a before evaluation.
  3. Identify a target pass rate. Do you want 100% of your students to pass, 90%, etc.
  4. Have them take the course in a beta class.
  5. Evaluate the student’s mastery by having them take the tests you created. This is their current evaluation. Also evaluate their progress by comparing their before evaluation with their current evaluation.
  6. Evaluate the test results.
    1. For students that fail, try to determine why they failed?  Are there key facts or steps missing from the content?  Was the content unclear in some way?
    1. For students that pass, determine if there was some part that was harder to master than others.
    1. For any deficiencies in the content, revise the content and test again, until you meet your target pass rate.

If you follow these steps, and you were not before, your courses will be more effective. Your students, employees, others will learn more and retain the learning longer, because it impacts their lives.

About the author: Matthew Thurmaier is founder and principal of The Computer Classroom, Inc. with over 30 years of experience designing, developing, and delivering courses, and consulting in software development from device drivers to API and REST API design and development and everywhere in between, a full-stack software developer.  He is also the founder and president of The Big Thing for Humanity, Inc., a 501(c)(3), and volunteer board member at the local Habitat for Humanity affliliate

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