Thursday, February 23, 2012

Trainers and Instructional Design

A few months ago, I got an opportunity to interact with learning professionals from behavioral and technical domains in a reputed company. Given below are a few things I noticed:

1) All domains require instructional design to ensure that the sessions are interactive and engaging. 
Most of the technical training is handled in-house because it is vital to the business. When I spoke to the learning professionals in technical domain, I realized that they were plagued with concerns about boredom, dropouts, retention of information, design of presentations, and so on. It was essential for the employees to sit through these technical programs to prepare them for their roles. But, this was not motivation enough for the employees to attend or sit through these sessions.

Lot of people assume that training-directly related to work will automatically have higher levels of motivation. While this may be true, any motivation is killed by drab trainings. All trainings need instructional designe to ensure motivational levels are high throughout.

2) Most trainers have no clue what instructional design is and the role it plays in designing effective learning. 
My husband is also a trainer and therefore, through my work and his, I get to meet a lot of trainers. What strikes me is? All trainers think ID is synonymous with content development. They believe that ID is all about content creation. During an interaction, a trainer asked me what my role was. I explained that I am an instructional designer. Her immediate response was 'You create content all the time. Don't you get bored.' She also went on to say how dry instructional design as a topic was. Needless to say, my jaw touched the floor and I was ready to beat this person up. thankfully, I put on my professional face and explained what ID really was.

Instructional design is understanding the learner's psyche, their needs and motivations and identifying the most effective way to teach.

3) Trainers in the behavioral department identify training sessions based on their interests. 
Is it just me or does anybody else see a big flaw in this? Like I mentioned, there was one person who thought ID was very boring and I just love this topic. See how people have different interests. What interests me may not interest you. Why would people sit through a session that interests you? The biggest flaw is that you assume that if I like it, people will love it. This is not necessarily true.

A trainer told me how they wanted to do sessions on emotional quotients and a great book that he had read. But what they fail to realize is:
  • This may not be important or necessary for the learners.
  • Even if people opt to attend a training out of genuine love for learning (rarely happens!), people always want to see what is relevant for in their workspace. 
  • Only trainers and IDs love learning, others don't have the patience or time for it at work.
Learner's time is precious, give it the respect it deserved. Session topics must be decided based on learning needs only. Else, they may be redundant and absolutely irrelevant. 

4) Trainers are content-centric rather than learner-centric.

Like most SMEs, trainers love the content and therefore, somewhere along the way they forget to answer the most important question 'What's in it for the learner?' Learners look for real life examples, processes/tips/learning that they can immediately use and apply. Trainers do not understand the importance or need to customize learning for a specific audience. I know trainers who pick up case studies and content off the Internet. They forget that they are dealing with an Indian audience with a very specific need.

Keep it real. Do learner analysis to understand your learners and their realities. This will help you build case studies and write examples. No one wants to read theories. 

5) Trainers struggle with identifying proper ID approaches. 

Not many trainers think of 'How can I teach this best? How do people learn?' There was a trainer who taught through stories. I found this very interesting till I realized, every slide has a new story. Overkill, don't you think? Even a really interesting ID approach can die a fatal death because it is executed poorly.

Trainers also struggle with designing scenarios, examples and case studies. These people have access to real experiences but don't know how to use them to teach effectively.

Trainers seem to be stuck up about experiential learning. While this is a great approach, there are several more. And I don't whether experiential learning is really possible or necessary for all types of situations/content/learners/outcomes.    

Understand the different ID approaches that you can use and select the most effective one.

I don't mean to generalize there are several trainers who are good IDs as well and IDs who are bad IDs. Some trainers use their instinct and design good programs. While trained IDs continue to design horrible courses. Having said that trainers must take the time out to understand instructional design better.


Anonymous said...

"I don't mean to generalize..." Yes you do. You've done it throughout this article. It reads quite patronizing as well. Small wonder this is the only comment.

- Alan

Archana Narayan said...

I started this post by explaining the context within which these observations were made. Either ways, you are entitled to your opinions while I am entitled to mine. Thankfully, I am not motivated to share my experiences based on how many people comment on my blog.

Good day.

Anonymous said...

Some nice observations Archana.

One of my biggest frustrations as an ID is that we are so often given masses of pre-existing content to 'edit'. In my mind this is akin to asking a professional master painter to complete a Paint by Numbers!! There is plenty of talk about an ideal state where we work closely with business units to create objectives and action-mapped learning, but having worked in both internal teams and consultancies, this is definitely the exception and not the rule! I'd be interested in exploring why this is - and whether this is something that other IDs experience as well.

Finally - shame on you, Alan. It's a real pity that the only thing you could comment on was an easy swipe at a turn of phrase. Lazy and needlessly negative - if you're going to give criticism, try making it constructive.

- Lisa

Anonymous said...

A lot of good observations in your article, and presented well too, in my humble opinion. =o)

There is tools to help ID's to overcome "editing" allready made cintent. Have you tried or looked into 4MAT ( It is a very good consept, providing a framework for designing engaging training, and a tool to help trainers design their training in an engaging way. I have used it for many years, and have developed many new aproaches to traditional training.

Looking forward to read more of your articles,
regards Jorgen

Anonymous said...


Read the article and spare me your savaging. The author says "I don't mean to generalize" and proceeds to spew the following generalities, "All trainers think ID is synonymous with content development.", "The biggest flaw is that you assume that if I like it, people will love it.", "Trainers do not understand the importance or need to customize learning for a specific audience.", "Not many trainers think of 'How can I teach this best?" Pick any one and tell me it's 1) not a generality, and 2) that it's not condenscending to a supposed professional audience. I'm not guilty of any of these generalities, prefer to read information backed by something OTHER than opinion, and understand that such use of absolutes is seldom helpful. I stated a fact, and YOU began the name calling. As far as negativity, did I for instance ever threaten to "beat this person up?" It's this sort of defensive snippiness and unsupported "science" that turns me off to trainers like yourself and the author who don't understand your own limitations. The article taught me nothing except the author's bias and haughtiness. Worse than a waste of time.

- Alan

Archana Narayan said...

Very valid point. I think the reason for using pre-existing content predominantly is because most departments are converting classroom training to online format. I think it makes sense to start from there to ensure easy transition. Having said that, the ID must be given the creative freedom to understand the audience, their needs and how the pre-existing content can be fine tuned to suit requirements. At least, this helps filter out the unnecessary content. At Kern, we follow a learner centered approach to identify the learning needs. This approach includes learner profiling, contextual inquiry to understand the business needs, and TOC and design document preparation. Like you mentioned, it would be interesting to know how other IDs operate.

Jorgen,thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

Serge said...

When these trainers are interacting and finding ways for their trainees to have a smoother flow of communication, they could definitely make use of personality tests such as a DiSC profile assessment.

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