“How can we make mandatory training more than a tick box exercise?”
That’s the top topic voted by blog readers, so here’s my take.
For “mandatory training,” I’m picturing any material that says some version of “Follow these rules.”
It’s sheep-dip training. Everyone must be “exposed” to it, and a checkmark records that they have been exposed.
How can we make it more relevant?
A client who says “Everyone must be trained on X” needs our resistance, not our obedience.
Help the client by asking questions, such as:
- What problems are you seeing? Has something happened? Has someone sued?
- Was this problem caused by one rogue employee, or is it a bigger issue? Is it limited to a group of employees, or is it really a problem that all employees are causing equally?
- What are we currently measuring that will improve when everyone is “trained?”
If there’s really no problem, we shouldn’t create a solution. We need to focus on improving performance, not guarding against problems that experience has shown aren’t likely to occur.
2. Set a goal
If it’s clear there really is a need for “training,” or some force far outside your control insists on “training,” then put on your action mapping hat and push for a measurable goal. Here’s one model to follow.
For details, see How to create a training goal in 2 quick steps.
3. Narrow your focus
Make sure your audience is specific. “All employees” is not specific.
If you’re required by forces beyond your control to create something for all employees, you can at least break down the audience by major job roles as described next.
4. Do the analysis. Really. DON’T SKIP THIS.
Focus on one job role in your audience. Ask your client and SME what these people need to do, in specific, observable terms, to meet the goal.
“Follow the data security policy” isn’t specific. This is specific:
- When you must physically transfer data to another location, put the data on a BrandZ thumb drive using HakrPruf encryption and chain it to your left ankle.
Prioritize the actions. Choose a high-priority one, and ask, “What makes this one thing hard to do?” Use the flowchart.
Again, you’re doing this for a specific group of people in a specific job, and you’re focusing on specific, observable behaviors. You’re not asking this once for the entire “course,” and you’re not talking about all employees in every job everywhere.
If those forces far beyond your control insist on applying the same solution to everyone, do this analysis for the major job roles. You probably won’t have a ton of time to do this, but even two hours can save you and everyone else from a much bigger waste of time in the form of irrelevant and ignored materials.
Then, if training is part of the solution, you can have people use only the activities that apply to their job.
Don’t skip this.
If you skip this analysis, what do you have to work with? Generic rules that are guaranteed to become an information dump.
Instead, if you look closely at what people need to do and why they aren’t doing it, you get:
- Ways to fix the problem that don’t require “training”
- Ideas for ways to help people practice the tricky parts
- Respect for the intelligence and experience of the people currently doing the job (notably lacking from most compliance training)
5. Base your design on job tasks, not information
Yes, people need to know stuff. But they need to know stuff in order to do stuff. Design first for what they need to do.
Provide the need-to-know information in the format it’s used on the job. Let people pull the information just like they will on the job.
Here’s a fictional example. Extraterrestrials have landed and are being incorporated into earthling families. As a result, employers have created alien leave policies. Here’s a mini-scenario for managers.
To answer this question, what information does the manager need? The alien leave policy. How should we provide it?
The traditional approach would be to first present a bunch of slides about the policy. Then we’d give people a chance to “apply” what they’ve “learned” by having them use their short-term memory to answer the question.
But why design slides to present information that’s already in a policy on the intranet?
Instead, we can plunge people into the activity and let them use the policy just like they will on the job.
And now that we aren’t developing lots of information slides, we can create more activities. Since they aren’t trapped inside an information presentation, they can travel alone. For example, we can provide them individually over time (spaced practice) as described in this post.
6. Sell it with a prototype
Create a prototype of one typical activity and show it to the stakeholders. Make clear that people will see only the activities that apply to their job. They’ll pull information rather than recognizing what they saw three slides ago, and they’ll learn from the consequences of their choices.
You’re letting the stakeholders see for themselves how you plan to provide the “training,” because then you’ll be in a good position to respond to the following common concerns.
“But everyone must be exposed to all the information!”
Give each option unique feedback. In that feedback, first show the consequence of the choice — continue the story.
Then show the snippet of information they should have looked at, as described in How to really involve learners. Do this for all consequences, not just the poor ones.
See more ideas and examples in Scenario mistakes to avoid: Eager-beaver feedback.
If you have a stakeholder who’s determined to expose everyone, you can point out that they are now exposed. They’re just exposed after making a relevant decision, rather than in a forgettable presentation.
By not presenting information first, you’re helping people see their own knowledge gaps. They’re not pulling stuff out of short-term memory, because you haven’t put anything there. They have to rummage around in their existing knowledge, look at the policy just like they would in real life, make a choice, and learn from the consequences. They get deeper learning, plus they’re dutifully “exposed” to the correct information.
“But they have to prove that they know it!”
Which approach is more likely to avoid lawsuits about misuse of the alien leave policy?
A. Present the policy over several slides. Then require a knowledge test to see if people can recognize a bit of information that they saw 5 minutes ago. If they can, they “pass.” If they can’t, they must put those same slides back in their short-term memory and try again.
B. Present challenges in which people need to make the same decisions they make on the job. Provide the information in the same format that people will have it on the job. Start with easy-ish decisions and increase the challenge. If people make good decisions in enough activities, they’re free to go. If they make not-good decisions, they get more activities and optional help until they make good decisions.
Don’t design for “They should know the rules.” Design for “They should correctly apply the rules on the job.”
For lots more, see my book and just about everything in this blog, especially the following posts.
- How to really involve learners
- What to do if they just want “awareness”
- Why you want to focus on actions, not learning objectives
- Three ways to save gobs of time when designing training
- Will action mapping work for my project? Custom advice for your situation.
All other images: Cathy Moore
Sitting by a tree in Myersville, MD talking about trip/project planning.
Now that I am back home, here are the actual numbers:
If I went by plane (one way):
- 1.5 hours for the actual flight between DC and Toronto
- Take taxi to airport (anywhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours – dependent upon DC traffic)
- Arrive at the airport at least 3 hours before the flight
- Pick up luggage and rental car – about 1 hour
- Get to destination in Southern Ontario – 2 hours
- Total travel time – 8 – 9 hours
Going by car (one way direct to final destination):
- 10 hours, including stops.
Then there is the experience in a car vs. the plane:
- I don’t have to worry so much about packing toiletries
- My seat is significantly more comfortable
- I can listen to whatever I want without getting interrupted
- I am free to stop whenever I want
- I am not disturbing anyone or climbing over people to use the bathroom
- Even with gas prices, food, and wear and tear on my car – the car is significantly cheaper.
Fundamentally – I spent 1-2 extra hours for significantly more satisfaction and happiness. I think that’s a great ROI.
Really, the only “disadvantage” of driving myself places is that I am not able to work (or at least do stuff in front of my computer). Honestly, I don’t see “not being able to work in front of a computer” as a disadvantage. I managed to get a lot of work done during my road trip – the videos are my evidence
I’m kicking off a series of posts about scenario-based training. Let’s start with the big picture: The design process.
Many people start writing a scenario too soon. They invest a ton of time only to find their work rejected by the client or learners.
Use the steps below to make sure you’re writing a challenging scenario and going in a direction everyone will like. It’s far easier to adjust a few notes than it is to throw out a story you spent hours writing.
The main takeaways:
- Analyze the problem! Make sure you understand why the task is hard to do properly.
- Prototype first! Write one decision point and get approval for that before you write another word.
- For a branching scenario, sketch and test the plot before writing the story.
Here are the details, mostly copied from my book Map It. For lots more about every step, see the book.
1. Analyze everything. Don’t skip this!
- Write a project goal. Identify how you’ll measure success for the project as a whole.
- List the specific, observable actions people need to take on the job to meet that goal. Prioritize those actions.
- For the high-priority actions, ask, “Why aren’t they doing this now?” or “What might make this difficult?” First consider the environment (tools, systems, and culture), to avoid assuming that the problem comes entirely from a lack of knowledge or skills.
- Note the non-training solutions you’ve probably discovered from the above discussion, and identify the behaviors that will probably benefit from practice activities.
- Identify the best format (live, elearning, etc.) for each activity idea and the best time for the person to use the activity (such as right before performing the task, in short sessions spaced out over time, etc.). Don’t assume a “course” is the best solution, because it rarely is.
- If the skills addressed in the scenario are complex or controversial, determine how you’ll provide a debrief or other way for people to discuss issues and see the larger picture.
2. Prototype one decision point
First, draft one challenging question.
- Pick a typical behavior that will be addressed with a scenario activity. You’ll turn it into a prototype decision point. It can be a standalone mini-scenario or one decision point in what will become a branching scenario.
- Interview your SME for the prototype activity. Get the understanding you need to create a believable question, tempting options, and realistic consequences for those options. Capture the common mistakes and why people make them in addition to the best choice and what makes it difficult to make.
- Write a stem. The stem is the setup and question for your decision point. Use the insight you got from the SME to recreate the real-life issues that tempt people to make the wrong choice.
- Write the options. Include the common mistakes that the SME identified and make them sound like good choices.
- Write unique feedback for each option. Show the consequence of the choice by continuing the story. You might also provide instructive feedback (“You should have done X”), possibly as an optional explanation, but first show the consequence.
Next, add any supporting information, and make it optional.
- Decide what is the minimum information the player must have to make the decision in your prototype.
- Decide when and in what format you’ll provide the minimum supporting information. My usual recommendation: Put it in a real-world job aid, if that’s appropriate, and have people refer to the job aid when they’re considering the question. Don’t present the information before the activity; let people pull it if they need it. Also provide a snippet of the information in the feedback to reinforce or correct each choice.
3. Test the prototype before you write another word
- Create a mockup of the prototype decision point and test it on the SME, client, and a group of learners. If the prototype is a decision point in a longer scenario, describe the bigger story that the question is part of, but don’t write it yet.
- Your prototype will help determine how people will choose options, what information they’ll have available and when, whether they can go back to make a different choice, how they receive feedback, and what the feedback contains.
If you’re creating one-scene mini-scenarios, once your prototype is approved, you can confidently crank out several more scenarios using the same format. Consider sending them to your SME in batches, so the SME can consider one batch while you write the next.
If you’re creating a branching scenario, you aren’t done yet.
4. Branching scenario: Additional steps
Once your prototype is approved, you’ll:
- Identify the story endings. You might have one “best,” some “fair,” and a few “poor” endings. Decide in general what decisions a person would make to reach each ending.
- Write a high-level plot as a flowchart or in a tool like Twine. Use notes only; don’t write a script. (I use Twine because I can complete all remaining steps in it, it’s flexible, and it’s free).
- Consider writing the best path first and then filling in the less-good paths. Connect paths so players can realize that they’re heading toward a bad ending, make a better choice, and end up on a better path.
- Get feedback on the plot. Consider including future learners in the review. You’ll probably need to describe what happens, since you’ve written only notes. Make sure the plot is realistic and complex enough to be challenging. Most first drafts are too simple.
- Once the plot is complex enough and approved, flesh out your notes to turn them into a story.
- Write debrief questions as you flesh out the plot. You’ve probably chosen a branching scenario because the skill to be practiced is complex and full of grey areas. Help people see the big picture and process what they’ve learned by planning to ask thought-provoking questions during a debrief.
- Get feedback on the complete story. Again, I recommend including learners in the review.
See chapter 13 of Map It for detailed questions to consider at each review. And for lots more about scenarios and to get my help in writing your own, consider signing up for the next scenario design online workshop.
It’s a luxury to sit and consume a book in one sitting. Having the time to do that is half of it. Finding a book you can’t put down is the other.
Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford use storytelling to share a way to think about DevOps and IT as a key business driver.
They have obviously spent time in the trenches. The stories ring true, the characters seem to be modeled after people they have encountered, and I get the sense that some of the situations are thin disguises for real-life episodes. Admittedly, they also try to cram those characters into typical IT and corporate stereotypes (the guru/mentor, the politician, the “CEO,” the savior engineer, etc). They also follow the hero’s journey as the framework, so you pretty much knew how things were going to end.
Thankfully, I was not reading this as a novel or expecting much of a plot.
I could have easily read the back of the book and get what I needed out of it.
Reading the whole book, however, helped to provide context to the ideas in the back of the book.
I also found myself going on the learning journey with Bill, the main character, as he tried to parse what Erik, the guru/mentor, told him.
It’s impressive when a book gets my attention enough to make me engage like that.
Let me help you visualize your work-in-process!
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I hope you can join me on this journey!
My new book, Map It, is now available in print and Kindle from Amazon sites around the world. Learn more here.
The book walks you through action mapping in way more depth than I’ve been able to use in this blog. You get 418 pages of detailed how-tos, examples, and even scripts for specific things to say (and not say!) to your client. Plus, of course, some gentle snark.
It’s all written with Cathy’s characteristic dry wit and humour and with a running story of a couple of learning developers in content hell. It’s as entertaining as it is informative. — Norman Lamont’s review
You can read a big chunk of the book for free on Amazon by using the “look inside” feature.
In the interests of working out loud, here are some advantages I enjoyed from writing a book instead of, say, a series of blog posts.
- Freedom to dig deep: I enjoyed having the room to write in depth. When you create blog posts, course modules, or those other quick snacks we’re expected to produce, you can feel pressured to simplify too much and smooth over too many rough edges. Expectations for a book are different. For example, I was able to dig way deeper into client management and problem analysis than I’ve been able to go in my other materials.
- Freedom to take risks: In the book I felt freer to say things that could irk some people, because those statements are surrounded by a ton of context. A blog post or slide in a presentation is easier to misinterpret.
- Freedom from a publisher: Some years ago, I sold a non-fiction manuscript to a publisher and it was turned into a book in the usual way. I also wrote a lot for trade magazines. These weren’t terrible experiences, but there was no doubt I’d be publishing this book on my own. I wanted to use my natural voice, which in my experience publishers want to tone down, and I wanted to make sure that the marketing fit my brand, not theirs. This meant that I had to learn about book publishing, but it wasn’t too painful. (Interested in publishing your own book? Patti Shank has been presenting on this and sharing resources, as well as publishing useful books for learning designers.)
I also confirmed a couple of lessons.
- Reinforce the base before you add any more weight: The book was late in part because I needed to overhaul how I process the many emails I receive. I knew that a book would inspire more emails, and I was already unable to deal with the current amount. This required experimentation with several solutions and policies.
- Seek professional help: I wanted to focus on writing, not production. So I hired this excellent book formatter to create custom Kindle and print designs, and this professional, responsive cover designer to make the outsides pretty. They both have far more skill than I could ever develop and left me free to write. (That’s one reason why I say that instructional designers should analyze and design, and someone else should produce the materials.)
Thanks, everyone, for your patience while the book slowly crawled out onto the market. I hope you find it useful.
New, prettier job aids for action mapping are now available for free download. They include:
- Overviews of action mapping
- The “Will Training Help?” flowchart, new and improved
- A “Job Aid or Memorization?” mini-flowchart to help your SME see that people don’t need to memorize everything
The job aids are designed to accompany my new book, which is now available on Kindle. The print version will be available in mid-October through Amazon in many countries.
Finally, there are still some seats available in the scenario design course that starts October 4. In four weeks of sessions, you’ll apply action mapping and scenario design to a project from your job.
There are online sessions for time zones in the Americas as well as Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. Check them out!
“I’ve got a great idea!” says the new employee at Acme Tea Company. “Some people like iced tea. Other people like hot tea. Let’s make everyone happy by selling room-temperature tea!”
The L&D equivalent sounds like this:
- “Everyone needs to be aware of this, so put a course on the LMS and assign it to all employees.”
- “Make a course about the new product features for the repair people, help desk, and sales staff.”
- “Everyone should treat patients with respect, so let’s create a workshop for all staff.”
The result? A bland, room-temperature information dump that everyone quickly forgets. Here’s how to get your client to take a more effective approach.
1. Solve a problem. Don’t just deliver information.
Our clients often expect us to install information in people’s heads. Instead, we need to ask the right questions to uncover the problem that the information will supposedly solve.
You might discover that information alone really would solve the problem. In that case, you probably don’t need a course or workshop. How about some easy-to-use job aids and some motivating messages from leadership?
If the client wants everyone to be “aware,” try these tips.
2. Segment the audience by what they do on the job.
Repair staff need to troubleshoot misbehaving widgets. Sales staff need to match the right widget to the customer’s needs. Giving them both a generic presentation on new widget features will help neither of them.
Consider creating at least one persona to represent each segment. A persona is a fictional but realistic character with a name, age, interests, and everything else that makes a person real. Consider what that person needs as you design solutions.
Does Betty the widget salesperson need to reassure people about the heat generated by the new widget? How can we help her do that?
Will David the widget repair person be tempted to misdiagnose a wobble in the new widget because the feet are designed differently? How can we help him avoid that mistake?
Some people use “persona” to mean “weird-looking avatar character that annoys the heck out of me in elearning” (or maybe that’s my own definition). I’m using “persona” in the marketing and usability sense. I’m not saying, “Put Betty and David in your materials.”
3. Focus on designing activities, not information.
Now that you’ve segmented people by what they need to do, help them practice doing it.
Create unique activities that let people pull the information they need to solve a realistic problem that’s specific to their job. These activities will be different because your segments have different jobs with different challenges.
For example, a technician drawing blood has one type of interaction with a patient, while a nutritionist providing advice has a different type. What does “respect” look like in each case? How can each person practice saying and doing respectful things?
If you’re packaging your activities as one online course, you can have each person choose their job role and send them on different paths. However, a one-shot course is rarely the best solution to a problem. For example, you could consider offering a bank of activities so people can practice on demand, over time — and that’s just one example of many possibilities.
Here’s one fictional example of the activity-first approach that avoids a generic information dump.
The core problem: “Training is knowledge transfer”
Our learners aren’t in school, preparing for a test. They’re in jobs that require them to do things. They often need practice, not just information.
However, many clients (and too often, our bosses and instructional design professors) assume that our job is to install information into people’s heads. We’re supposed to get the information in there and then test to make sure it survived a few minutes in short-term memory.
We can change that perspective by politely but relentlessly turning the conversation to the performance problem that needs to be solved, not the information that people supposedly need. Here’s an interaction that summarizes the action mapping workflow.
Get more tips from my mini-expert system
If you have a performance problem that could be improved with information and advice, you might use Twine or a similar tool to answer the common questions.
Scenario design course starts in October
To apply this approach to a project from your job, consider signing up for my live scenario design course, which starts in October.