Five Timeless Tips for Effective Training

We have designed and developed a lot of training since 2002 (when the company was started) or since 1984 (when Pete started in the business). Much of it was instructor-led, sometimes for professional instructors and other times for delivery by subject matter experts, leaders, coaches, and supervisors. Lately, much of it has been eLearning using rapid authoring tools such as Storyline, Captivate, QuizMaker, and occasionally Articulate Presenter. Though the delivery methods are different, there are some things that we have found to be necessary for learning to happen, regardless of the delivery method.

  1. Assume learners only remember what they do. Certain common phrases used when discussing training are used because they are convenient but when they occur too frequently, they can be warning signs. “We covered that.” “We need to talk about ‘such and such’.”  And even, defensively in response to a critique that something was left out, “it’s in there…”  But just because something was said, written, or shown doesn’t mean anyone learned it. At the very minimum, learning requires a learner to try something and then get some feedback (and, ideally, try it again).
  2. People only learn when they want to (or choose to). Somehow the instructional process needs to gain the learners attention and interest. This does not necessarily mean all learning needs to be a game. But the reason people like “just in time” learning is that they are about to do something they don’t know how to do. They want to learn it. And just in time also means the application (or “try it”) is imminent (see #1).
  3. Don’t skimp on context. Part of getting #2 to happen is setting the stage. For example, what we are going to learn, why it is important, and even what could happen if you don’t pay attention. And you can’t assume all learners understand all the prerequisites. Maybe you can review or summarize key terms or definitions or maybe just provide a way for those that need them to get them. Or, suggest that before trying the new thing, they should have experience with some preceding things. If you are learning javascript, a tutorial might let you know that it assumes you already understand HTML5 and CSS. Another key part of context is expectations — how good the learner should expect to get by undergoing this instruction.
  4. Don’t skimp on generalization. After learning a specific task, it can be helpful to summarize. Part of that summary should include other places where that learning can be used. Cooking shows often do this by describing variations on the recipe just shown. More neurons, more learning.
  5. Be clear, be brief. After all, in most corporate settings, learners aren’t learning to enrich their life experience. They are learning because they have to do something. Teach the basics first and let them practice. The nuances and details won’t make sense right away, so defer them. And keep in mind that you (the instructor/expert) are not the learner. Build bridges from concepts they know to whatever concepts you are teaching. Use analogies and metaphors. This is where it is key to know your audience because what is too simple/basic for some people may still be too advanced for others. Text is OK but sometimes graphics are better. But sometimes graphics are merely decorative. Focus on the instructional intent and figure out the shortest path to get there.


So the challenge. Keep the focus on making training effective regardless of the trendy delivery method du jour. And, we are sure there are more tips out there — please “share ’em if you got ’em.”  #timelessTips4Learning


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