Sunday, August 19, 2012

Just DO It

No, this isn't just a slogan for an iconic sportswear company. This is what instructional designers need to make sure they are providing in the training they design.

Why are we taking employees out of their productive environment and putting them into a classroom, or making them launch an e-learning course on their desktop, or going through a self-study workbook, or attending a seminar? Are we telling them a lot of information they may or may not store in their head and then sending them back to work to be productive? Or are we providing them with some knowledge and the ability to apply it in some meaningful way that will make their work (or home) life better or easier? It's not about what will I know when I'm done with this training, it's what will I be able to do.

Do is the key word. I can learn an interesting piece of knowledge in a class, or from a book. That interesting piece of knowledge can sit in my head for years and I can recall it whenever I want. But if I can't take that piece of knowledge and do something with it, I've been educated, but I haven't been trained.

Now if I take that knowledge - like how to make a useful spreadsheet, and I create a spreadsheet that helps me track projects, or create a budget - now I'm doing something with that knowledge. Now that knowledge has been applied and made my life better or easier in some way. Now I have been trained on how to create a spreadsheet, I can do it when needed, and through my ability to create that spreadsheet I am demonstrating both the knowledge and skill.

For some people this may seem obvious. In my experience you would be surprised how many times myself and other instructional designers are asked by someone to create "training" when all it is is an information dump with no method of applying that knowledge in a way that lets the learners do something when they're done.

Or, equally as bad, they are provided with the knowledge and a method of how that knowledge could be applied it in some meaningful way, but there is no practice. Sometimes it's assumed it's so easy to do, practice isn't necessary. Sometimes there just isn't enough time set aside for practice, so the expectation is they will do it on the job and "learn by doing." Sometimes practice is difficult due to technology reasons, so learners watch an instructor do something while they do nothing but passively observe. They have the knowledge of what to do and how they could do it, but once they've left the classroom or the online course, they still haven't done anything except maybe answer a few True/False or multiple choice questions. Unless you're a professional student, your job does not consist of taking quizzes, you're expected to get things done. Knowledge without application is education, not training.

So the next time you're asked to develop training, make sure those learners will be able to do something, and that they've practiced doing it for a significant portion of the class. I understand this is not always possible because the world is not perfect, but keep it in mind and do the best you can. Make sure the assessment makes them demonstrate they can do it, not answer quiz questions about how it would or could be done.
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