Check the Box Training

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about learners that come to the classroom just to “check the box,” or get credit for course attendance, rather than to actually learn. It’s the classic intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation problem we should address in any course design.

However, it’s gotten me thinking… there seem to be quite a few “check the box” instructional designers. You know who I mean… those individuals, teams, or entire organizations that are happy to simply deliver whatever the manager, client, CEO, or heaven-forbid CLO asked for. Assembly-line training development might be alternate way of describing this.

To these instructional designers, I suggest reading a recent blog post by Seth Godin. Then reflect on your last project and ask if it was Worth It.

The thing about effort is that effort is its own reward if you allow it to be.

Instructional design provides an opportunity to never stop learning. I’ve learned about topics I’ve written training for: sporting goods, project management, construction, leadership & professional skills, procurement, and so much more. I’ve developed skills in coding, design, UX, photo editing, graphic design, etc. I’ve tested multiple approaches for most of my tasks and learned when they’re appropriate to use.

I owe all of it to being curious and asking questions. What problem will running shoe training solve? Does the learner need to know about types of nails in order to provide hammer advice? How will writing a 5 page status report improve project performance? Since we don’t have the budget for a graphic designer, will you approve IT to install Gimp on my machine?

Don’t just check the box on your projects, strive to make them meaningful. I encourage you to put all of yourself into projects. Like everything else in life, you will only get out of something what you put into it. Make it worth it.

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Objectives are so last season.

Okay, I realize that this might be blasphemy for most of us.  In fact, it hurt me a little to even write that. But I’ve read a few things lately, that have me asking the question: should objectives really be the foundation of the courses we develop?

Earlier today, I came across a website, Expert Enough, and promptly spent almost two hours reading through the various posts.  What kept catching my eye was their manifesto. Agile has a manifesto too.

What if every one of our courses started by the team developing their declaration of principles and intent? Can you imagine what the course might actually accomplish if the manifesto becomes the guiding light for the team as they work through the ups and downs of the project.

Of course we’d still have objectives.  They’d provide the necessary structure and behavioral outcomes.  But they would also be measured against that manifesto. Everything can be measured against whether it furthers the team to deliver on their manifesto.

Think of the buy in all team members would feel since they contributed in developing the manifesto. Think about the disagreements this would potentially avoided or quickly addressed since everyone is committed to the manifesto. Think about how smoothly design reviews, every review, would go since the materials were built supporting the manifesto.

I just might see if I can sneak a manifesto into my next kick-off meeting or design document.

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What is experience anyway?

In preparing this blog for publication, I started searching for graphics to use as part of the theme and in the directory.  As always when on a hunt for graphics, I start with a search of concepts.  These results often inspire me for targeted searches.

The results returned for experience were very illuminating.  Those with people were frequently doctors. The correlation is clear. After all, there are very few career paths which require such experiential learning: science and medical studies are full of labs, internships follow, then a residency, and perhaps even fellowships.

It was the results without people that were so surprising.  Lots of photos of definitions and the words were rather disappointing: learning, education, “the five Ws,” and (gasp) knowledge.  Lots of knowledge.

The same group of photographers that so easily made the association of experience to medical training, missed the boat when it came to concrete depictions of the same concept.  Perhaps it was their subconscious that jumped to a highly immersive environment, where time is a critical component to gaining experience.

Before I sound too judgmental, let me assure you that I quickly realized… isn’t that what we all tend to do?

Through the course of a training project, it’s so easy for the process to devolve to what learners need to know.  It’s concrete. It’s easily assessed by a multiple choice question. It’s easy to get data dumps from subject matter experts. But that’s not why they pay us the “big bucks,” folks.

We should be building training that transforms behavior. That pushes passed what learners know and moves into what they can do.  The only way to do that is by developing programs that let give them opportunities interact with content the same way they do on their jobs, such as making decisions that require trade-offs, dealing with last minute changes, and never having enough time to get things just-so.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this since attending DevLearn.  Edward Allen in his session on analysis said, “never in my life has anyone ever asked me a multiple choice question.” The question that has been nagging me ever since: then why do so many of us continue build our training around the ultimate goal of an end-of-course test?

We’re like those photographers, who’ve left me without inspiration.  We aren’t in touch with what we know subconsciously and it’s easier to get our hands on knowledge.

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