3 Questions to Ask Before Planning Your Next Training


“Begin with the end in mind” is a pretty common rule of thumb when mapping out training programs. It sounds like wise advice… but what does it really mean?!

What’s the end? The end for whom? Are we talking about the end of the training program? Are we talking about when mastery of the content has occurred? Are we talking about the end of days?

Over the weekend, I spent some time with the curriculum planning team for a new certificate program in Workplace Learning and Professional Development at the University of Washington, and we began our planning session with these three questions:

1. What will a student write on the end-of-program evaluation?

2. What will the program faculty say during the end-of-program de-brief?

3. What will a supervisor write in a LinkedIn recommendation for a direct report who was a graduate of this program?

While we had discussed the design of our program previously, these questions helped us refine specific ways to measure progress throughout the program and reminded us of the rigor that will need to be inserted into all three courses.

“Begin with the end in mind” is a bit too broad and cliché to be helpful. Identifying what end you’re talking about and examining this concept from the points of view of various stakeholders is essential.

What questions are you asking before you map out your training programs?

6 thoughts on “3 Questions to Ask Before Planning Your Next Training

  1. We haven’t applied this approach for new workshop development yet, but Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method offers useful perspectives. His work is concerned with evaluating training or other workplace interventions, but the principals naturally convey to the question of training design. Very briefly, the approach involves developing an Impact Model. Here’s an excerpt from a white paper I recently wrote that adapts his method slightly:

    “The Impact Model defines success in terms of new knowledge and skills that participants can take from the workshop and apply in the workplace for tangible benefit toward a project or organizational goal. The Impact Model speaks directly to the benefit for the participant and organization.

    One useful way to approach this process is to work systematically through identification of four progressively impactful outcomes: 1) the most important capabilities that can be gained through participation in the workshop, 2) how participants can apply those capabilities at work, 3) the key results that are likely to occur, and 4) the project or organizational goals that will be achieved if the capacities, application, and results are achieved. In total, this is the Impact Model.”

    This approach seems to offer a useful reframing for training design to be more forward-looking and application based than traditional learning objectives yet still tangible. So to answer your question directly, the “end” in this case involves workplace-specific goals that contribute to meaningful results.

    • Thanks Mark!

      Yes, absolutely – if a model revolves around training evaluation, it definitely can (and should!) be applied to training design (since evaluation should be built into the design from the start).

      I’m struck by how similar the impact model you’re describing aligns with Kirkpatrick’s 4 levels… although I kind of like how it skips over “reaction” (which arguably is least likely to play a role in “impact”). Your first outcome (capabilities) is an upgrade to Kirkpatrick’s (Level 2 – knowledge)… although it’s tough to develop capabilities without a base level of knowledge; your second outcome (application) and Kirkpatrick’s third level (transfer) align; your third outcome (key results) and Kirkpatrick’s fourth level (results) align and then your fourth outcome is soooooo essential – did this effort make an impact on the business (which is the reason we have jobs in the first place!).

  2. 3 questions I ask:
    What will the student be able to do back at work that is different? (what behavior do you want to see?)
    How will we assess that?
    What is the organizational need, problem, future planning or deficiency that this training is trying to change? (Always comes down to ROI)

    • Thanks Priscilla! I like all three of these… and the one that really resonates with me is in the middle: how will we assess that? Such a deceptively simple question (is that the right phrase for something that seems simple but can get very complicated very quickly?). A part B to that question might be: what’s within our sphere of control to assess (vs. what’s totally out of our hands)?

  3. I think one of the most important questions is what is in it for the participants. We have to know what they will have gained from the experience and how they will implement it back on the job.

    • That might be THE most important question: what’s in it for the participants. Of course, it can be tricky trying to come up with an accurate idea of how best to answer that question. Do we put ourselves in the shoes of the learner and just answer the question as if we were the learner? Do we ask the learners prior to the session? Do they even know what they need? Do we ask their managers? So many starting points!

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