One of my most popular blog posts ever was the one in which I shared a free training lesson plan template. It was so popular that it made me think that a tool like Soapbox, an online tool that basically puts a training lesson plan together for you in a matter of minutes, would be something the world would be interested in.
If you have about 10 minutes or so and want to hear what should go into a training lesson plan, give this week’s podcast a listen.
And if you have an extra 5 seconds, I’d love your response to the following survey question (I’m genuinely curious about who’s been listening to my podcasts lately). Thank you in advance for listening (and for giving me some idea of what your role is)!!
Welcome once again, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, I’m your host. I’m also the Co-founder of Endurance Learning and also the author of a book called What’s Your Formula? Combine Learning Elements For Impactful Training. Today’s podcast we’re going to be talking about lesson plans. What are they? What are some of the key components they should have? Why do you want to use them? Personally, I think this is one of the most important tools that a training professional can use. And so when you take a look at the Periodic Table of Elements of Amazing Learning Experiences that we’ve created, this is element number one for a reason.
We’ll get into that a little bit more, but first just want to let you know that today’s podcast, like most of our podcasts, are brought to you by Soapbox which is an online tool that you can use for 5 to 10 minutes, and you can take care of about 50 or 60% of the work when it comes to developing a live, instructor-led training. So basically, you tell the computer how long your presentation is, how many people will attend, whether it’s in-person or it’s virtual, what your learning objectives are. And then soapbox instantly generates a training plan for you with clusters of training activities designed to help you accomplish all of your learning outcomes. Soapbox won an award for Best Rapid Authoring Tool from Training Magazine last year. It’s also one of Jane Hart’s Top 200 Tools for Learning. If you want to learn more about Soapbox, visit www.soapboxify.com.
What is a Lesson Plan?
Now, let’s get into lesson plans. What are they, and what should actually go in them? So I would define a lesson plan as a planning tool that includes several key elements to keep your live training session organized. So it can be used for in-person training, it can be used for virtual training. If you’re creating eLearning you probably want to use something similar – a storyboard, which is comparable, and we’ll get to storyboards in another episode. But this is about instructor-led training – so whether you’re doing it in-person or on Zoom or Microsoft Teams or things like that.
And when it comes to the lesson plan and keeping all of your thoughts organized, some of the key components that I think are really important to have in there– and before I get into this, just a real quick note, that if you go to the blog post and go to the show notes for this podcast, you’ll actually see an example template for a lesson plan.
Key Components of a Lesson Plan
Overall Session Goals
Some of the key components that you should have for a lesson plan include: first of all, the overall session goals. So this is a component that sets the overall direction and purpose for your training session.
Then, another thing that it should include is specific, observable, learner-centered learning objectives. I talked about learning objectives in a previous episode and went more in-depth in those. Learning objectives are different than the goal for your presentation. The overall goal can be from your own perspective and what you want to accomplish, learning objectives are learner-centered. It’s basically what new or different skills or knowledge or behaviors should your learners demonstrate by the time your session’s over?
Sequence and Flow of Activities
Another component that is really important for a lesson plan – and this is really the meat of a lesson plan – is really the sequence and flow of your activities. So, some people like to just use a bulleted list of talking points, other people like a verbatim script. I’m not a big fan of a verbatim script because it’s too tempting to sit there with your lesson plan and just read it, and then you can’t really engage with the audience. I prefer a bulleted list, but it could go either way.
And your sequence and flow should include detailed instructions for any activities, just to make sure that you know exactly what you want to say when it comes time to lead your learning activities. There is nothing worse than trying to listen to an instructor give confusing instructions to an important activity.
Something else to keep in mind when it comes to your sequence and flow is that it should also break down your activities by the amount of time that each activity should take. And you want to be as specific as possible here. So when I’m creating a lesson plan, I like to break these down into maybe 5 or 10 or 15, maybe 30-minute chunks. When you start to get longer and start to suggest that certain sections could take 30, 45 minutes, 60 minutes, or more, it’s really easy to get lost or off track in those sections and not get to all the information, or need to cut an activity because you didn’t map out that hour well enough. So as best as you can, you want to break down the sequence and flow of your activities into really small chunks, and be specific about how much time each one should have.
Materials Needed for the Session
And then a final component that I include in my lesson plans is materials for the session. This is just a good reminder of which handouts you might need. Do you need a flipchart in advance? Are you going to need a projector for your slides that you have to request from somebody else? It also helps when you have a super busy day, and then you need to run into your training session without having the time to think about which materials you need, it really does help to prevent that pit in your stomach that you might get when you’re 20 minutes into a session and suddenly realize that you forgot the materials for your most important activities. So a materials section in a lesson plan is also pretty important.
One other section that I’ve seen other people use – I don’t necessarily use it in a lot of my lesson plans, but I’ve definitely seen it and I could see the importance of it, is a section for assessment. So how are you going to assess whether your learning objectives have been met or not? So it’s kind of a sub-section to write up that assessment activity. And again, in the show notes for today’s podcast, you can find a downloadable example of a lesson plan.
Using a Lesson Plan vs. Just Opening Up Powerpoint
Now, some people like to say, “You know what, I have to deliver a training session and I’m just going to open up PowerPoint. I’m going to map out my presentation that way. It’s just how I work.” Now, I don’t love doing that — I’ve seen lots of people do that, I don’t love it. It’s important to note that PowerPoint isn’t an instructional design tool, nor is it a training design tool. It’s a slide design tool. You can put images or words on a series of slides and that’s what you do with PowerPoint. But how do you know when you should show those images? Or those words for maximum learning effectiveness? And that’s why I think a lesson plan is really more important.
If you’re anything like I am, after you’ve designed a slide or you put a slide deck together, you don’t spend a ton of time rethinking those slides, or their sequence. For me, once my deck is done, it’s done. I know a lot of people who say, “Nah, I just design my presentation in PowerPoint.” But usually what they’re doing is just getting their thoughts down without any deeper thought into effective learning or instructional design. And when people do that, they generally don’t know how much time they’re going to spend at any given slide which is why I think a lesson plan for all of the components that I mentioned before is really important.
A lesson plan allows you to map out your thoughts first. Perhaps you’ll spend some more time thinking through content and activities. Perhaps you’ll rearrange some of those things when you’re playing around with the lesson plan. Perhaps you’ll decide you don’t even need a bunch of slides. Maybe you’ll use PowerPoint instead, or you’ll use other things that you can put around the room. And when you use PowerPoint, a lot of times you either forget about doing other different activities where you can use posters or other things around the room or you just ignore that idea, that concept, that creativity, that comes with that.
A lesson plan tells you exactly how far along you should be in your presentation at any given moment. And it also begins with your overall goal and learning objectives, which can really help prevent you from developing a very meandering presentation which sometimes happens when people just open up PowerPoint. Sometimes when you get into PowerPoint, you just keep creating slides and that just happens with every new idea that crosses your mind.
3 Shortcuts to Lesson Planning
Now is there a shortcut to lesson planning? And there are. I get that not everyone who delivers training has a background in instructional design. They don’t have a background in teaching or adult learning. And so there are three shortcuts that come to my mind immediately when I think of lesson planning.
One is just buying off-the-shelf content. You can go online if you’re looking for leadership development or compliance training or sales training – whatever, and there are lots of vendors that will sell off-the-shelf content for you. And usually, there’s a presenter guide that comes along with materials, maybe some slides. It can be a pricey solution, but when you do that, you shouldn’t need to create your own lesson. Usually, it’s provided for you.
There is a website or a tool – an online tool called Session Lab, which helps you to format your own lesson plans and presentations. And it also gives you access to a library of already created lesson plans and icebreakers that I’ve also seen some people use.
And then the other tool that could be really helpful to get a shortcut and not have to do a lesson plan all on your own is Soapbox. Full disclosure: it’s a product from Endurance Learning. It is the sponsor of this podcast, but it can be really helpful. You know, it takes a few inputs from you. It mostly writes your learning objectives for you. And it does spit out a lesson plan at the end with a sequence and flow of those activities that you can then edit and include your own content.
So yes, there are shortcuts to having to learn how to write a lesson plan. They all come with some different price tags at different levels. Obviously, when you get off-the-shelf content, it’s going to be more expensive. Some of these online tools are pretty modest, but there’s still a price involved with them. But they can save you a lot of time and generally help you with more polished final products than you may have been able to come up with on your own.
Lesson Plan: A Summary
So, in sum, a lesson plan – it’s a tool that you can use to create your next presentation, and make sure that it’s organized and it’s focused and hopefully effective. And just a reminder, the key components are usually having an overall goal – that’s what you want to accomplish. Learning objectives – that’s what your learners should be able to do new or differently or better. A breakdown of talking points and instructions in small, manageable chunks, a list of materials, and maybe an outline of the way that you’re going to assess your learning objectives and whether they’ve been accomplished.
To Learn More About Lesson Plans
If you want more information, you can find out more information about lesson plans at our website, which is www.51elementsoflearning.com. It is element number one, which highlights how important I think it is. And you’ll also find some free templates in the show notes to create your own lesson plans.
Thank you for listening. If you have any need for help on your own training programs, whether they’re instructor-led or eLearning, go ahead and drop me a line at email@example.com, I’d love to talk. Feel free to follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter as well. If you know somebody who might find today’s topic on lesson plans to be important, go ahead and pass a link to this podcast along to them. If you want to make sure that you’re notified of any new podcast that comes out when it’s hot off the press, go ahead and subscribe at Apple or Spotify, wherever you listen to podcasts. What I would say would be even better is if you took a minute and gave it a like or a review of the podcast. It doesn’t take you very long to do that, but it would mean a ton to me. That’s all I have for you today. Until next time, everyone, happy training.
This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox. Sign up today for a free demo below.