Instructional Design Lessons from Puppy Training School

This Saturday, a 9-week-old Australian Labradoodle named Picco will sniff around our house for the first time.

Puppies are cute, and fun, and playful, and from what I’ve recently begun to understand, they’re also a lot of work. They don’t just come with a factory setting that makes them sit, roll over, play dead or stop barking at the postal carrier. Apparently, we have to train them how to do this.

To prepare for our new arrival, our entire family has been listening to The Puppy Training Podcast and we’ve signed up for a lifetime membership to Baxter & Bella’s Online Puppy School, which is loaded with videos, printable job aids, live classes and opportunities to talk with a live trainer. It’s quite well-organized and offers some instructional design ideas for anyone tasked with putting together self-directed online learning resources.

Lesson 1: High Quality, Immediately Applicable Content Drives Self-directed Learning

I wouldn’t be listening to this podcast or paying money to go through this online puppy school content – regardless of how good the information is – if I weren’t about to bring home a puppy. Even if I knew I’d be bringing home a puppy 6 or 8 months from now, I wouldn’t carve out time to access these resources.

However, with a puppy coming home in just a few days, I need some good strategies on how to make sure it won’t use my living room rug as it’s bathroom! I have an immediate need, and there are resources designed specifically to help me address this challenge.

This is an important lesson to keep in mind for any training we develop. It doesn’t make sense to compel people to go through a training program if they’re not going to be able to put that information to use in the very near future. Yes, people do need to know that they may be switching from one computer system to another in six months, but that’s more of a marketing and communications responsibility. Training people on a new computer system that won’t be available for six months will waste of a lot of people’s time.

When you’re putting together a training program, be sure that it:

  1. Solves a specific problem (in my case, I want to learn how to keep a puppy from using the house as its bathroom), and
  2. Can be put to use immediately (in my case, I now have some specific benchmarks in mind for potty training and I have some specific ideas to train the dog how to sit during the first weekend he’s with us).

Lesson 2: Analogies Help Things Make Sense

Amy Jensen is the host of The Puppy Training Podcast and has a talent for framing puppy training concepts and dog behaviors in ways that make it very easy to relate to and understand.

During a podcast on the importance of timing when training and rewarding a puppy, she uses the analogy of the arcade game in which you try to stop a light that is going around in a circle at just the precise spot, between two markers, in order to get hundreds of tickets (if you stop the light just a fraction too slow or too fast, you only get a handful of tickets).

She compares this arcade game with the importance of timing when training and rewarding a puppy. Giving praise and a treat at precisely the right time and your puppy learns the intended behavior. If you’re just a little too slow and you give praise or give a treat after the puppy has done the behavior and then turned its head, and the puppy might think you’re trying to reward him for turning his head.

When you’re writing a script for your next elearning project or your lesson plan for your next instructor-led training, it’s so important to put new concepts in terms people can relate to and understand. It truly can make the difference between your participants having an ah-ha moment and your participants walking away kind of (but not really) getting your point.

Lesson 3: What To Do When Someone Doesn’t Want To Re-visit Your Hour-long Elearning Course?

There are a lot of good reasons to put together a robust, self-directed elearning course. I’ve never met a single person who has logged back into an LMS after completing a course to re-visit information from the elearning program.

What’s a learning and development person to do if people aren’t willing to re-visit an elearning course that holds all the information and answers anyone could ever want about a certain topic?

Make sure there are some quick reference components available for people to access.

One thing that the Baxter & Bella Online Puppy School offers are hour-long, live virtual sessions on a range of topics. There are also short (5-10 minute) podcasts on those topics, short (some may call “microlearning”) video clips that are just a few minutes in length which show a specific way to train puppies on a specific behavior.

Is it a little extra work to break topics down into bite-sized chunks and make them available? Yes.

Will these resources be used as just-in-time tools to solve a problem in the moment of need? Yes.

Can’t you just suggest that people go back into your LMS and re-visit Module 4 of your elearning program? No.

Lesson 4: People Like (and Need!) Job Aids

As we get ready to bring the puppy home, the concept of “socializing” the puppy to lots of different experiences, people, situations and sites is apparently quite important. If I don’t want 3-year-old Picco freaking out when a skateboarder passes by, then 10-week-old Picco needs to see someone on a skateboard and know that skateboards aren’t evil.

To make the task of socializing our new puppy to a wide variety of experiences, people, situations and sites easy, the puppy school offers a printable BINGO card with lots of ideas, and it’s something the whole family can use when we take Picco out into the world.

Making printable job aids available reduces the burden on a learner to memorize things and can be called upon in the moment of need. It can also be a good physical reminder for a process, procedure or list of helpful hints to keep in mind.

Lesson 5: Never Underestimate The Power Of Word-Of-Mouth

If you Google the term “puppy training school”, you’ll get more than 67 million results. How am I supposed to know which site to lean on in my quest to have the best-behaved pet ever?

A dog breeder mentioned Baxter & Bella to my girlfriend, and suddenly we had a hot lead on a trusted resource. There’s no way I’d have known where to begin had it not been for this recommendation from a breeder and for the helpful nudge from my girlfriend.

What’s the lesson here? Finding champions around your organization who can say: “Hey, you should really check out this training program that our L&D team has created” can be the most essential marketing you can find within your organization. Gaining the trust and confidence of supervisors and managers across your organization who can offer your employees a helpful nudge is equally as powerful.

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