How to Deflate Even the Best Designed Training Program

balloon

Last week I had an opportunity to help plan a training program for an organization with a large presence across India. I was the only training professional sitting around the table. I was joined by several high ranking officials and some operations staff.

At the beginning of the meeting, I was asked to share my thoughts about good training design. With a flare of theatricality, I took out two balloons and I asked a colleague to inflate the first one.

I held the balloon in my hand, but I did not tie it. I explained that this balloon represented so many training programs. It took some work to inflate. It looked nice. It looked festive. Maybe it even looked fun. Nice, festive and fun are all goals of a balloon, so it looks like we’ve achieved what we wanted, right?

Then I let go of the balloon and it shot up, twisting and turning and floating around the conference room. For a brief moment, I wondered if this was a dignified enough monologue with such high ranking officials in the room, but I pressed ahead.

In the end, all that balloon had was a bunch of hot air and now it’s gone and it’s not really nice or festive or fun. It didn’t really achieve anything.

Then I asked my colleague to inflate the second balloon. I tied it.

This balloon represented what we should aspire to, I said. All of the hard work of inflating the balloon is sustained. We had a plan (to blow up the balloon), we executed the plan for maximum sustainability (we tied it) and if we were to come back tomorrow (ie: follow-up later down the road), we’d still be able to see an inflated balloon!

This is how training programs need to be. Good design. Good execution. And measurable, sustainable results.

Looking around the room, reactions ranged from mild amusement to head nodding to one person asking the question: “Ok, I like it… so how do we keep the balloon inflated?”

In that moment, I felt like a genius. I didn’t just talk about adult learning and training design. I showed what it was. I reached not just for the rational minds of my audience, but also their hearts. And they were in love.

Until halfway through the meeting.

I had my back turned as I wrote something on the white board. And then I heard the sound that everyone who has an older sibling has heard at least once in their lives. It was the distinctive sound of my prized possession, my balloon, being slowly deflated.

My head whipped around. I saw who did it. It was one of the executives! He smiled sheepishly. The room was tense. Everyone wondered what my next move would be.

“That,” I began. “That just shows us that my great opening balloon metaphor wasn’t yet complete. Even if we have amazing design and amazing delivery and amazing follow-up… one senior official or executive can come by on a whim and untie the balloon, letting all the air out and killing any long term impact of the program.”

Without manager (or director or executive) support, even the most well-designed training program is just a bunch of hot air.

 

Instructional Design Lessons from a 6-Year-Old

My 6-year-old daughter wants an American Girl doll in the worst way.  Recently, she cracked open her piggy bank to see if she had enough money to afford one.  As a mix of change and dollar bills lay on the ground, she started counting her pennies.

She counted out 40 pennies and asked if that was enough.  I explained that the doll cost over one hundred dollars.  Instead of trying to count her $1, $5, and $20 bills, or even nickels, dimes and quarters, she went back to counting her pennies.

In truth, after six years of squirrelling away spare change and birthday money, she had more than enough money in her piggy bank to buy an American Girl doll.  But she insisted on counting all her pennies, pausing to find out if she had enough for a doll every two or three minutes.

When I asked her why she didn’t try counting her paper money or her other coins, she explained that it was easier to count by ones, and she knew that each penny was one cent.  More than enough money was within her grasp to buy an American Girl doll, but she insisted on staying within her comfort zone of counting pennies.

As I reflected on this, I was struck at how remarkably similar this process was to developing training components.  The coveted object of desire – the American Girl doll, so to speak – for me or SMEs or anyone else doing presentations should be cultivating new skills and knowledge and better ways to do things among their audience. The best way to do this is through good instructional design and engaging presentations, but developing such components can take significant amounts of time and sometimes requires us to go outside our comfort zone to try something new.  It’s a lot easier to regurgitate old lessons or relapse into old habits of lecture and bullet-pointed PowerPoint presentations because they’re quicker to put together and there’s just so many other things that need to be done on any given day.

And when we eschew risk taking and trying new things and putting the effort into good design and engaging presentations, we’re basically just counting pennies.  In the name of ease and comfort, we sacrifice the opportunity that is right in front of us to create an amazing and transformational learning experience.  And at this pace, we’ll never get our hands on whatever the trainers’ equivalent is of an American Girl doll.

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“What would have made that webinar better?”

Recently, a doctor asked me for some feedback on a webinar I had observed.  I started to rattle off some suggestions.  Then I had to stop myself.  It’s true that more interaction would clearly have made the webinar more engaging – use of polling features or the chat function or simply posing questions to the audience and having them respond verbally or maybe even throwing in a few breakout room discussions.  (Click here for a related post on strategies to engage learners during a webinar.)

But none of these suggestions felt right.

Then I realized I was doing a poor job of answering his question.  Honestly, I couldn’t answer his question without one key piece of information: what were the original learning objectives for the webinar?  It was never clear to me what the learners were supposed to be able to do differently as a result of the webinar.

It dawned on me that the answer to this doctor’s question was: better-crafted learning objectives would have made the webinar better.

What is a well-crafted learner objective?  A well-crafted learner objective finishes this sentence: by the end of this webinar, my learners will be able to

If his learners should be able to explain the key differences between the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) IV and the DSM V, then there should have been some type of activity in which participants were challenged to explain these differences.

Well-crafted learning objectives are essential to a well-crafted and engaging learning experience – whether it’s a webinar, instructor-led classroom training or even an elearning module.  Without identifying what learners should be able to do differently, it’s tough (impossible?) to design and deliver a tight, targeted, engaging learning experience.

The Train Like A Champion Blog is published Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  If you think someone else might find this interesting, please pass it along.  If you don’t want to miss a single, brilliant post, be sure to click “Follow” at the top of the page!