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Universal Training Design and Development Tips

Click any of the statements below for further explanation.

Tip 1: Make sure that the problem you are trying to solve is, in fact, a training issue.
Tip 2: Make sure the Task Analysis is complete , accurate, and the true foundation for your training.
Tip 3: Make sure that objectives developed for training are congruent with tasks identified in the Task Analysis.
Tip 4: Don't be too quick to select course delivery mode.
Tip 5: Document the Audience Analysis and make it a part of the training design documentation.
Tip 6: Be specific when defining prerequisite skills and knowledge.
Tip 7: Document course maintenance plans early in the design process.
Tip 8: Make decisions, in the design phase, concerning document control.
Tip 9: Plan, in the design phase, how to track training and certification.
Tip 10: Plan how to handle training and/or certification of existing skilled work
Tip 11: Continually monitor training quality.

Tip 1: Make sure that the problem you are trying to solve is, in fact, a training issue.

Some situations, such as new employee training, new equipment, or new procedures, obviously have "training implications." Other situations may or may not be a training issue. Developing training to solve a non-training problem is obviously a great waste of resources. While it would seem that no one in his or her right mind would ever do such a thing, that is not the case. Each year many businesses will skip the "needs analysis" step and plunge straight into training development to solve a problem that is, in reality, not a training problem. In the context of this web site, the term Needs Analysis means a process to determine the "root cause" of a performance problem.


Tip 2: Make sure the Task Analysis is complete, accurate, and the true foundation for training.

The term Task comes into play in at least two separate types of analysis, Job Analysis and Task Analysis.

Simply stated, a job analysis is determining and listing all of the tasks performed by workers in the process of performing the job for which they were hired. A task analysis done for training purposes examines each task to establish:

• Conditions under which the task is performed
• Standards of performance
• Frequency of performance
• Difficulty to learn
• Probability of failure without training
• Consequence of performance failure
• Task-specific safety issues
• Background knowledge and skills required

An accurate and complete task analysis is, in my estimation, the key to effective and efficient training. Weaknesses in the task analysis can result in wasted time, wasted money, and poor worker performance. Task analysis is not the place to cut corners! Training programs that fail usually have roots in erroneous or "fuzzily-worded" task statements and performance standards.

Tons of paper have been devoted to task analysis methodologies, and I won’t try to duplicate those writings here. I would suggest, however that the general areas of responsibilities (duties) for a job be defined first and the tasks comprising each duty be developed next.

Probably the quickest and most accurate way to do a job and task analysis is to assemble a group of workers who are currently performing the job and collect their collective knowledge concerning job tasks. This type of an approach has several names: focus group approach, table-top approach, and nominal group approach. The approach is based on three widely accepted principles:
• Expert workers are better able to describe/define their job than anyone else.
• Any job can be effectively and sufficiently described in terms of the tasks that successful workers perform in that job.
• All tasks have direct implications for the knowledge, skills and attitudes that workers must have in order to perform the tasks correctly.

Make sure the task analysis document is formatted neatly, and have it reviewed by the appropriate people to make sure that there are no disagreements before you start developing any sort of training package, job aids, procedure manuals, or anything else that is based on that task analysis. Being near the end of a training development process and having someone say "...but you forgot so and so!" can turn a good day into a nightmare!


Tip 3: Make sure that objectives developed for training are congruent with tasks identified in the Task Analysis.

After the task analysis is complete and all of the stakeholders are satisfied with it, the next step is to start defining the objectives for the training. The term "objectives" is used in different ways. To some, the word implies statements of what a "course" intends to accomplish or what an instructor intends to accomplish in a training event. In some cases, it is used to describe the nature of the training event itself. An example would be "Objective: Discuss so-and-so."

A second, somewhat commonly applied contest of the term objective reflects on what the learner is supposed to do on the job but not necessarily addressed in specific detail nor tested within the training environment. An example would be a course that introduces a learner to all of the basic and advanced features of a word processor with an objective being: The learner will use word processor X to construct maintenance manuals for products designed by the company. In this instance, the course addresses all of the pieces but not the objective itself. I would classify objectives like this as statements of wishful thinking as opposed to viable objectives.

To others, the word objective, when used in the context of training, means "the things that the learner will be able to do at the conclusion of the training event." Having objectives also implies that those objectives will be tested as a part of the training event. For the remainder of these tips, the term objective is strictly defined in this last context.

One of the ways to start defining objectives is to copy the "primary parts" of the Task Statements from your Task Analysis into a new area of a document and call them "Objectives." In this context, the term "primary parts" includes the Task Statement, the Standards of Performance, and Conditions.

The next step comes close to a "do two things at once" situation. For each task, decide how you are going to measure the objective within the training event, and then modify the verb in the task statement to match the testing strategy.

In some cases, the original task or sub task is such that the only way to test if a person knows how to do it is to have them actually do it while being monitored by a subject matter expert. In this situation, the objective statement and the task statement must remain the same and the training that addresses this event must either be a hands-on laboratory-type of course or structured on-job-training.

For other objectives, you might decide to modify the verb in the objective to match a training delivery method such as print-based self-study, lecture, or computer/web based training. Again, develop your testing strategy at the same time you develop the objectives. It is quite embarrassing (and sometimes costly) to have everyone sign off on objectives and then find that one or more simply cannot be tested as written.

Add objectives as necessary, but in all cases, be absolutely sure that each new objective links back directly or indirectly to a job task or subtask. If you come up with an objective that seems to be absolutely imperative but does not directly support a task or sub task, it usually means one of two things:
A. Your objective is superfluous and should be dropped
B. Your task analysis is either flawed or incomplete

For each objective, define and document three strategies:
• Testing (how the objective will be measured in the training environment)
• Practice (how objective practice activities will be developed)
• Content Delivery (how the supporting content will be developed and delivered)

Be absolutely sure that all three strategies are congruent with the respective objective. The verb used in the objective statement should be the same or synonymous with the verb used in both your testing strategy and your practice strategy. And, the content delivery strategy should be congruent with and support the objective, as well as the test and its practice strategies.

Where applicable, assign each objective to a specific course to be developed. In some cases, you will be working with material that involves but a single course. In this situation, skip this step. However, if the situation is such that it is better to address some subjects in one course, such as a web based course, and others in another such as Structured OJT, then assign the objectives as necessary. You may find that while the objectives and their proposed training sequence viewed as an entire group looks good, holes may appear after you separate them into different courses. If this happens, it usually means that you need to add a few objectives to bridge those holes. For more info on course-delivery selection, see Tip 4 . Review all of the objectives for the duty and task to make sure that they are complete and adequate and then review those same objectives after sorting them by their respective courses.

If everything appears to be complete, submit the material for review by subject matter experts and stakeholders. When approved, continue with development.

In the real world, time stops for no man and that applies to reviews as well. As a rule, business imposed deadlines will not permit waiting for completed design reviews before starting development. The better and more thorough job you do in the creation of your design document the less likely reviewers are going to make design change demands.


Tip 4: Don't be too quick to select course delivery mode.

Don't jump to the decision on course delivery medium until you have complete and accurate definitions of three things:
• What the learner must be able to do at the conclusion of the training (performance objectives - See Tip 3).
• What the learner must know to be able to meet the performance objectives. (identified during task analysis)
• What the learner already knows and can already do before the training begins (audience analysis).

For instance, if the worker must be able to operate a certain piece of equipment, then structured OJT or lecture/lab would be reasonable delivery systems, at least for the final part, of the worker's training. Lecture by itself, print-based, computer based training, or eLearing  would not be adequate. In short, select the delivery medium that permits adequate testing of the performance you expect of the learner at the conclusion of the course or training module. For many job-tasks, the only way to determine if the worker can actually perform the tasks in the job setting is to observe the performance, on the job. For that reason, structured OJT becomes a logical choice for at least part, if not all, of the worker's training. For knowledge level skills that support task performance, pre-requisite training delivered by lecture, lecture/lab, print-based self-study, web based training (WBT), computer based training (CBT) may, in some circumstances, be practicable. In other circumstances, it may be more prudent for workers to gain the required knowledge, at the job-work-place while actually learning to perform the task. This is addressed further in the tip on Task Analysis.


Tip 5: Document the Audience Analysis and make it a part of the training design documentation.

When doing an audience analysis, concentrate on the characteristics of the new-hire for the job, but don't completely ignore the workers who are currently performing the job. In many cases, job processes are simplified over the years and the incoming skill requirements for new-hire change accordingly. Failure to look closely at the current new-hire audience can result in a program that works well when tested on existing workers but falls flat on its face with new-hires.

To conduct the audience analysis for a new-employee training program start by examining the skills or experiences mandated by the human resource department for the job. However, investigate carefully to ensure that what is documented as hiring practices, and actual hiring practices are the same. In some cases, documented hiring criteria simply cannot be met due to a tight labor market. Design training programs based on actuality and not on good intentions!

In many businesses, hiring practices seem to have a habit of changing over the years. And those changes can show up in training programs by lengthening the time required for a new worker to complete training. If, after a few years, the time required for new learners to become productive seems to lengthen, check the audience characteristics at that time against the audience analysis you originally documented to make sure that the original audience assumptions are still valid. If the audience changes, training will have to revised or altered accordingly.


Tip 6: Be specific when defining prerequisite skills and knowledge.

In many programs, prerequisite skills and knowledge are defined in such ambiguous terms or at such a high level that the prerequisite training developed (or purchased) is far more than is needed or prudent. Personal experience: after closely examining one prerequisite knowledge course that resulted from such ambiguity, one training manager exclaimed, "my goodness, we should be developing maintenance people, not brain surgeons!" Ask the question, over and over, must this knowledge be gained before "hands-on" or can it be incorporated with hands-on learning.

Where possible, lean heavily toward incorporating knowledge with hands on. In many cases, knowledge courses must be scheduled and administered so far ahead of hands-on training that content is forgotten by the time it's applied. Although my purpose here is not to reinvent nor dwell on learning theories, keep in mind that knowledge is retained when it is applied. If you learn a set of facts today but do not use those facts for a month or even a week, from now, they probably forgotten by the time you need them!


Tip 7: Document course maintenance plans early in the design process.

In most businesses, continual process improvement is pre-requisite to being in business tomorrow! Process improvement means that tasks, as well as task performance standards, must also change. These changes arbitrarily dictate corresponding changes to training.

A company's operating procedures, their training program, and the way they actually do things must be absolutely congruent or the training program has no credibility in the eyes of employees and trainees. In companies where absolute congruence is not maintained, training is considered a joke (and a rather expensive one at that) by most employees!

The following items are among the things that I recommend addressing when developing plans for training-program maintenance. While not a complete list of things you may wish to consider, it serves as a good starting point.
• Who, or what department will be charged with the responsibility for training material maintenance? Will that department be a keystroking function that responds to input from someone else, or will they be charged with making content-type decisions?
• How will changes to the production process be communicated to those charged with course maintenance?
• Who will make the actual changes to the wording in existing material?
• Who will have review and approval rights for alterations to the training program? (Safety Department? Environmental Impact Department? Other departments?)
• When anyone proposes a change, how and to whom will that change be submitted, and who must approve and initiate the change?
• How will proposed changes be circulated to those who must review and approve?
• What resources such as computers, software, and personnel are required to maintain the training program? And where will those resources come from?
• What plans will be implemented to keep the training program lock-stepped with operating procedures in a controlled-document environment?


Tip 8: Make decisions, in the design phase, concerning document control.

If your company's operating procedures are controlled documents, the company will have to decide if trainee/trainer guides should be controlled documentation and how to implement and maintain control on these documents.


Tip 9: Plan, in the design phase, how to track training and certification.

This tracking system must be able to accommodate "update" training when production processes change. For companies that use standard operating procedures that are regularly revised, the tracking system must be able to tie task training to specific revision levels of operating procedures.


Tip 10: Plan how to handle training and/or certification of existing skilled workers.

Develop a strategy for how to handle employees who have been around for some time and are already performing the job. Do you "grandfather" all existing employees? Or do you force them to be re-trained? Or do you require them to pass a task evaluation? The question of how to handle existing employees must be addressed early on to avoid serious personnel and attitude problems in your new training program. A word of caution: Beware, you can't bypass this one, and it can be a barrel of snakes!


Tip 11: Continually monitor training quality.

Establish and maintain a system of collecting data including trainee reaction, training times required, training efficiency, and training consistency, monitor the training effort, and detect any slippage in training quality. The longer the program is in place the more this becomes an important issue. Left unmonitored, I can just about guarantee quality slippage.


© Pete Blair 2005-2023