Six Creative Ways to Enhance Existing Training Programs
Everybody likes a new trend, or wants to incorporate the latest technology into their training programs, yet these solutions can often be expensive and resource-intensive to create.
While it's important for learning and development (L&D) experts to be aware of these trends and new technologies, and understand how they can positively impact training, it's also important that they don't forget the basics - things like structuring learning around well thought-out learning objectives or following good instructional design principles.
The purpose of this article is not to suggest that you refrain from using new technologies or incorporating strategies like experiential learning, simulation-based learning, using learner curated materials, and so on - in fact, I strongly believe that these approaches can be highly successful if used appropriately.
Rather, my goal is to provide you with some simple and easy to implement strategies for "beefing up" your existing material without spending a lot of effort, time and money.
How are learning programs structured?
There are three ways in which learning programs are structured:
- Live training - refers to training programs that engage instructors and learners at the same time. This could be a face-to-face classroom workshop, a live webinar or virtual class. The types of resources used in live training formats include facilitator guides, participant manuals and PowerPoint presentations.
- Self-study - refers to training programs that learners complete on their own time. Examples include online courses or printed workbooks/manuals that learners must work through.
- Blended - refers to training programs that combine "multiple delivery media...designed to complement each other and promote learning and application-learned behavior". For example, a learner may be required to complete a workbook or online tutorial before attending a face-to-face seminar.
The way in which a learning program is structured, and the communication medium that's being employed (i.e., in-person lecture, online or print) impacts what you can do to improve your existing training.
For example, you can enhance classroom sessions by creating new exercises or simulations, you can convert classroom-based materials to eLearning, or you can completely revamp how you approach training in your organization. The challenge with these approaches is they are often time-consuming to build and many firms don't have the required personnel to make these changes.
Easy and Cost-effective Ways to Enhance your Training
1. Take an inventory of your current learning resources and ensure that these materials support your learning goals.
I guarantee that you'll be surprised at what you discover; you'll probably find resources that you totally forgot you had.
Before you can make any enhancements, you need to know what you are working with.
Further, you may want to create an inventory list, which includes the name of the resource, it's purpose and a brief description. This may seem silly, but it will help you get a sense of what materials can be used for what purposes.
Before online learning became a popular delivery method, training tended to focus on compliance and skill development, and there was less emphasis on lifelong or continuous learning than there is today.
Consequently, training resources were developed with very clear purposes and were typically paper-based (manuals, procedure lists, job-aids, etc.):
- If learners were required to describe something - descriptive text was used.
- If learners were required to learn a procedure - instruction statements were used.
- If learners were required to demonstrate skills - on-job practical evaluations were used.
- If learners were required to identify parts of machinery or equipment - diagrams or drawings were used.
- If learners needed a reminder of what they learned - job-aids or plasticised cards were used.
So now that you know what resources are at your disposal, what can you do with them to enhance your training program?
Ultimately, the learning resource needs to support your learning objectives.
If you've been training employees for a long time, I strongly suggest that you critically examine the resources you're working with and ensure that they meet your training goals today.
2. Invert your Training Design
Brad Kolar recently commented on an article I wrote on experiential learning, suggesting that, rather than structuring learning so that you're describing something and then having learners 'do' or practice what you've just taught, you instead have learners experiment or practice a skill and then engage them in a discussion about what they just experienced. This way, the "lecture" or "discussion" helps people make sense of the experience they just engaged in.
For example, case studies are traditionally structured so that learners work through a real-life situation and answer questions to determine a solution based on the information that was provided. If you reversed this design, you could instead provide the solution and have learners work backwards.
This got me thinking. We can take some of the strategies that we already use in our training programs and change the order in which they are delivered without changing the content.
Going one step further, you could also provide a problem or a situation where there is no one correct solution. This is often referred to as problem-based learning.
With this approach, the process of determining a solution is where deep learning occurs, as it forces learners to be more hands on as they work through the problem; the process is more important than the solution itself. With this approach, there is no need to overhaul your resources.
3. Make Coaching and Mentoring Innovative
Think about ways in which instructors, coaches and mentors can use your current content so that it is more applicable.
Often, coaching programs have 'lax' guidelines and are sometimes left to organic growth, with a mentality of 'let's assign coaches and mentors and see what happens'.
Make your coaching and mentoring programs more innovative by creating goals for both mentors and mentorees. These goals should be based on step-by-step procedures that new employees need to learn and understand; it's even likely that this information already exists.
Some people may argue that this process is too rigid and that it diminishes the importance placed on the mentor's experience and personal life lessons, however, how do you know that the mentoree is actually learning? By having established goals, an evaluation system can be attached to it.
The delivery of information from the instructor, mentor or coach can also vary. There is great value in face-to-face coaching (and do consider web conference technologies), but coaches can also email or text helpful information or links to current content that may be useful.
4. Bring in Guest Speakers
If you want to make a small but impactful addition to your current learning program, one solution is to invite guest speakers.
Sometimes face-to-face or hands-on learning is essential, or just a better option, so you'll need an LMS that can handle it all. Blended learning is the term for combining online and in-person learning, and it's a common requirement.
Inviting guest speakers can work for classroom-based, live virtual and online learning formats:
- It's relatively simple to incorporate a guest speaker into a classroom-based session or live webinar as you can allocate dedicated time to your speaker.
- In an online venue, the easiest way is to record a video of the speaker and incorporate it into your current learning program. You can either embed this video into an online course or leave it as a separate learning event that learners can access through your learning management system or through a public site like YouTube. Creating videos doesn't have to be complicated and you don't need fancy equipment. Today, most smartphones have a camera that produces excellent quality videos.
- Finally, if your materials are print-based, one way to incorporate expert advice is to interview your speaker and provide a written transcript of your questions and their responses.
None of us is an expert on everything, so bringing in speakers with proven expertise in a topic provides added credibility to your content.
Additionally, hearing new voices provides learners not only with different points of view, but also with potential resources they can access in the future. It's also a great way for learners to network with experts in their field.
Who is a good guest speaker? Managers or supervisors from different departments, academics or experts from the community or industry make good guests.
Consider this: Van Hoek et al. (2011) found that in a course with profound practical applications, such as supply chain management, speakers from the field seemed to carry as much or more credibility than those from within a firm.
5. Update How you Recognize Successful Completion of Learning
Are you recognizing learners for their accomplishments?
Celebrating completed coursework, certifications, etc. not only reinforces the importance of learning within an organization, it also makes the recipient feel good about themselves, which in turn can help to boost their performance.
The Gallup Organization conducted a study surveying more than 4 million employees about the importance of recognition. They concluded that "employees who receive regular recognition for their accomplishments are more productive, engaged and more likely to stay with their organisation than those who do not". This example isn't specific to learning, but it demonstrates the importance of recognition regardless of the accomplishment.
There are many ways to recognize an employee without spending a lot of money or changing your existing content, including:
- special events with colleagues or senior management
If your learning program is primarily online, you can also offer a Digital or Open Badge. A digital badge is an online representation of a skill you've earned.
Open Badges take that concept one step further, and allow you to verify your skills, interests and achievements through credible organizations and attach that information to the badge image file, hard-coding the metadata for future access and review.
Because the system is based on an open standard, earners can combine multiple badges from different issuers to tell the complete story of their achievements - both online and off. Earners may display their badges on the web (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+), and share them for employment, education or lifelong learning.
6. Convert Classroom Materials for Online Delivery
True eLearning (i.e., building a high-end, fully interactive online course) can be expensive. However, you can enhance your classroom materials by putting them online without having to build something so complex.
Many learning management systems allow you to electronically deliver PDF documents, meaning you can upload electronic formats of facilitator guides, manuals, frequently asked question documents, checklists, job aids, and so on for learners to access and download.
Taking this idea one step further, it's also possible to take existing PowerPoint presentations, pull the content into authoring tools like Articulate (30-day free trials are available) and attach an audio script taken from an existing presentation. Using this strategy, you can create a unique learning path that includes all the information and documentation you used during your classroom-based sessions.
Remember, learners are becoming accustomed to being able to access content in various ways - for example, news can be viewed on TV or via a computer, as well as read in a newspaper or using a smartphone or tablet. Embrace this trend and deliver your content using more than one medium.
If your training program is primarily delivered in-person, moving your content online as suggested above is a good way to pilot a potentially more complex online program, and determine whether or not your learners like the new method before spending a lot of money.
This article identified six simple and easy to implement strategies for enhancing your existing learning program without spending a lot of effort, time and money. Hopefully, this article has provided you with some things to consider as you continue to train your workforce.
At the end of the day, there isn't always value in completely overhauling your strategy, so by gradually integrating the ideas identified here you can make your training program "fresh" without starting from scratch.
Sarah is an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp Learning Systems and is currently completing a PhD in Educational Technology. Her research focuses on implementing competency-based learning systems in all types of organizations. When she doesn't have her nose in a book you can find her at the gym, on the ice, on the ski hill, drinking wine or in a coffee shop … with her nose in a book.