By Cathy Moore
“How can we make mandatory training more than a tick box exercise?”
That’s the top topic voted by blog readers, so here’s my take.
For “mandatory training,” I’m picturing any material that says some version of “Follow these rules.”
It’s sheep-dip training. Everyone must be “exposed” to it, and a checkmark records that they have been exposed.
How can we make it more relevant?
A client who says “Everyone must be trained on X” needs our resistance, not our obedience.
Help the client by asking questions, such as:
- What problems are you seeing? Has something happened? Has someone sued?
- Was this problem caused by one rogue employee, or is it a bigger issue? Is it limited to a group of employees, or is it really a problem that all employees are causing equally?
- What are we currently measuring that will improve when everyone is “trained?”
If there’s really no problem, we shouldn’t create a solution. We need to focus on improving performance, not guarding against problems that experience has shown aren’t likely to occur.
2. Set a goal
If it’s clear there really is a need for “training,” or some force far outside your control insists on “training,” then put on your action mapping hat and push for a measurable goal. Here’s one model to follow.
For details, see How to create a training goal in 2 quick steps.
3. Narrow your focus
Make sure your audience is specific. “All employees” is not specific.
If you’re required by forces beyond your control to create something for all employees, you can at least break down the audience by major job roles as described next.
4. Do the analysis. Really. DON’T SKIP THIS.
Focus on one job role in your audience. Ask your client and SME what these people need to do, in specific, observable terms, to meet the goal.
“Follow the data security policy” isn’t specific. This is specific:
- When you must physically transfer data to another location, put the data on a BrandZ thumb drive using HakrPruf encryption and chain it to your left ankle.
Prioritize the actions. Choose a high-priority one, and ask, “What makes this one thing hard to do?” Use the flowchart.
Again, you’re doing this for a specific group of people in a specific job, and you’re focusing on specific, observable behaviors. You’re not asking this once for the entire “course,” and you’re not talking about all employees in every job everywhere.
If those forces far beyond your control insist on applying the same solution to everyone, do this analysis for the major job roles. You probably won’t have a ton of time to do this, but even two hours can save you and everyone else from a much bigger waste of time in the form of irrelevant and ignored materials.
Then, if training is part of the solution, you can have people use only the activities that apply to their job.
Don’t skip this.
If you skip this analysis, what do you have to work with? Generic rules that are guaranteed to become an information dump.
Instead, if you look closely at what people need to do and why they aren’t doing it, you get:
- Ways to fix the problem that don’t require “training”
- Ideas for ways to help people practice the tricky parts
- Respect for the intelligence and experience of the people currently doing the job (notably lacking from most compliance training)
5. Base your design on job tasks, not information
Yes, people need to know stuff. But they need to know stuff in order to do stuff. Design first for what they need to do.
Provide the need-to-know information in the format it’s used on the job. Let people pull the information just like they will on the job.
Here’s a fictional example. Extraterrestrials have landed and are being incorporated into earthling families. As a result, employers have created alien leave policies. Here’s a mini-scenario for managers.
To answer this question, what information does the manager need? The alien leave policy. How should we provide it?
The traditional approach would be to first present a bunch of slides about the policy. Then we’d give people a chance to “apply” what they’ve “learned” by having them use their short-term memory to answer the question.
But why design slides to present information that’s already in a policy on the intranet?
Instead, we can plunge people into the activity and let them use the policy just like they will on the job.
And now that we aren’t developing lots of information slides, we can create more activities. Since they aren’t trapped inside an information presentation, they can travel alone. For example, we can provide them individually over time (spaced practice) as described in this post.
6. Sell it with a prototype
Create a prototype of one typical activity and show it to the stakeholders. Make clear that people will see only the activities that apply to their job. They’ll pull information rather than recognizing what they saw three slides ago, and they’ll learn from the consequences of their choices.
You’re letting the stakeholders see for themselves how you plan to provide the “training,” because then you’ll be in a good position to respond to the following common concerns.
“But everyone must be exposed to all the information!”
Give each option unique feedback. In that feedback, first show the consequence of the choice — continue the story.
Then show the snippet of information they should have looked at, as described in How to really involve learners. Do this for all consequences, not just the poor ones.
See more ideas and examples in Scenario mistakes to avoid: Eager-beaver feedback.
If you have a stakeholder who’s determined to expose everyone, you can point out that they are now exposed. They’re just exposed after making a relevant decision, rather than in a forgettable presentation.
By not presenting information first, you’re helping people see their own knowledge gaps. They’re not pulling stuff out of short-term memory, because you haven’t put anything there. They have to rummage around in their existing knowledge, look at the policy just like they would in real life, make a choice, and learn from the consequences. They get deeper learning, plus they’re dutifully “exposed” to the correct information.
“But they have to prove that they know it!”
Which approach is more likely to avoid lawsuits about misuse of the alien leave policy?
A. Present the policy over several slides. Then require a knowledge test to see if people can recognize a bit of information that they saw 5 minutes ago. If they can, they “pass.” If they can’t, they must put those same slides back in their short-term memory and try again.
B. Present challenges in which people need to make the same decisions they make on the job. Provide the information in the same format that people will have it on the job. Start with easy-ish decisions and increase the challenge. If people make good decisions in enough activities, they’re free to go. If they make not-good decisions, they get more activities and optional help until they make good decisions.
Don’t design for “They should know the rules.” Design for “They should correctly apply the rules on the job.”
For lots more, see my book and just about everything in this blog, especially the following posts.
- How to really involve learners
- What to do if they just want “awareness”
- Why you want to focus on actions, not learning objectives
- Three ways to save gobs of time when designing training
- Will action mapping work for my project? Custom advice for your situation.
All other images: Cathy Moore