Book Review: Training Design Basics by Saul Carliner

Saul Carliner’s second edition of Training Design Basics is written for people who are brand new to the field and are creating their first training program. This is a great book for those who are just getting started with training. People switching careers into training or instructional design from another field would also find a wealth of information. Training managers who don’t come from a training background but want to understand it better would benefit, as would project managers who are looking for what to include in their task lists and how to estimate time and cost.

This book is heavy on the practical, day-to-day considerations of creating training. It’s filled with little notes on the details that you might not think about if you’ve never done this before: what to include on title slides and prefaces, how to choose fonts and font sizes for online and printed content, leaving larger margins on one side of the page for printing bound materials, and marketing your course. The tips all feel very authentic and based on lessons learned by actual practitioner. For example, there’s a suggestion to put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door of a conference room when you’re recording audio. Carliner also recommends waiting a day before responding to reviewer feedback so you have time to plan and “an opportunity to calm down should any comment raise your blood pressure.” I know some more experienced instructional designers who might do well to follow that last bit of advice.

The book is organized to clearly follow the process of creating a training program from start to finish:

  1. Basics of Design (including ADDIE and adult learning principles)
  2. Planning (including estimating schedule and cost)
  3. Analysis (what he calls “Information Needed to Start a Project”)
  4. Objectives
  5. Organizing Content
  6. Choosing an Instructional Strategy
  7. Developing Materials
  8. Preparing and Producing Materials
  9. Quality Checks
  10. Administration

Every chapter ends with a worksheet or checklist you can complete to apply the content of that chapter. Most of the time, the process described in detail is for a “platinum” project with high complexity and impact (and correspondingly high resource investment). When you’re working on lower level “silver” and “bronze” projects, Carliner explains how to adapt the process and what shortcuts you can take.

The first edition of this book focused on classroom training. One of the major updates in this second edition is the addition of elearning, both self-paced (which he calls “self-study”) and virtual instructor-led training. There were times where I felt a little like the elearning material was “tacked on” as an afterthought, but the foundations of everything are fairly solid. Because this is a book on basics, the underlying assumption seems to be that elearning is mostly linear and generally suited for lower level training. If you’re just getting started with elearning, this is a good place to begin, but don’t stop here. There’s a whole world of more immersive and engaging elearning out there, so plan to keep reading more books and recognize that this is just a launching point.

If you’re completely focused on elearning and don’t do any classroom training, you’ll be able to skip some sections of this book that aren’t relevant (or vice versa if you only do classroom training). Likewise, if you’ve been working as a training specialist or instructional designer for many years, you’ll find that much of this is review for you. Even with my 10+ years of experience both in classroom training and instructional design, I still picked up a few new things though. For example, I will be using Carliner’s calculations of “fudge factor” or contingency for time estimates based on the level of uncertainty. This is a good book for filling in the gaps in your skills if you are an accidental instructional designer or trainer who doesn’t have formal education in training design. This isn’t the book if you want the theory and research behind all these decisions; it’s a step-by-step how-to guide for creating your first training.

I was interested in reading this book because I know many readers of my blog are new to instructional design or are hoping to make a career change. If you’re one of those readers, this book is an excellent choice for practical tips on Training Design Basics.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Training Design Basics by Saul Carliner

  1. I second your great review of Carliner’s book. I’m using it as part of an instructional design course at Boise State Univerisity this term. I appreciate the formal layout of the design process even though I’ve been doing it a while.

    1. This would be a great textbook for grad students. Although I think it’s less of an issue at Boise State than other schools, some of the grad programs seem to emphasize theory to the exclusion of these practical issues. This book is an antidote to theory-only programs. Theory is important (and I’d be disappointed with a grad program that didn’t provide that theoretical foundation), but it can’t exist in a vacuum or without combining it with application.

      As someone who came into instructional design through a less formal route, I appreciated that this book reinforced so much of what I have learned on my own along the way. It’s reassuring to have this book align well with so much of what I’m doing in practice.

  2. Thanks Christy. The book seems a necessary material to take theoretical understanding to the practical application stage. Instructional design is a science in its own right and science always searches for answers to the questions raised by theoretical postulations by measured results. Thanks again for the review of Saul Carliner’s book.

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