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:
- Basics of Design (including ADDIE and adult learning principles)
- Planning (including estimating schedule and cost)
- Analysis (what he calls “Information Needed to Start a Project”)
- Organizing Content
- Choosing an Instructional Strategy
- Developing Materials
- Preparing and Producing Materials
- Quality Checks
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.
I got a call from a prospective client. She and I spoke briefly once when she was looking for a pool of instructional designers to call on for specific projects, but we haven’t worked together yet. In fact, I’m pretty sure she’s never worked with any instructional designers before.
“Hi, Christy, it’s Lynn. I need some help finishing up an e-learning course. The PowerPoint slides just need to be tweaked—editing the onscreen text, adding some animation, prepping the script for voice over recording, and syncing everything together. Are you available?”
“Your timing is good, Lynn. I’m just wrapping up some other projects and have some time now. Tell me some more about this project.”
“It’s about 200 slides. Here, let me email them to you now so you can take a look. The content is basically finished, and it just needs some polish. Can you do that?”
“OK, I’m looking over the slides now.” Some parts of the presentation have good visuals, but large sections are text obviously copied word-for-word from the employee handbook. Often, the same text is in the voice over notes as on screen. The slides contain no practice activities or assessments. “Is this a face-to-face course that you want to convert to online?” I ask.
She responds, “Yes, this used to be taught in a classroom. It’s part of the new employee orientation. We have a lot of new employees coming in, and we don’t always have a trainer available. Frankly, some of the trainers are better than others. We want to make sure everyone has the same experience. I had the best trainer write the script out in the slide notes for the narration so it would be just like what he teaches in class.”
“Well, I could do proofreading and animation to just tweak the slides, but I’m not sure that would be really effective. I don’t know what your budget is, but I think this course could benefit from some actual analysis and instructional design.”
“What do you mean by ‘actual analysis and instructional design’?”
“As an instructional designer, I don’t usually do projects where I’m just brought on at the end to tweak slides. I’m typically brought on board shortly after a client decides, ‘We need a course!’ Starting right from the beginning, I work with you to analyze the need, design the instruction, develop the multimedia, and manage the project until launch. I do a kick-off call with you to find out your needs. We talk about what business problem we’re trying to solve; needing a course isn’t a true business problem, so I work to uncover WHY you decided you need a course. For example, for an orientation like this, I’d want to know what’s working and not working in your current orientation. What do people leave orientation and still have problems with? What questions keep coming up over and over to HR?”
Lynn replies, “There are tons of questions with the benefits plan. People just don’t understand it, even after they read the handbook. HR ends up spending a lot of time walking people through all the options.”
“If people don’t understand it right now from reading the handbook, do you think they’ll understand it any better by having someone read it to them?”
“Hmm. I guess not.”
“Right now, you would probably get about the same results from having your new employees read the handbook on their own and take a quiz afterward. The slides are basically a pretty version of your handbook. Reading the handbook and taking a quiz wouldn’t only be cheaper to develop; it would be faster for employees to complete. People read faster than they can listen to voice over, so they can consume the same amount of content in less time by reading the document rather than watching and listening to the same thing online.”
“I see your point. But we don’t really have the budget to do a course from scratch.”
“You know, you probably will spend more upfront to do analysis and develop a more effective course. However, the final orientation would probably be half its current length because it would be focused on what employees need on day one to get started. That means employees would spend less time in orientation and be ready to do real work faster. We could also focus on the problems you really need to solve. If we can reduce the number of questions and problems HR has to deal with, we can free them up to do other work. That can save your company money in the long run even though the initial costs are higher.”
“You know, I might be able to justify that. Cutting down the time for new employees to get up and running is a big deal right now, so if we can help with that, I might be able to find some more budget. I need to talk to HR some more to find out if they have any other issues with new employees. I really thought instructional designers just did a little multimedia work at the end of the process. I didn’t realize you did so much.”
“Instructional design is more about being a partner to help you solve problems than just making slides pretty. You asked me to be a handyman and touch up some peeling paint, but I’m really an architect who can design you a house that better meets your needs.”
“Let me work on the budget and get back to you in a few days so we can talk about scope, OK? I’m not sure I can get enough to do everything you’d usually design, but maybe we can get something to do more analysis.”
“Sound good. I’ll look forward to hearing from you soon.”
This conversation is fictionalized, but it’s based on several real experiences. How do you handle it when someone asks you to just “tweak the slides”? How do you shift the conversation from just being an order taker to doing real instructional design work?
Our team has spent over a year preparing for the conversion from Blackboard to Sakai (something I haven’t talked about here too much because we hadn’t told Blackboard we were leaving until recently). We’ve seen a significant amount of resistance to the conversion from several of our long-time facilitators, and it’s been a struggle to figure out how to ease them through this transition. Some of our facilitators have been extremely stressed out about the change; one person described a conversation as “talking [the instructor] down from her ledge of terror.”
It’s really hard for me to understand that level of stress with technology. It’s hard for me to fathom being so terrified of changing software that I was driven to making death threats. Honestly, I’m not quite sure how to deal with that intensity of emotional resistance to change. Fortunately, I’ve seen most of this stress from a distance. I lurked in the forums to see what questions were raised and how the discussions went, but I had only limited direct interaction with the facilitators. The woman who did facilitate the most emotionally intense field test is an excellent instructor with a lot of experience, who thankfully handled the distress much more expertly than I would have.
In spite of the stress and resistance, by the end of the field tests attitudes were much more positive towards Sakai. Even some of the most recalcitrant participants acknowledged that some things will be easier for them now than in Blackboard and that Sakai opens up some new possibilities. While I’d love to say that this change of heart is because I designed such a fabulous course, I think a lot of it has to do with simply allowing people enough time to get comfortable on their own terms. For a few individuals, it took almost no time at all; I remember one person in the usability testing who had never used any LMS before but was able to complete all the tasks in Sakai quickly and without any instruction. For others, it took several weeks and a lot of time in practice courses trying things out with coaches available to help before their confidence improved. I expect some people still aren’t completely comfortable yet, and probably won’t be until they’ve completed their first course.
Our facilitator training included multiple stages spread out over several weeks.
- Self-paced tutorials and self-assessments focusing on the technical skills (built in Captivate)
- A 2-hour webinar with the vendor that hosts our LMS, providing an overview of how everything fits together and allowing people a chance to ask questions about procedures and policies
- Live practice courses with a list of common facilitator tasks to complete, including grading assignments from dummy student accounts
- Mentors available for support during and after the practice courses
- Mentors received separate training, and many participated in the field test of the training that will be used for new instructors in the future
When we built this, we really were aiming for giving people multiple opportunities to practice the skills and to learn in different ways. We weren’t thinking about the change management benefit of spreading out the training over several weeks to give people that time to accept and adapt to the new environment. It has ended up giving us that advantage though. If I were planning something like this again, I would definitely work to space out the training, both for the learning benefits and for the change management ones.
If you’ve done a major project like this, how much resistance to change did you encounter? How did you address it? Did it get easier with time, or has the resistance just continued?