Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Been a While!

Life has changed drastically in the last 8 months, and as I came across my blog I realized and I haven't posted in a really long time! After going through a huge job change and relocation, I'm only just starting to get resettled (the family does come first, after all).

I'll get back to posting here this summer. I have much to share and hope it benefits others in the training field!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Giant Manuals vs. Lesson Plans Part 1

One of the most significant contributions I've made to my employers in the last 15 years is the use of lesson planning to replace the use of huge instructor and participant guides in large, multi-week training programs. It's been really successful, and sharing it is one of the inspirations to start this blog. This is Part 1, the background and context. I'm not sure how many parts this will end up with; it's an adventure I'd like to invite you to join me in!

First, I want to credit Langevin Learning Services for the idea. Lesson planning is, of course, not their invention. But what they do is teach learning professionals a great methodology for using them as one powerful tool for modern corporate training. I've just practiced and perfected my use of this method over time.

Let's first get some context established. I was a relatively new SME-turned-Trainer when I began attending Langevin workshops to learn the mechanics of training and instructional design. In their two-part series on Instructional Design, they teach ADDIE, using worksheets to make the analysis, design and development of training very process-driven and efficient. I immediately began creating my own customized versions of many of these worksheets.

I've now done this process of using a thorough Task Analysis and modular design (a lesson plan for each module/chunk of training) for four employers on over a dozen huge programs. The beauty of this approach is that it's so process-driven it can be taught to others (like SMEs) and the designer need not know everything about the content. It's great for going into new workplaces or departments and it's effective for working with SMEs and Trainers alike.

Here are just a few benefits of modular design using lesson plans:

  • Ease of use for the trainer, with plenty of room in the lesson outline for customizing the delivery to each class's needs. 
  • Efficiency in editing. Rather than having to edit huge amounts of content when things change, lesson plans have little knowledge content, instead making use of other references like online systems, presentations, articles, and even existing procedure manuals. Many of those are maintained outside of the training function, so change often takes care of itself. 
  • Thorough coverage. Building 40-60 lesson plans for a 4-week course relies on a really solid outline of topics. That heavy lifting is accomplished handily with a Task Analysis (more on that in a later post). 
  • Easier vetting. Rather than prove to the stakeholders that your training materials match the business processes and rules, lesson plans simply point to them. Often, a knowledgeable trainer or SME can easily check and vet the program, and they are far more available than many busy stakeholders (like leadership sponsors) are. 
  • Propensity to foster blended learning modes. Using lesson plans over writing big manuals both frees and forces the designer to think about varying the learning experience, in order to replace long lectures or boring show-and-tell sessions. In fact, I've seen whole modules become e-learning modules and videos, games, and treasure hunts. And it doesn't have to be a whole module. Many great modules use multiple modes. 
  • Portability and flexibility. On the design end, it's easy to move lesson plans around to change the order of delivery, and I guarantee that will need to happen. Just one holiday in a multi-week course could create the need to rearrange several days' training agendas. 
  • LESS PAPER. Oh my, imagine that! Instead of plopping down a 500-page user guide in front of your learners' PC on Day 1 of training, you hand out a beautifully designed and short workbook that only has worksheets for the class itself. And the trainer uses a thicker, though still much smaller, book of lesson plans. Or for that matter, a tablet with the lesson plans in PDF! Forests rejoice. 
Now of course there are many caveats, so I'll share some of the gotchas and challenges I've experienced along the way. Let's end this post with one big note: this approach isn't the best one for all programs and situations. It's great for some, small to large, however.

In my next post I'll share about the planning and analysis phase. Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 19, 2017


I just finished reading a great book, Turn the Ship Around by David Marquet (http://www.davidmarquet.com). In it, he taught me a new way of thinking about leadership that I want to begin using right away with my training team - it's that good.

Rather than writing some kind of synopsis or wordy book review, I just want to first recommend the book to anyone in a leadership role or aspiring to it. Here's what's unique about this one: David doesn't tell the reader what to do or list all kinds of philosophy or research. Rather, he explains what worked for him as Captain of a U.S. Navy submarine, and he does it through story-telling of his experience. It makes the book hard to put down!

And second, it turns the traditional model of "leader-follower" on its head, instead showing us a better way, that of "leader-leader". Is it new? Well, kind of yes and kind of no. The heart of it is what David calls "intent-based leadership", in which the person in charge shares authority with his/her subordinates, thus giving them more control over what they do and how they do it.

It's different and far richer than empowerment programs or limited stretch assignments. It capitalizes on the power of being human. And being a strong proponent of servant leadership, I can say it fits just fine within that paradigm. In fact, Dr. Stephen Covey and his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People were strong influences on Marquet's practices, and mine too. And I can see immediate tie-in to Situational Leadership (Ken Blanchard), which I now use. Good stuff!

So I really recommend this book, fellow leaders! If you're wondering what I plan to do now that I read it, and I know you are ;-), two things: 1) Make myself a job aid to capture the essence and key points so I can hang it at work and see it every day. And 2) I plan to start using the leader-leader concepts this week with my team.

Happy growing!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!

It's 2017 and a new year for growth, adventure, and challenges. Just look at a little social media and it's easy to see that much was said about 2016 in its last days, with many mentioning high hopes that 2017 is a far better year.

While the new year is indeed a good time to reflect, consider new beginnings, and resolve to do new or more or better, I personally am trying not to make the year the issue; rather, to focus on getting better and better over time. After all, most things in life don't restart when the date changes. New lives begin and others end, while the rest of us keep growing, learning and living.

So let's resolve to make the most of it, no matter what stage of life we're in or what the circumstance. As Covey put it, being human gives us an extraordinary power, that of "response-ability". We choose how we respond to the environment, and the outcome is a combination of an event and your reaction. I choose to leave positive reactions in every way I can.

May 2017 be a great year for us all!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Is It Really Training?

Being a Training Manager (and in the past a Trainer), I often contemplate just what we mean by "training". Much has been written on the subject, and we can come up with all kinds of comparisons like training vs. education, training vs. learning, and more.

I tend to agree with the experts that say in essence, training is the act of assisting a learner to change behavior - or add new behaviors - as a result of learning. And that learning can be both skills and knowledge.

Here's one way to look at it. I have Trainers that facilitate new hire programs for call center agents. In these multi-week programs, participants learn a great deal about systems, procedures, rules, and techniques. That's education, which is heavy on presentation of content and on the learner's part, memorization and the ability to find reference information. They also practice the procedures and techniques, starting out with simple tasks and working up to very complex call management. That's learning and skill development. Together, they make up training.

For another example, professional pilots are highly trained to correctly respond to emergency situations. In that training, they learn information (and review it annually), and practice in simulators. The Trainers simply deliver the education and monitor practice, providing feedback to the learners.

Police dogs are also highly trained. They learn to obey certain commands, and through practice with feedback to sniff out a suspect or drugs. Since they're not human, they receive very little knowledge (education), and maximum practice, which is their primary mode of learning. Whether the learner is a call center agent, pilot or police dog, the goal is the same: new or improved, reliable and effective behavior.

So, a Training Manager like me is really responsible for learning and the resultant behavior changes, not so much just the act of providing training. Training is a complex effort of providing education and  opportunity to practice with feedback all for a specific goal: performance. And that's why I named this blog Learning. Training is meaningless without it and performance is dependent on it.

Friday, December 23, 2016

My Experience

Here's an elevator speech version of my career. If interesting in details, see my LinkedIn profile (link on the right sidebar).

I spent about 10 years in various retail jobs after high school, and during that time went to college at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland and The Ohio State University, where I graduated with a B.A. in Social and Behavioral Sciences, with an Aviation Management major. 

My first professional job started just before I graduated, with an awesome company called NetJets. They operate a massive fleet of private jets made available through fractional ownership and prepaid charter cards. I started out as a Flight Coordinator, taking crew calls and arranging flight logistics. After a couple years I got my first training position, in which I wrote and delivered our training program for my department. 

Over the next 10 years I grew into corporate training roles, building and delivering Orientation and many other training programs for HR, Maintenance, Owner Services, and other groups. 

In 2007 I left to strike out into other industries, working at Mettler-Toledo for almost a year where I rolled out the company's first LMS. NetJets called me back with a need for a curriculum specialist in their pilot training group, and I couldn't resist the opportunity so I returned. A year and a half later, the Great Recession impacted us, and I was laid off with hundreds of colleagues. 

From there I was fortunate to get on with JPMorgan Chase as an instructional designer for Retail Training, serving over 5,000 branches. There, I helped redesign Teller training and other big programs. 

Looking to grow back into leadership, I did an internal and external search, and was picked up by a marketing/consumer services company as Training Manager for a good-sized call center. In my three years there I did a lot of improvements, creating an effective scheduling tool and redesigning one of their biggest new hire programs. I also learned a great deal about contact center operations. 

Most recently, I was found and recruited by my current employer, where I lead training and design for three contact centers. I've been there for two years. 

All-in, I've been in professional training roles for 18 straight years and love it. While aviation was my first love (and the reason I went to college), I'm grateful that I found the learning and development field as something I love to do. It's a transferable skill set and it has afforded me some great opportunities to learn multiple industries. 

Great Book!

Now in it's second edition, this is one of my favorites and a regular reference. In fact, in both my previous and current roles I've made it required reading for all my trainers and designers. What's so great about it? To start, it's written to learning professionals but in easy-to-digest language, with a hint of fun and even some interactive pieces. Second, it's based on real research in the field. And third, most importantly, it's incredibly practical and usable in any training role or organization.

If you read this book and start applying even a few of its concepts and ideas, you'll take big strides in creating and delivering effective training! Give it a look.