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!