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How to Create Training Materials that Work

Posted by Alan Magnan on 8/22/13 4:00 AM
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Many training manuals end up crammed full of so much stuff that learners rarely use them after training. The temptation to include more and more content seems irresistible for instructional designers. The trick is to find the most valuable content and stick to that.

Think of another document you often refer to when performing a specific task: a recipe. Almost all recipes are formatted the exact same way. They list the ingredients you’ll need, and they describe, step-by-step, how to prepare the dish in question.

While reading a recipe, you might come across unfamiliar terms. If the recipe asks you to fold some whipped eggs into a mixture, you might need to look up “folding.” Although it might be handy to explain the folding process in the recipe, it would also make the recipe much more difficult to follow. If this recipe had been the average instructional designer’s project, it might have ended up including the folding process, consequences of folding incorrectly, the origin of folding, other foldable ingredients, and alternatives to folding.

These other pieces of information don’t need to be in the recipe. They might come to light during a training session on the procedure, but what learners want to take home with them is just the recipe.

Here’s a tip to keep your training materials lean and usable after training: begin with only the step-by-step instructions for performing the job. Then look at your breakdown of instructional activities. Ask yourself this key question: if learners went through all these presentation methods and exercises, and had only this (step-by-step) material to guide them, could they succeed in performing that part of their jobs? If the answer is yes, then you’re job is complete. If the answer is no, you can decide what else to include, aside from the procedural content you’ve already worked out.

I’m not trying to convince you that all training materials should be as lean as recipes. After all, they are not perfectly analogous to training. But I do believe, as training professionals, our materials could be improved if we moved farther away from a textbook-like writing style and closer to a recipe-like approach.

Instructional Designer Starter Kit

Alan has been a course leader with Langevin since 1996. He studied business administration at Algonquin College of Applied Arts and Technology. Alan’s philosophy on training is that it can be fun, engaging, and active, but that’s just what’s on the surface. Training must also be practical, realistic, and applicable. Alan is a computer geek at heart and enjoys programming and gaming in his spare time. He’s also a great fan of the outdoors during the summer months, and when the winter moves in, you’ll find him reading, or recording and playing music.

Topics: tips-for-trainers, instructional design

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