Note to Training Professionals

This explanation is for all of you professional trainers, instructional designers, performance improvement specialists, human performance technologists, professional coaches, or anyone else who regards themselves as a member of the training profession.

As I said in “About Your Moderator,” I’ve had lots of experience designing, developing, and delivering custom training sessions in any number of industries. So I know that excellent performance-based training… training that assures the acquisition of new skills or attitudes… must have, at minimum, the following elements:

  • Performance (instructional) objectives
  • Well-sequenced subject matter that matches the objectives and is presented effectively via the appropriate medium
  • Examples and non-examples of new concepts and new behaviors
  • Practice opportunities for learners
  • Feedback regarding the quality of learner performance during practices
  • Testing (evaluation) of how well learners are able to perform the skills identified in the performance objectives.
  • Follow-up support (job aids, mentoring, coaching, etc.) to help learners transfer their new skills to the “real world” where they will be applying them

So… if the above constitutes excellent, performance-based training, how is it that so many of the training items reviewed in this blog are missing so very many of these elements?

Let me explain. Over the years, I have had many enthusiastic non-trainers come to me and say something like this: “Wow! I just took this great free training session on [Topic X] — It cut right to the chase and really made it easy for me to learn [Topic X].” When I probed a little further, asking them to tell me about the structure and content of the training, I felt my training professional nose lift upward and wrinkle ever-so-slightly. And, depending on how well I liked the person, I would either withhold my profound professional criticism or tell them, on-the-spot, what was missing and why their session wasn’t all that wonderful.

Finally one day a little light went off above my professionally-stuffed head! If people were excited about a training session they just completed and if they felt it really helped them, then there was a good chance it was effective… at least in their terms. Thinking about this further, I realized something else: If we could broaden the definition of good training to include simply anything that helped people to learn to do something new (whatever “official” instructional design elements it contained or was missing), then we’d open the floodgates to an ocean of really good stuff. At least, it would be good from the perspective of its users… and who else matters, really?

What’s more, in an age of exponentially-exploding new content and new skill requirements, it seems to me important for us (the professional trainer types) to share the burden of developing and providing all the much-needed training with people outside our profession. And that includes those without our vast experience and professional judgment, but who have nevertheless used personal media creation tools, the internet, and self-publishing tools to develop something really useful in a content area in which they hold some expertise. (After all, isn’t this just another manifestation of Tom Friedman’s concept of an ever-flattening world?) *

So, with the above reasoning as context, I have developed the following broad (and accessible to the lay person) working definition of training: “Any sort of media presentation, event, and/or practice session which is intended to help people learn a specific new skill, acquire new and highly-focused information, or take a specific, highly-focused action.” **

And it is within this context that I define “best” as: “Most satisfactory, suitable, or useful… according to the person who attended the session or “took” the course or viewed the video or was a student of the training as it was intended.” **

If the above violates the professional standards of you, my fellow training professionals, then you have my apologies. However, by the application of these “looser” or more inclusive standards, I hope to shine a light on a large number of good, useful, practical items that will support learning. In addition, by encouraging reviews and comments by non-training professionals… that is, the users themselves… I hope to enlist their support in scouring the universe to unearth the really good, yet completely free, items that will help us all learn more.

(In the meantime, when we are charging large sums of money to our clients for our custom instructional development efforts or our customized on-site training sessions, we should continue, by all means, to make sure that our efforts result in training that includes all the elements of “excellent, performance-based training” as described above.)

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* Friedman, Thomas L., The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005, ISBN 0-7879-0160-1.

** For expanded definitions, please refer to Let’s Define Our Terms