No matter how the training is delivered, at some stage, someone had to sit down and plan the content or course material to be covered, the order in which to do so, and the specifics regarding delivery.

A six-step DESIGN model - from The Training Design Manual - helps workplace learning and performance professionals plan exactly how the training can be delivered in a coherent, logical, and engaging way.

What is it?

To ensure course learners derive the greatest benefit from each session, they should undertake a journey that has four main stages, easily remembered by the mnemonic STAR:

  • S - Stimulate interest
  • T - Transfer ideas or concepts
  • A - Apply the learning
  • R - Review what's changed.

Guidelines

Stimulate interest. If people aren't interested in learning, they'll not get any real benefit from training - no matter the design or the materials:

  • Take a critical look at your current course descriptions. If you were to receive them, would they motivate you to attend one of your courses?
  • Does the subject lend itself to any meaningful precourse work? Consider covering some of the underlying theory, or challenge learners' pre-existing knowledge.
  • Try to contact learners personally before the course - it doesn't take long, but it will have a huge impact. Don't send an email. Talk to them, ask about issues or concerns they may have, and discuss their personal goals for the course.
  • What does the venue look, sound, smell, and feel like as learners enter? Use colorful posters or charts on the wall; provide challenging games or puzzles on the tables; or play appropriate music to take away that "empty" feeling about a quiet room. Have a seating plan that encourages people to talk with each other.
  • Give positive suggestions. Make learners feel positive about the learning experience they're about to undertake and about the fact that they'll develop both confidence and competence.

Transfer ideas or concepts. Once learners are stimulated to learn, you're ready to transfer the course material from your brain to theirs. Let's explore some of the overarching principles:

  • Overview first, then the detail - show how the pieces fit together and the flow from one item to another.
  • Use models and stories - people will remember them long after the theory.
  • Stimulate the senses - search for innovative ways to use all five senses.
  • Appeal to different learning styles - balance the active pace with time for reflection, and balance the theory with the practical. Reinvent approaches for familiar topics - there's no such thing as a boring subject, only boring designers or trainers.
  • Change the processing method - interweave trainer-led discussions with team exercises, paired discussions, solo work, and challenges.
  • Change gears - ensure that people don't do the same thing the same way for longer than 30 minutes.

Apply the learning. It's one thing for learners to know something, but quite another for them to know how to apply it. That's why this stage of STAR is so important - it's when people start to change the way they work or behave. Give learners every opportunity to practice the skills, techniques, or approaches in a realistic setting:

  • Show me - ask people to demonstrate their capability.
  • Use games, projects, tasks, or exercises that require learners to show their mastery of the skills or techniques.
  • Collaborative working - incorporate individual with team-based practice.
  • Simulations - put learners into realistic situations that enable them to show their newfound skills under operational conditions.
  • Make sure it's fun - strike the ideal balance between being relaxed and focused.
  • Participation - get people engaged physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Review what's changed. Any "quality" program has three main components:

  • Say what you do.
  • Do what you say.
  • Prove it.

So the final step is to prove that your training has made a sustained change to business performance. Are people now able to do what you wanted them to do? Evaluating your training programs is one of those topics that has been debated endlessly, and there are a variety of specific measures you can put in place to deliver some meaningful results. The important thing here is to link into any existing measurement system in operation in your organization.

Realistic simulations

I once helped a director to design and facilitate a week-long conference for the PR managers in a major tobacco company. On the last morning, he wanted a session on media relations, and instead of the lecture he originally planned, I suggested an alternative.

The conference venue was a superb residential training center in Surrey, England. After breakfast on the last morning, the learners strolled into the gardens and relished going home after a hard week.

Suddenly, they were approached by a professional journalist, with his camera and sound crew, who demanded a response to a damning press release on the emotive topic of smoking and health.

This was a realistic challenge. Some stood their ground and asked to see the [bogus] report. Others fled! We then restructured the day and, while the first session of the morning was delivered, my film crew edited the footage to give a summary of the way the learners had reacted to the challenge. The edited highlights were then shown to the learners, who saw how to, and how not to, respond to the media.

Why it works

Please take a few minutes to think back on the best training courses you've attended and consider what made them so special. Many of the items will be comments on the design:

  • good structure
  • varied training methods
  • logical flow
  • use of appropriate models or concepts
  • ideas one can take back and use immediately
  • appropriate balance of theory and practice
  • good handouts, visual aids, or workbooks.

This list clearly shows the benefits of good design. It's rather like the old saying: you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Given a well-designed course, even an average trainer can deliver an acceptable learning experience.