Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Shake It Up! Ideas for designing L&D

Shake It Up! Ideas for designing L&D

Rachel Burnham writes: Sometimes when we are new to designing L&D workshops it is difficult to know where to begin to create a programme that will really impact on performance. Or we can find ourselves stuck in a rut and turning out similar design after similar design. Or perhaps we want to challenge ourselves to design something that bit more effective? Here are some small steps to help you rethink and refresh your design and delivery.

Health warning – None of these ideas will be effective if chosen simply for the sake of doing something different.  A particular approach will only be effective if it is relevant to the needs of the learners, appropriate for the type of learning & impact on performance required and if it fits with culture & context of the organisation.  Having fun with design, needs to start with effective identification of needs, thorough discussion with stakeholders and a robust understanding of the difference in performance that it is intended to support.

Here are 10 small steps you could consider:
1.  Go without - Many of us start out in L&D with the idea that all training involves the use of slides and sometimes our organisations confuse presentations with training (and sometimes we do too!).  So a simple step, is to design a programme without the use of slides and break free of this expectation.  There are lots of different ways of bringing in a visual element – flipcharts, workbooks, props, posters, video, cards, drama – so try something different.
2.  Shake up the start of your programme – many organisations have almost a standard running order for the start of every single L&D programme, which can lead participants to switch off.  Why not rethink the running order and do something unexpected to start? Tell an apparently un-related story, show a video, have a character with a crisis to deal with interrupt the beginning of the programme (played by a colleague) & get the group to respond to the situation.  Make sure that this links to the learning focus for the programme and give time to debrief this and bring out the connections.
3.  Break the ground rules and keep the phones on! – Usually we are very keen to get learners to give their undivided attention to our programme and so ‘instruct’ learners to turn their phones off or to silent.  Why not design a programme in which learners are encouraged to use their smart phones to enhance the learning perhaps through building in activities that use their phone’s capabilities eg a research task, or taking photos eg of examples of body language, or recording an interview with a colleague?  You will of course need to think through the issues of using personal phones for work and what if someone doesn’t have a smartphone etc but there is lots of potential here.
4.  Transform the Subject Matter Expert (SME) slot – many programmes, particularly corporate induction programmes include presentation sessions led by SMEs – these can be fantastic if the SME not only has current expert knowledge but is a good speaker, but so often fall flat if their presentation skills are not up to speed.  So, why not change this session from a presentation to an interview perhaps with you acting as the interviewer – this will help to keep the session focused, break it up and maintain the pace of the session?  You could even get the participants to work in groups to identify key questions they’d like to put to the SME and then act as the anchor-person for the session.  Or turn the session into a dialogue between the SME and another colleague.
5.  Homemade is the best! – nothing goes down so well at a village fete than the homemade cake stall, so why not learn from that and bring a homemade element into your session?   Why not get the participants making their own resources eg videos, posters, photos, job aids during the session?  For example, in one programme the first part of the session introduced the organisational expectations around health & safety and in the second part, participants set off round the premises armed with cameras to document examples of good and also bad practice!  You will need to think through what happens next with those bad practices.
6.  Peer to peer partnerships – There is great value in encouraging positive and helpful learning relationships between peers on a programme.  Use techniques such as ‘teach back’, where one learner teaches another or encourage peer provided feedback (with appropriate support) and build in follow up activities that encourage participants to work together to continue their learning after the session eg paired learning review, on-line discussion forum.
7.  Work with line managers – Consider how you can work with the line managers of participants in a programme both before and after the session.  How informed are those managers about what the programme will involve and what to expect from their staff after participating in the session? What can you do to help those line managers offer useful support to their staff after the session?  Consider a written or verbal briefing prior to the programme for managers; what about a taster session for managers; or a set of suggestions & resources to enable line managers to support their staff practicing and applying their new knowledge or skills?
8.  From participant to trainer – involve the participants in identifying their particular challenges with a topic and then in groups get them to create & deliver sessions to address those challenges.  You will probably want to swap over the challenges, so that everyone works on a different challenge to their own and it is useful to have lots of resources available both physical and electronic to help this to work effectively.  You will need to be available to provide support & encouragement to the groups.
9.  Rethink your venue use – Consider the room layout, rearrange the furniture to best suit the design of the session (eg consider using a cabaret layout to enable group work, rather than a U-shape); change the way the room faces (eg from front to side); consider using different parts of the room for different activities.  Or for a complete change think about how an unusual venue could add value (see this blog post by my colleague Christine Bell on this very topic - May 20, 11:25 AM).
10.  Do away with the course completely – Is a workshop based course really the best way to meet this learning need or would another format work better?  Could a number of different learning methods be combined eg a workbook, video clip combination? Or some background reading & research plus coaching combo?  Do all the participants need the same learning or would it be even more effective to include different routes through the material to suit different needs? Is it a learning solution that is mostly likely to improve performance or do we need to address other factors in the workplace?  This is a huge topic and there are lots of different issues to consider, but it is always worth asking the question whether a face to face workshop is the right approach, rather than assuming it is as we so often do.

This post has been written to get you thinking about small steps you can take to make your L&D design & delivery even more effective at meeting the real needs in your organisation and impacting on performance.  I hope it gets you started.

Rachel Burnham

Burnham L & D Consultancy specialises in the development of L&D professionals, blended learning and evaluation
Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD

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