Take Your Online Training from "Content-Focused" to "Trainee-Friendly"

Written by Trina Rimmer | Mar 30, 2010 4:31:48 PM

If you’re like me, you may have found yourself walking away from meetings with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) with tons of content, lots of rules for how to use it, and absolutely NO ideas for turning it into an effective, trainee-friendly course.

When you are overwhelmed or intimidated by your source material (or your SMEs), it’s easy to enter into a state of design paralysis. And when design paralysis sets in, your focus can easily shift from creating great online training to merely delivering information (i.e. content-focused or click & read training)—an approach that may alienate your audience and jeopardize the efficacy of your training. To maximize results, you need to take all of that SME content and work some designer mojo to make it trainee-friendly.

Of course, that begs the question: What is trainee-friendly training? Let’s look at an example…

The Scenario
Your organization has had several employee safety incidents – all involving improper application of footwear. Experts have conducted an analysis and determined that most employees are lacking in basic shoe-tying skills. Your SME (an expert shoe-tier) has given you the company’s 400-page Shoe Tying Policy & Procedures manual for reference. Naturally, you have no budget and senior management wants the training released yesterday.

The Action

  1. Find & Focus on the Objective
    Don’t succumb to a content-focused approach just because you’ve been given a crazy deadline and a lengthy Shoe Tying manual! Find and focus on the objective.

    In our scenario, we know the audience just needs a quick primer on how to properly tie their shoes. All of the other information in the Shoe Tying manual – while informative – doesn’t do much to reinforce that objective.
  2. Make the Design Trainee-Friendly
    Once you’ve focused in on the right content, it’s time to make it relevant and engaging.
    • Think simplicity. Cut out all the extras, and then think about ways you can make it even simpler.
    • Choose pictures over words, bullets, charts, or graphs.
    • Show, rather than tell.
      • If the topic lends itself to demonstration, put together a quick video demo or a screen cast.
      • Use a scenario-based question or activity at the beginning of your online training to build relevancy and to get them thinking about the situation or challenge.
  3. Help your SME be Trainee-Friendly
    It’s not always as easy as teaching someone how to tie their shoes. When you’re working with content that is highly technical, heavily regulated, or risky, it’s important to keep your SME engaged throughout the design process. Remember, most SMEs want your help to ensure their content is being leveraged as effectively as possible.
    • Agree on the objectives and training scope so SMEs can supply you with the right source content.
    • Prototype! Circulating a prototype of your training with just enough detail for the SMEs to see how you’ve reworked their content is an often over-looked step in the design process, but it’s one that can save you a lot of grief by catching flaws early.
    • Your role is to communicate information in a way that is highly relevant and easily grasped by the audience. When a SME provides feedback that jeopardizes the focus, you’ll need to balance their content concerns with your role as advocate for the audience.

Looking for more ideas for taking your training from content-focused to trainee-friendly? Check out the books Better Than Bullet Points: Creating Engaging e-Learning with PowerPoint by Jane Bozarth and The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures by Dan Roam.

Looking for some more pointers on how to work with SMEs to create better training? Check out this nice blog post from Cathy Moore.

Do you have great tips for taking online training from content-focused to trainee-friendly? Please share them with us by clicking on the comments link.

Trina Rimmer is a learning and communications consultant with twelve years experience designing, developing, and delivering smart, engaging training solutions. When her training skills aren't being tested by her children, you'll find her helping others to develop their own design muscles. Contact Trina at trina@rimmer.net.