Sometimes You Just Have to Ask It

I’ve been a student and practitioner of instructional design for quite some time.  In fact, during my professional career, I’ve often been “accused” of being too theoretical and not providing a solution that was practical.  In reality, however, I thought my solutions were practical but in the context of a proper theoretical framework.

I still advocate that approach but I modified it.  I’ve further reduced any reference to any theoretical construct.  Even more, I simply ask the question…”What do you want this person to do tomorrow that they cannot do today?”  Whether that “person” is a sales person, manager, or senior executive it seems like an appropriate question and one that you would assume would generate a relatively clear response.

Not so much.

Imagine this…your organization is about to launch a new product and they have requested training for all of the reasons we in the industry have heard before.  The product is not revolutionary and is simply an evolution of today’s offering.  “We’ve got to have training for everyone!” says the product manager who has the dubious honor of moving this product from the manufacturer through product management through finance through supply chain through merchandising through sales and then…finally…to the customer.

But wait, there’s more.

The training has to have all of the specs including its weight, resolution, tech specs, etc., etc.   Of course, there will have to be role plays to show how to sell it and, to close it all, a 10-question test to prove they know everything possible.

I think there’s a better way.

The instructional designer simply needs to ask “What do you want this person to do tomorrow that they do not do today?”  Knowing that the product is evolutionary (as compared to revolutionary), I would bet this would be a difficult question to answer.  I bet all of the tech specs are on Google and the sales process and behaviors are already being performed.  So, if this question cannot be answered with specifics, the argument to create training is, therefore, weak.

But, let’s assume the question can be answered and we take the high road.  Two elements are required…some of which I believe training professionals don’t spend enough time on.  First, state an objective of the training that is specific to the behavior you want to be demonstrated based on the question that was answered (“What do you want this person to do tomorrow that they do not do today?”).  Then, state three to five expectations that answer the question using action verbs that start each statement.

What you’ve created is a statement of purpose (why the training is needed) along with expectations of what the learner should accomplish.  Clear, simple, obvious…and it gives managers of those being trained a target from which they can coach.

So, don’t assume what the training should be…ask the difficult, yet obvious, question.


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