FAQ: How do we develop training when we aren’t experts in the subject?

Instructional designers have a window into many worlds: we tell people how to sell surgical products, feed infants in a NICU, and comply with corporate-wide budgeting processes. Next month, we may provide guidance on preventing sexual harassment, developing new leaders, and retaining customers. How can we develop meaningful and applicable training without being authorities in these areas?

High-performers and experts within your company usually hold the critical information that helps our learners perform their jobs. These subject matter experts typically have an invaluable depth and breadth of knowledge—yet they may not always have the ability to communicate their experience in a way that helps others learn and perform.

That’s where instructional designers shine! Our job is to ask the right questions of the right people, teasing out all the clarifications and what-if scenarios—and then we use that information to develop training where learners practice the appropriate skills to improve their performance.

First, we analyze…

Before recommending a solution and developing a training blueprint, some questions we ask include: 

  • Is training really the answer? Could a simple job aid or a change to a complicated form address the issue?
  • What business need is driving this training request and how will we measure whether we met the need?
  • What do you want the learners to be able to do to achieve that need? What would it look like if they do this task or activity correctly?
  • What are the audience’s needs and preferences?

The best person to answer these questions is often the business partner who will use the training.

Then, we design…

If our evaluation determines a training need, we use the answers to these questions—and more—to recommend a solution that may include eLearning, performance support, classroom training, coaching, or a combination of methods. We then design training activities where learners practice specific tasks needed to achieve the identified business result.

Finally, we create…

Once you approve our design, we need critical information unique to your company to make sure we get the activities right. We often use scenario-based activities that require insight into the roadblocks and decision-making learners will encounter. To identify these specifics, we interview many different individuals like high-performers, new hires, experts, and managers. We also use a variety of resources like articles, research, and company-generated material to create content. By implementing your expertise within our learning model, we help bridge the communication gaps that can hinder effective training.

A Case Study: Filling Potholes with Hot Mix Asphalt

We really didn’t know any more about potholes than the angst from hitting them after a long, cold winter! When approached to develop new hire training about this topic, we started by asking an expert questions to analyze the need. We determined the business need was to increase the number of construction workers proficient in the use of hot mix asphalt to fill potholes and that training was an appropriate solution to address this need.

Our next step was to design a solution. Our discussions with the expert uncovered information such as the new hires’ familiarity and access to technology, the availability of high performers to act as coaches, and opportunities for hands-on practice. This information helped us decide to create an interactive eLearning module to provide baseline knowledge of hot mix asphalt, a coaching and participant guide for shadow experiences with high performers, and hands-on practice with hot mix asphalt and a selection of common pot holes for the area.

Our final step was to create the content. We again needed our expert and, like many experts we talk to, this expert had developed “unconscious competence”—that ability to do your job without really thinking about each step of the process. Yet we needed to uncover the steps and timing for using hot mix asphalt to fill a pothole, AND we needed to uncover the unconscious steps she takes to do this task well, such as:

  • What do you need to do before you start using the hot mix asphalt?
  • Why do you perform the steps in that order?
  • What mistakes do you see new employees make?
  • What is the importance of each step or requirement?

As experts in adult learning, we know the questions to ask to uncover the critical information we need at each stage of the course development process. This information enables us to develop meaningful and applicable training and activities to practice and master related skills. Did we need to be experts in hot mix asphalt to develop what became an effective and engaging learning experience? No! We needed to be experts in adult learning so that we could ask the experts in hot mix asphalt the right questions.

The effective result

In the end, combining our deep understanding of adult learning with your unique client insight makes effective training! Contact us for a free one-hour consultation on how we can use our expertise to support yours.